The choice of 2-3hp outboard engines has never been better now that there are electric as well as petrol motors to choose from, but which is right for you? We test six of the best small outboard motors.
Choosing an outboard engine for your tender used to be as simple as going to your nearest dealer and picking up whatever 2.5hp engine they had in stock.
It barely mattered what brand it was, they were all much of a muchness. Now, however, things have got a bit more complicated – in a good way.
First you’ve got to decide whether you are going to stick with petrol or go electric. Then there’s the question of who offers the best combination of power, range, weight, build quality, refinement, ease of use and, of course, price.
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You could go round and round in circles for hours trying to decide what was right for you. So that’s exactly what we did, on your behalf, by assembling all the main players at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club along with one of F-RIBs brilliant little 2.75m folding mini-RIBs to test them on and work out which were the lightest, fastest, most user-friendly engines for your tender.
Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Selva all provided petrol engines of 2.3-2.5hp for the test while Torqeedo and ePropulsion represented the electric outboard alternatives.
The only major engine manufacturer which couldn’t supply a test engine was the Mercury group, which includes the Mercury, Tohatsu and Mariner brands.
UK Importer Barrus had hoped to deliver one on the day but delays in shipping and a run on existing stock meant they simply couldn’t get one to us in time. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with one at a later date.
In the meantime, here is what we learned from our group test of 6 of the best small outboard motors.
Honda BF2.3 outboard motor
It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that the BF2.5 has been around since Noah’s time but it sometimes seems that way. The reason it’s been around so long is because it continues to sell well.
So well in fact, that S.A.L Marine in Lymington, who supplied the test engine and represent both Honda and Suzuki, reckon they sell ten Honda BF2.3s for every one Suzuki DF2.5.
S.A.L puts this down to the little Honda’s light weight (13.6kg), compact dimensions and the brand’s reputation for reliability.
It’s commendably simple air-cooled single-cylinder 57cc four-stroke engine should certainly be less prone to overheating from a blocked water intake or failed impeller than its water-cooled rivals and with no salt water circulating through the power head there’s less risk of corrosion or frost damage too.
Unlike the other petrol engines, it uses a twist-and-go centrifugal clutch rather than a manual gear lever. It’s also the only engine to boast a six-year warranty instead of the usual five years.
But that’s where the good news stops because in use the BF2.3 feels rather basic. The transom clamps are sliding metal rods, the pull-out choke and petrol switch are flimsy plastic affairs and the skinny tiller arm feels rather slender compared to the chunkier Yamaha and more sophisticated Torqeedo.
It has to be laid down on one side to prevent oiling up but at least it has raised supports to show which side to place it and prevent scratches on the cowling.
It works well enough and started on the first pull but it was the slowest of the petrol engines on test (5.1 knots solo and 4.4 knots with two) and the noisiest at 106db flat out. Without the damping effect of a water-cooling jacket, it makes a distinctive putt-putting noise at idle that rises to a raucous crescendo at full throttle.
The twist-and-go clutch is a mixed blessing, it saves fiddling around going into and out of gear but means you don’t get any drive or steering at idle, making subtle docking manoeuvres surprisingly tricky.
We can see the appeal of having something so simple, reliable and lightweight and could live with the average performance and rather basic appearance but we’re not sure we could put up with that noise for any length of time.
Unless you’re a die-hard Honda fan we think there are better options.
Honda BF2.3 outboard motor specifications
Tank: 1.1 litres
Top speed: 5.1 knots (solo) / 4.4 knots (2 up)
Noise: 83db (idle) / 108db (max)
Warranty: 6 years
MBY rating: 3/5
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Yamaha 2.5hp outboard motor
The Yamaha 2.5 is at the opposite end of the scale to the Honda, literally. It’s the heaviest of the petrol engines at 17.0kg and the largest too.
The upside of this is that everything about it feels chunkier, better engineered and more robust, from minor switchgear like the fuel tap and choke to the major controls like the transom clamps, gear lever and throttle arm.
It also has a larger capacity single-cylinder engine of 72cc compared to 57cc for the Honda and 68cc for the Suzuki so it should have more torque as well, although none of the manufacturers quote a figure for this.
To cope with the extra weight, Yamaha has added a soft grip carrying handle to the back of the engine but there’s no escaping the fact that you can feel those extra 3.5kg, especially when lifting the engine onto the transom.
On the plus side you can lie it flat on both sides or even on its back without oil flowing into the cylinder. This makes it easier to store and all but rules out the chance of it being laid down incorrectly and ruining your day.
It has a 5-year warranty as standard and in common with the Suzuki and Selva is water-cooled.
Out on the water it started on the second pull and had a smooth, quiet idle (73db) that sounded far more refined and sophisticated than the noisy Honda, an advantage that became even more pronounced further up the rev range (91db).
This was by some margin the quietest and smoothest of all the petrol engines as well as the fastest.
With just one person on board it actually had enough grunt to get the little F-Rib up on the plane and scooting along at 9.5 knots, although with two people that dropped to a still useful 4.6 knots.
It has a slightly smaller fuel tank of 0.9 litres than either the Honda (1.1l) or Suzuki (1l) but we can’t see that making a meaningful difference to many people.
It does carry a bit of a price premium over its petrol counterparts at £760 but in terms of build quality, engineering, performance and above all, refinement, we reckon it justifies it.
Unless low weight is your number one priority this would be our top choice of the petrol engines.
Yamaha 2.5hp outboard motor specifications
Tank: 0.9 litres
Top speed: 9.5 knots / 4.6 knots (2 up)
Noise: 73db (idle) / 91db (max)
Warranty: 5 years
MBY rating: 5/5
Suzuki BF2.5 outboard motor
Suzuki has pulled off quite a coup with its BF2.5 because although it’s a water-cooled 68cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine it actually weighs less than the smaller 57cc air-cooled Honda (13.5kg vs 13.6kg).
Not that anyone’s going to notice the extra 100g but they certainly will appreciate the 3.5kg saving over the Yamaha. They’ve had to be pretty canny with those weight savings though and it does show in places.
The transom clamps are the thinnest, fiddliest and least comfortable of the group, being little more than sliding metal pins which could easily snag a stray sleeve or trouser leg. The throttle arm is also thinner than the Yamaha’s with a separate sleeved cable rather than the Yamaha’s neater, integrated one.
Like the Honda it can only be laid down on one side to avoid oil leaking into the cylinder but somewhat counter-intuitively it needs to be throttle-side down rather than up.
There is a small rest at the back of the cowling but not on the throttle-arm itself so you’ll have to be careful on concrete quays to avoid scratching it and we can’t help feeling the chances of putting it the wrong way up are higher because of it.
As with all the petrol engines it has an offset throttle-arm on the port side of the engine to create more room for the operator to sit and steer from the starboard side of the boat but for some reason the latch to unhook the engine from its raised position is tucked away underneath the port side of the cowling, making it unusually hard to locate and use from the natural seated position.
It’s a nice light pull-start that fired up first time and there’s an easily visible tell-tale to show that the cooling mechanism is working.
The idle is commendably smooth and quiet, if not quite as refined as the Yamaha, and it remains usefully quieter than the Honda all the way through its rev range up to a maximum sound reading of 95db.
It doesn’t feel quite as punchy as the Yamaha under way, failing to get the F-RIB planing with one person on board, but did come close to matching it two-up with an average speed of 4.5 knots.
If you crave the quieter running of a water-cooled engine but without the weight of the Yamaha, then the Suzuki BF2.5 is a good compromise.
Suzuki BF2.5 outboard motor specifications
Tank: 1.0 litres
Top speed: 5.8 knots (solo) / 4.5 knots (2 up)
Noise: 76db (idle) / 95db (max)
Warranty: 5 years
MBY rating: 4/5
Selva Guppy 2.5hp outboard motor
Italian company Selva may not have the brand recognition of the big three Japanese players but it boasts a full range of outboard engines from 2.5hp to 300hp, the same five-year warranty as most of them and a very competitive pricing structure.
At the time of writing the entry-level 2.5hp Guppy cost just £579 inc VAT – more than £100 cheaper than any of its Japanese rivals.
And its technical specifications look pretty convincing too; its water-cooled 87cc four-stroke single cylinder engine has the largest capacity of them all yet it weighs the same 13.5kg as the featherweight Suzuki.
Despite its parent company’s Italian heritage, this model is actually built in China, helping to explain that ultra-competitive pricing. It doesn’t look or feel as sturdy as the Yamaha but that’s hardly surprising given the weight differential.
It’s closer to the Honda and Suzuki in that respect, with some elements such as the plastic moulded transom clamps actually being easier to use than either of them, while other parts, such as the rather flimsy metal support that locks the engine in the raised position, fall below par.
Like the Suzuki this is tucked away on the port side of the engine, making it hard to find when sitting to starboard. Another characteristic it shares with the DF2.5 is that it can only be laid throttle-side down, meaning it rests on the throttle arm when not in use.
On the water it was the only other engine to get the F-RIB up on the plane and skimming along at a maximum speed of 8 knots with just the helmsperson on board. Even when we added a second person it managed a gutsy 5 knots.
However, that big capacity cylinder meant it required a heftier pull to start it than any of the others and it was notably noisier than all bar the raucous little Honda, especially toward the upper reaches of its rev range when you could also feel it vibrating through the throttle arm.
In summary the engine block didn’t feel as slick or well-engineered as either the Yamaha or Suzuki, although in terms of bang for buck it was up there with the best of them.
Whether that has any impact on long-term reliability or durability is hard to say but that five-year warranty should provide peace of mind.
Selva Guppy 2.5hp outboard motor specifications
Tank: 0.9 litres
Speed: 8.0 knots (solo) / 5.0 knots (2 up)
Noise: 82db (idle) / 105db (max)
Warranty: 5 years
MBY rating: 3/5
Torqeedo Travel 1103C electric outboard motor
German company Torqeedo was the first to spot the potential for a cleaner, quieter electric alternative to the petrol outboard in 2005 and has built up a strong following since.
The entry-level Travel 603C model is equivalent to a 2hp petrol engine and costs £1,499, but we chose to test the 1103C costing £2,109. This is powered by a 1.1kW electric motor equivalent to a 3hp petrol motor with a 915Wh lithium ion battery.
Although it weighs almost as much as the Yamaha when assembled (17kg), it breaks down into three parts making it much easier to lift onto the tender’s transom as well as store. And of course there’s no risk of petrol or oil spills.
The main shaft and motor weighs 11kg, while the battery accounts for most of the rest. An optional Travel bag (£199) provides extra protection for long-term storage.
It’s a beautifully designed motor that is stylish, well built and beautifully engineered. Assembly is a little bit fiddlier than the ePropulsion Spirit and requires more care as although it’s waterproof, the battery on this model won’t float and at £829 a pop, replacements aren’t cheap.
A built-in GPS gives speed over ground but also real time range as well as current draw and battery percentage so you know exactly how far you can go at any given pace.
On the water it’s a joy to use with no pull cord, choke, stale petrol or oiled up carburettors to worry about. You just clip the magnetic kill cord onto the top of the throttle arm, press the on button, twist the throttle and away you go.
There is no gear lever or idle speed, it just sits silently at rest waiting for you to apply some throttle. The lack of noise and vibration is a revelation, especially under way when the only sound you’ll hear is water passing the hull.
It makes exploring creeks and rivers so much more enjoyable. Its top speed of 4.7 knots solo and 4.2 knots two-up was a little shy of the petrol engines but not enough to make a big difference, while a claimed range of 18nm at half throttle (around 3 knots) or 4.6nm at full throttle is more than enough for most needs.
Unlike the petrol motors it also has a reverse gear, simply by twisting the throttle the other way. It is more than double the cost of a petrol motor but for cleanliness, refinement, ease of use and sheer enjoyment we reckon it’s worth it.
Whether it can justify the £369 premium over the ePropulsion is harder to say.
Torqeedo Travel 1103C electric outboard motor specification
Speed: 4.7 knots (solo) / 4.2 knots (2 up)
Noise: Silent (idle) / 80db (max)
Warranty: 2 years
MBY rating: 5/5
ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 Plus electric outboard motor
Chinese company ePropulsion is the new electric kid on the block and clearly has its sights set on Torqeedo. The Spirit 1.0 Plus has a slightly less powerful 1.0kW motor but a longer lasting 1,276Wh battery that floats if dropped overboard.
It’s a bit heavier than the Torqeedo at 19.3kg, but most of that extra weight is in the removable battery, with the motor and shaft weighing a comparable 10.6kg.
Unlike the Torqeedo, the throttle arm is permanently attached to the shaft but folds down parallel to it for storage. Charging takes 8.5 hours using the standard 240v charger or 3.5 hours with the optional fast charger. Solar and 12v DC chargers are also extras, as is a travel bag.
Assembly is a little bit quicker and easier than the Torqeedo. The throttle arm folds up, the battery locks into place using a sprung handle and there is only one threaded power cord to connect.
It lacks the Torqeedo’s built-in GPS so displays range as remaining cruising time at your current speed as well as battery level.
It’s not quite as useful for working out whether you’ve got enough charge to reach a specific place but most tender journeys are short enough not to need this. Besides, the bigger battery means you will have a longer range anyway; ePropulsion claims 22nm at around 3.5 knots.
On the water it’s slightly less powerful electric motor means it can’t quite match the pace of the Torqeedo let alone the petrol engines (4.3 knots solo, 4.1 knots two up) but the difference is small enough for it not to be a deal breaker.
However, it is just as quiet and user-friendly as the Torqeedo with a similar magnetic kill cord and shaped throttle that allows you to instinctively feel how far you’ve twisted it.
The larger, slower revolving plastic propellers of these electric motors give excellent low speed control and a proper reverse without having to swing the motor through 180 degrees.
They also have centrally mounted (rather than offset) throttle arms meaning you can sit comfortably on either side, although the ePropulsion’s longer arm does sometimes get in the way on a small tender.
From a subjective point of view we don’t think it looks quite as stylish or neatly-finished as the Torqeedo but it’s three-year warranty is longer than Torqeedo’s two-year offering, and it’s £369 cheaper at £1,650.
ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 Plus electric outboard motor specifications
Speed: 4.3 knots (solo) / 4.1 knots (2 up)
Noise: Silent (idle) / 80db (max)
Warranty: 3 years
MBY rating: 5/5
Conclusions: Which is the best small outboard motor for my boat?
We could make a case for buying any of these engines as different boat owners have different priorities. For some, simplicity and reliability will outweigh everything, while for others storage space, ease of use or refinement will be key.
However, unless budget is your number one priority then it’s hard to ignore the appeal of the latest generation of electric outboard motors. Other than a slight reduction in outright performance they trump the petrol motors in almost every regard. They are cleaner, quieter, easier to lift and store, and require no effort to start.
They give better low-speed manoeuvrability, require less maintenance and are likely to be more reliable as a result. With their slower-turning plastic propellers and lack of petrol vapours and toxic emissions, they are arguably safer too.
Unless you regularly make round trips of 15nm or more in your tender, the range issue is also something of a red herring as most of the time you will be able to charge the battery overnight at home or on the boat.
Choosing between the Torqeedo and the ePropulsion is largely a matter of personal preference but we reckon the ePropulsion has the edge with regards to value for money and its more powerful floating battery.
If you’d prefer to stick with a petrol outboard motor then our top pick would be the Yamaha 2.5hp. It’s a bit heavier and pricier than the competition but it feels sturdier and better engineered too. It also delivered the best performance on test as well as being the smoothest and quietest of the petrol engines.
The Suzuki sneaks into second place as the best compromise between lightness, ease of use, performance and refinement, with Honda and Selva sharing third place depending on whether price and performance or simplicity, brand reputation and length of warranty are more important to you.
Small outboard motor specifications at a glance
|Honda BF2.3||Yamaha 2.5hp||Suzuki BF2.5||Selva Guppy||Torqeedo Travel 1103||ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 Plus|
|Speed on test: solo||5.1kt||9.5kt||5.8kt||8.0kt||4.7kt||4.3kt|
|Speed on test: 2 up||4.4kt||4.6kt||4.5kt||5.0kt||4.2kt||4.1kt|
|Noise at idle||83db||73db||76db||82db||0db||0db|
|Noise at max rpm||106db||91db||95db||105db||80db||80db|
First published in the October 2021 issue of MBY.
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