Checking My Boat’s Engine Hours

Boat's engine hour meter

Hour meters are an important tool for caring for your boat.  It tells you when your next maintenance cycle is due.  Coupled with service records it will prove you have cared or maintained your boat regularly.

Hour meter counting

Most boats from the 1990’s onwards have an hour meter.  The hour meter is the best way for the owner or buyer of a boat to understand the work the boat has done and more so how much work the engine has done.  The boat engine hours will only count when the engine is running.  But be aware, some poorly wired boats can have the hour meter counting from when the battery isolator turned on, not good.  This will give an exaggerated amount of engine hours so it is best to check your boat hour meter is only clocking hours with the engine ignition key is on.

Old Boats

Engine hour meters are found in various locations depending on engine age and type.  For example, a 1975 outboard may have an old analogue hour meter mounted on the boat dash.  These are unfortunately susceptible to hour meter fraud and “winding back”. Buyer beware!

Newer Boats

Modern engines have the hour meter located in the software or digital screens on the tacho or in a colour display is it is a late model donk.  These are impervious to “wind back” generally, as they are a computerized read out from the engine ECU (engine control unit). A.k.a. the brains of the engine.  In some cases, the hour meter enabled dash display is not installed, and the hour meters are only able to be read with a CAN bus interface or PC plugin to the engine’s diagnostic plug.  This is something your boat mechanic or marine dealer can help you with.  Many modern GPS or MFD’s are interfaced with engines these days and can ready the engine hours through the boat CAN bus system on the GPS display.

When Purchasing a Boat

The scariest moment in buying a boat is seeing a bargain or a good boat and learning it does not have an hour meter or has a dubious amount of hours on it.  Even worse if it is older than circa 2005 and can’t have an ECU to PC plugin.  

What to do now…..

How do I check My Boat’s Engine Hours?

  1. Ask for a service history.  Best way to look for an annual servicing receipt or proof, even call the seller mechanic for a service history at worst.
  2. Get a compression check. This will give you an indication on the abuse or love the engine has had in it’s life.  Your mechanic or SeaWorthy inspector can easily do this check and advise on the best (or worst) case of cylinder compressions for that engine.
  3. If the engine hours seem dubiously low on an hour meter for an older boat, then a basic failsafe is to work out if the hours of the boat match the age of the engine.
  4. Hint: engine serial numbers give away year models.  Most boaters do 60-120 hour per year in my experience, pending on location.   Engine services are typically carried out every 100hours.

When in doubt, have it professionally inspected.  A couple hundred dollars for an inspection by a pro could save you thousands of dollars.

14 thoughts on “Checking My Boat’s Engine Hours

  1. Sarah Smith says:

    I want to buy a boat for my husband’s 50th birthday. Your advice to get a specialist to check the service history or annual servicing receipt so you know the engine will work well is very helpful. With that in mind, I will start looking for a reputable boat seller.

    • SeaWorthy Inspections Team says:

      Hi Sarah. Thanks for your contribution. Indeed, it is vital to do a proper boat inspection to ensure boat safety conditions. We wish you the best of luck in your search. Please, let us know if we can help any further. Regards, Dan. SeaWorthy Inspections Team.

  2. Serviceyards says:

    How healthy is your engine? One obvious clue to an engine’s condition is its age. While operating hours are certainly a factor, the number of hours on an engine doesn’t bother mechanics as much as the number of years it has been in service. Marine mechanics report that a commercial boat engine that is used every day will often be in better shape mechanically after several thousand hours of use than a recreational boat’s engine with only 500 hours.

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