Yamaha began building outboards in 1960, when they first rolled out an air-cooled, two-stroke, 123cc, seven horsepower eggbeater. Over the next three decades Yamaha made a name for itself for producing some of the most reliable outboard engines around, however, as environmental issues with two-strokes became an imperative issue in the late 1990s, the company initiated a shift to four-stroke technology.
In 1998 the F100A was introduced — and this engine would foreshadow the future of the entire outboard industry in more ways than one. The F100A was groundbreaking for multiple reasons, beyond simply being the first in Yamaha’s new generation of clean-tech four-strokes. It was the first outboard to utilize a 16-valve dual overhead cam four-cylinder design, and it incorporated a microcomputer to control ignition timing. Simultaneously, Yamaha pursued a cleaner-burning two-stroke technology path with its High-Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) system, and in 1999, introduced a 200-horse HPDI V-6. As we all know, however, four-stroke technology was destined to become the dominant force in the outboard market and eventually, to rule it completely.
Just after the turn of the century, Yamaha introduced the F225. This model had a better power-to-weight ratio than previously seen in four-stroke outboards, provided far better fuel efficiency than two-strokes, was significantly quieter, produced less vibration, and beat not only current but also future (2006) Environmental Protection Agency exhaust benchmarks. The F225 made a huge splash on the American market, winning the Boating Week 2000 Innovation Award. Perhaps even more importantly, the F225 proved to be practically bulletproof compared to other outboards and the boating public quite simply loved its power and reliability. In fact, when the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association began its Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) awards in 2001, indicating a manufacturer has received a 90-percent or higher standard of customer satisfaction, Yamaha Outboards received the award — and has received it each and every year since then. Yamaha is the only outboard manufacturer in existence that can make such a claim.
Yamaha Outboard Technology
The modern line of Yamaha outboards has leaned heavily on technological advances and incremental improvements. Even with a full lineup of outboards ranging from 2.5- to 450-horsepower engines, Yamaha is constantly improving and reintroducing models. Often, this means incorporating new technology developed for completely new platforms through the line of existing motors.
While the larger offerings in the lineup usually grab the biggest headlines, ironically, it’s some of Yamaha’s smaller offerings that provide the best illustration of this constant march towards better tech. The F25/20/15 platform is an ideal example. It would be easy for a company like Yamaha to produce the same old portable engine lineup, but a redesign that began with the 2017 introduction of the F25 and continued from there incorporated features like battery-less EFI, which improves fuel economy and makes it much easier to pull-start the engine on the first tug, every time. Yamaha also reduced weight by 25-percent, added an oil retention system and folding tiller handle to ease transporting and storing the engines, and equipped them with a CDI microcomputer to monitor throttle position, speed, and atmospheric conditions for optimal ignition performance.
At the opposite end of the power spectrum, Yamaha broke new ground with its F425 XTO Offshore when it introduced the industry’s first direct-injection system for a four-stroke outboard in 2018. This sends a high-pressure blast of atomized fuel directly into the combustion chamber, boosting both power and efficiency. Yamaha also rolled out the first outboard engine electric steering motor on the F425, providing quicker responses to input from the helm and eliminating the need for fault-prone hydraulic systems.
The Latest from Yamaha Outboards: The XTO Offshore
Initially announced in mid-2018, this 5.6-liter XTO Offshore V-8 entered the market as one of the largest outboard engine options (today topped only by the Mercury Marine 600 Verado), and in addition to its techy touches can boast such features as the highest compression ratio in the industry (12.2:1) and a phased angle control charging system. It also carries a five-year limited warranty, yet another testament to Yamaha’s dedication to reliability and longevity.
Above: Quad Yamaha XTOs on a 2019 Everglades 435 Center Console for sale on Boat Trader. Photo by Tom George Yacht Group.
For the 2023 model year, Yamaha has announced an upgrade bringing the F425 up to 450 horsepower. Now available in both increments, changes in the cams, valves, and intake and exhaust systems were made to raise the horsepower bar. The phased angle charging system got an upgrade as well, and can now produce a whopping 96 net amps when idling in neutral. Yamaha also used the opportunity to introduce a new “TotalTilt” system which allows the user to bring the motor to full up or full down positions by double-tapping the switch, a feature already appearing on other models as they’re upgraded. The 2023 model year brought changes to the F150 and F200 as well, with integrated electro-hydraulic steering now on these models.
Another arena in which Yamaha has invested research and development in recent years is control systems. Their Helm Master was one of the first joystick systems for outboard boats, and the company has consistently improved its capabilities since its introduction in 2013. In fact, 2020 saw a complete reintroduction of the system with the next-generation Helm Master EX. The EX version incorporates more programmed functionality with GPS-enabled station-keeping and drift controls, integrated autopilot and electric steering compatibility with digitally-controlled 150-horsepower and larger engines, and also brought the first joystick system to single-engine applications. Starting in 2023, Helm Master also integrates bow thruster control and a new DEC binnacle incorporating the start/stop switches.
What’s Next for Yamaha Outboards?
As the push to develop more and more powerful electric outboards gained a head of steam Yamaha foreshadowed their approach in 2021 with the introduction of the Harmo system. Harmo is a propulsion package including controls, a display, and an electric motor with a rim-drive drive unit shaped more or less like a stern drive, which bolts onto the transom. It produces power equivalent to a 9.9-horsepower outboard, and runs on 48 volts. However, Yamaha does not manufacture a battery system to feed it the power. It’s also sold only on an OEM basis, so it’s available on some new boats but isn’t available for purchase as a retrofit or repower.
While it’s impossible to predict the future, there are a few things we can say about what’s in store for Yamaha Outboards’ destiny. First, the company’s dedication to producing reliable engines and then standing behind them is a given. After a track record including 22 years of CSI awards and an amazingly low number of troubled products through the decades, that certainly seems like a solid bet. Second, considering the industry’s push towards larger and larger engines it would seem like a good bet that sooner or later Yamaha will top their own 450-horsepower cap. Finally, there’s no question that Yamaha will continue to develop new tech and upgrade their existing lineup. When it comes to Yamaha Outboards, we’re certainly not going out on a limb to say that the future looks bright.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June of 2021 and was updated in February of 2023.