Years ago getting around on the big western loughs was a straight forward business, you hired one of the local boatmen who would row you around all day for a pittance. Tough, weather beaten lads with arms like Popeye and who knew their lough intimately. Many a tale is told of the old fellas but they have all slipped into the mists of time. Sure, you can still hire a boatman (I do a bit myself) but the age of men in worn flat caps and battered tweed jackets who pulled on oars alone are gone. The internal combustion engine took their place. Seagulls to start with, those 2.5hp engines broke the mold and I remember them in use clearly. A good one was a joy but there were some dodgy ones around and they could be a curse to start. I suspect there are still a few in use even now but I have not seen one for years. More powerful outboards arrived on the market and picking an outboard engine became a whole lot more complicated. I want to give you my thoughts on buying an outboard for the loughs. Having gone through this exercise within the last couple of years it may have some resonance with those of you looking to purchase an engine this winter. Here I am talking about outboards suitable for use on a standard 17 to 19 foot lake boat, other craft will have very different requirements.
For me at least, the starting point has to be exactly what do you want from your engine? Are you going to be using it on a daily basis? Will you be travelling long distances? Do you intend taking your boat off the lake and storing it securely every day? Give this a lot of thought before making any decision as buying the wrong outboard is an expensive mistake. Put it this way, if you are probably only going to used your boat a handful of times each year there seems little point in buying a very big engine, a nice little 5 or 6 hp will do just fine. Then again, if you are going to be on the water frequently and are planning long journeys a bigger capacity engine will be more suitable.
Virtually everyone here used to own a two stroke engine. They are relatively light, powerful and dependable but unfortunately also inefficient and dirty. Two stroke outboard engines are no longer available to purchase new here in Ireland but die hard anglers still buy them abroad and import them. There is a healthy market for second hand two strokes and they command high prices.
The two strokes have largely been replaced with four stoke engines which are very fuel efficient and sturdy. The only fault I can see with four strokes is their weight, they are very heavy indeed by necessity of their design. Being honest, I can pick up a 15hp two stroke engine but can’t lift a four stroke of the same power. I’m getting on a bit so younger, fitter lads can no doubt handle a big four stroke but many fishers leave the bigger engines on their boat all the time and this brings us to a very important issues, security.
Time was everyone simply pulled up on to the shore at the end of the day, unloaded the fish and rods but left the engine and even the petrol tank on the boat. That was a different Ireland, one where nobody would dream of stealing another mans engine. Nowadays we suffer gangs and individuals who target boats to rob engines. Security devices which lock the engine to the boat are simply bypassed by the robbers cutting the stern off the boat to get the engine. So if you own a heavy engine you either have to heave and sweat pulling the engine off the boat at the end of each trip or leave it on the boat but haul the boat out and store it safely in a locked shed or somewhere similar.
To give a bit of detail regarding weights and power outputs, there is generally a big jump in weight between 6hp and 8hp four stroke engines. This is because the smaller engine is a single cylinder design but the slightly larger one is a twin. Very roughly, this translates to about 60 pounds weight for a 5 or 6hp and around 85 – 90 pounds for a 8hp. That is quite a jump for only an additional 2hp. Want to go bigger? A 15hp four stroke typically tips the scales at a whopping 100 to 120 pounds.
The basic calculations most anglers used to make in the days of just two stroke engines was how much power can I get for my money? Now it has changed to how heavy is the engine going to be? Most anglers used to buy an 8 or 15 hp two stroke engine and these are still very common on all the Irish loughs. Like me, many have now dropped to a smaller four stoke engine when buying a new one, simply because of the weight issue. I would urge any prospective buyer to physically visit their dealer and try lifting the engines so they get a good idea of what is going to be involved when on the side of the lake. Of course you can invest in a trolley for moving your engine. Note that some venues are rough and rolling a heavy engine on a trolley can be a nightmare so think this through before spending more cash on a trolley.
I will leave the question of which brand up to the individual. In truth, most outboards are now manufactured in either Japan or China. Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu, Honda and Mercury all have their fans. Johnson/Evinrude stopped production in 2020 I think.
Running costs will vary greatly between 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines, the latter being much more fuel efficient and also do not need the two stroke oil of the former. You will need a fuel tank if you do not already own one and please note that different engine manufacturers use different fuel line connectors. Spare parts are not a huge problem in my experience and if not on hand can be ordered pretty easily online. The cost of spares is not a major concern with the items you usually need such as new impellors or even props being easily affordable.
The question of new or secondhand is of course a big one. There is a healthy secondhand market here in Ireland for outboard engines and a quick look at the online sites will throw up a selection of engines in varying states of repair. Caution is required here, while some of these engines are in excellent condition there are some real dogs too and you really need to know about outboards before plunging into the secondhand market. When you are drifting into towards the rocky shore on Mask in a lively wind the last thing you need is for an engine not to start when you tug the cord! If you are experienced with small engines then by all means go look for a bargain in the pre-owed market but my advice is generally buy new if you can.
Servicing your engine needs to be part of your thought process too. Outboard engines need to be serviced regularly but there is a limited number of dealers around the country so do your research before buying. I know that my own Honda needs to be serviced at one of only two dealerships on the island and while that does not bother me greatly it could be a deciding factor for some people.
What would I recommend? If you can find a good one, a secondhand 8hp Yamaha 2 stroke or similar is a great buy. These are becoming very scare and are expensive even for older engines. If you are young and strong then a new or used 8hp four stroke may be a good choice while for more seasoned anglers a drop to a 5 or 6 hp four stroke might be a better option. If you have the luxury of a safe shed to store your boat then a 15hp four stroke makes a lovely power unit which will give you access to anywhere you want.