How Do You Check Boat Engine Hours?

If you're a new boat owner, you may not know the importance of checking your boat engine hours. Checking your boat engine hours is crucial, as it affects the longevity of your boat.

In this post, we'll review boat engine hours and why you should monitor them to keep your boat in excellent condition for many years.

What Are Boat Engine Hours?

The concept of boat engine hours is simple; it is the number of hours your boat has operated over its lifetime.

Why Should You Check Your Boat Engine Hours?

Typically, your engine will track your boat's engine hours for you. However, even though your reader is doing the work, you must be aware of the hours your engine has accumulated. If you don't keep track, you may not take your boat in for essential maintenance and could risk damaging your boat.

How to Check Your Engine Hours

1. Determine If Your Boat Tracks Engine Hours

Although you could keep a paper logbook in your boat, most modern marine engines track your boat engine hours!

Most modern boats come with an hour meter that records whenever the engine is running. The computer records data in an "engine run-time log," including

  • Engine warning alarms and fault codes
  • Instances of the engine over-heating or over-revving
  • The hours of use in 1000-RPM increments
  • Total hours

While most boats feature this technology, the exception is small outboard engines that still feature a carburetor.

2. Locate Your Engine Hour Tracker on Your Boat

There are a few places where you could find your boat's engine hours, depending on the type of boat you own.

  • Dash: The total engine hours are often relayed to a digital instrument on the dash. If this instrument is from the engine manufacturer, those hours will be very accurate. That same data may also be displayed on a proprietary or multi-function display screen from a third party.
  • Instrument Panel: You may have to scroll around or consult the user's manual to find the hour meter. Most late-model personal watercraft will also display engine hours on the instrument panel.
  • Speedometer: Some boats may be equipped with a speedometer or tachometer with an LCD screen. This screen can display different engine data, including hours. However, some displays simply record when the ignition key switch is turned on. Often, they don't record the actual time the engine is running.

For example, if you power the radio at the beach, that meter may accumulate time. A marine dealer or boat manufacturer can tell you how that meter works. 

boat engine hours

3. Consult a Trusted Boat Dealer

Another option for determining boat engine hours is to visit a boat dealer. Using proprietary software, an authorized dealer can access this information for you using a laptop or a scan tool.

This information can be valuable if you are buying a pre-owned boat. You'll not only know how many hours this particular engine has been run but also how it has been run.

For example, it'll note if the engine has run for long durations on the wide-open throttle. It may also tell you whether the engine has spent significant time trolling or a careless owner has abused the boat.

4. If Your Boat Is Older, Check Your Analog Hour Meters

Older boats may come with an analog hour meter, a small device with a row of numbers that counts the hours. This hour meter may be located in one of the following locations:

  • The boat dash
  • Under the boat dash
  • In the case of a sterndrive or inboard engine, on the engine itself or in the engine compartment.

If your boat doesn't have an hour meter or your engine isn't equipped with a computer to record run hours, this type of meter can easily be installed. Typically, it costs less than $50.

5. Check Your Boat Manual for Recommended Maintenance Schedule

The first step in understanding your boat engine hours is to read your marine engine owner's manual. In this manual, you'll discover that many service intervals are based on engine hours of operation. A typical line in the service schedule might read, "replace the fuel filter every 100 hours or annually."

Once you check your boat engine hours, you'll need to determine if your boat is due for maintenance. An annual schedule is easy to remember, as most owners complete maintenance before storing their boats during the off-season. In the following section, we'll explain how to check your boat engine hours.

Can You Reset Your Hour Meter?

Most hour meters aren't resettable. If your boat has been re-powered, and the hour meter wasn't replaced, it may not reflect the hours of operation on the new engine. This is why getting hours directly from the engine computer, when available, is the most accurate data.

Once you've located the hour meter display on your boat, you can note the level at the beginning of the season. If you get maintenance on your boat, you should note the level it's at once completed. Then, you can monitor how many hours you accumulate through the season.

Conclusion: Checking Your Boat Engine Hours Is Key

Although monitoring your boat engine hours may seem tedious, it's crucial to ensuring that your boat runs correctly. You can take precautions to extend your boat's lifespan by consistently checking your boat's engine hours. 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated in October 2022.