In the U.S. alone, more than 87 million adults participate in recreational boating. Between the freedom of the open ocean (or lake) and the privacy offered by your very own personal floating vehicle, we can understand why. However, becoming a boat owner isn’t as simple as just picking the first one you see and handing over a wad of cash. Much like car buying, you need to shop around and weigh your options in order to figure out what best suits your needs — especially if you live in Florida, where boating is extremely popular. One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to opt for a gasoline or diesel engine.

The Great Fuel Debate

Diesel engines are favored for their remarkable efficiency; in fact, it is for this precise reason that so many industries rely on them. From agriculture to manufacturing (not to mention personal consumer use), there are over 50 different models of diesel engines available. However, diesel engines aren’t required if you own a boat; the argument between gas- and diesel-powered engines has been raging for years. There are several circumstances which make one more favorable than the other, so there is no all-out winner. Let’s take a look.

  • Size: It turns out size does matter. Diesel engines are usually only found on boats of 40 feet or more, with a gross weight of more than 18,000 lbs; once you reach that size range, gas engines aren’t able to provide enough torque to adequately speed up and slow down the vehicle; as a result, you may end up seriously overworking — and eventually damaging — your engine. The larger the boat, the better fuel economy you will get with a diesel engine, saving you money and extending your cruising distances (and therefore time on the water).
  • Use: That being said, how much you actually use your boat is a huge factor. Think about heavy haul trucks and freight ships; the reason they almost exclusively rely on diesel is that their long trips are able to best take advantage of diesel efficiency. Sure, your party pontoon boat may be able to get up to 31 mph, but you can actually end up damaging its diesel engine if you only take it out every few weeks. Although your engine may not “wear down,” it might develop internal corrosion in all parts of its system, forcing you to repair or replace it.
  • Maintenance: Initially, the cost of diesel engine maintenance is quite low. However, if you fail to care for it, those costs can quickly add up. Diesel engines do not tolerate neglect and a lack of maintenance like gas engines can; making the same mistake on gas engine versus a diesel engine can result in a several thousands of dollars difference.

At the end of the day, the right engine for you depends on how you plan to use your boat. If you’re just planning on pleasure cruising in your 20-foot craft around St. Augustine every other weekend, gas might be better fit; if you’re expecting to be on the water every day, visiting a new port as often as possible, diesel is probably more your speed. As long as you truly consider your options and needs, you’ll end up with an engine that lasts as long as you do!


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