Engine Hours on a Used Boat: Trust But Verify

If the boat you’re considering has an aftermarket hour meter, and it seems a bit too low to be true, is there a way to verify what it says? In some cases, yes, in others, no — but let’s examine the situation a bit more closely so we can understand it.

The average boater uses his or her boat about 50 hours per season, so use that as a good rule of thumb. If a boat is four years old, then about 200 hours would be about normal. If it’s five years old, 250 is about right, and so forth.

Rinda's TechMate diagnostic tool can help with determining engine hours on a used boat with electronic fuel injection.
Rinda’s TechMate diagnostic tool can help with determining engine hours on a used boat with electronic fuel injection.

But there are exceptions to the rule. Boats from the southern United States, particularly from states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California can be used all year long, so the amount of hours on them might be greater. Knowing that, if you’re looking at a boat from one of those states that has “low hours” on it, you should follow Ronald Reagan’s advice to “trust but verify.”

But how? Well, if the boat is equipped with electronic fuel injection, which has been available in the marine market for about 15 to 20 years, you can tap into the engine management system, which will have a reliable record of the engine hours. One of the electronic tools that can help with that is one I’ve mentioned before — the Rinda TechMate. If the boat you are considering has a carbureted engine, there is no engine management system to tap into, so you there is really no way to verify engine hours.

At that point, if you really are interested in that particular boat, you can either investigate further with mechanical inspections and compression and leak-down tests or you can wash your hands of the whole matter and look for a boat elsewhere. There’s almost always another one you’ll like just as much.


Boat Trader has plenty of Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.

Written by: Brett Becker

Brett Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered
the marine industry for 15 years. In addition to covering the ski boat
and runabout markets for Boats.com, he regularly writes and shoots for
BoatTrader.com. Based in Ventura, Calif., Becker holds a bachelor’s
degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the
University of Central Florida in Orlando.

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