Diesel Power for Tow-Sports Boats

 Cummins MerCruiser 3-liter TDI, 265 horsepower.

The Cummins MerCruiser 3-liter TDI, 265 horsepower engine.

Not long ago, I advocated the use of diesels in runabouts, but then another notion hit me like a freight train. What about tow boats?

A diesel is perfect for application on tow boats. Towing skiers and wakeboarders requires torque, and diesels have it in abundance. Tow boats also aren’t known for their speed — most top out at 45 mph — so you wouldn’t be losing anything by going with a diesel.

But think about what you would get from a diesel-powered tow boat. In addition to the aforementioned torque, you’d get greater fuel economy, if for no other reason than there is more latent energy in diesel fuel. You’d also be able to use something other than a V8, which means more flexibility in packaging.

A Yanmar straight six-cylinder would allow for larger stowage compartments in a V-drive or more floor space in a direct-drive inboard. The same holds true if you were to use, say, the Volkswagen Marine V6 available through Cummins MerCruiser.

Available in 225-, 230- and 265-hp output levels, all three Cummins MerCruiser TDI V6 engines achieve maximum torque at 2,000 rpm. That means you can spin a higher-pitch propeller, and that translates to higher speeds at lower rpm. Fewer rpm means lower fuel consumption, something every boater can appreciate.

I will go out on a limb and say that a diesel-powered tow boat is a better approach than Nautique’s new electric-powered tow boat. Nautique’s “E boat” is innovative and forward thinking, so I can find no faults with the boat, but current battery technology just doesn’t allow people to use their tow boats the way they’re accustomed to using them. You can’t spend the day on the water with your family with an electric boat because the range just isn’t there.

But with a diesel, you’d have no problem spending a weekend at the lake without having to add a drop of fuel. That’s how people use their boats in the real world, and a diesel engine would do the trick.

The same pitfalls are there, of course. In new or used boats, diesel engines always cost more up front and the fuel itself is more expensive, but you use less of it. Tow boats cost enough these days that people are keeping them longer, so the upfront costs would be amortized through reduced fuel consumption.

I’m curious what real-world boaters think. Would you pay a little extra up front on the sticker price for diesel power to save on fuel costs every season?

Brett Becker


  1. Richard says:

    Diesels are becoming more efficient all the time. I don’t own a boat but for cars I now prefer a diesel. They can perform as well as petrol engines with good long-term reliability and lower fuel and running costs. I would apply the same logic to any boat engine I was looking at in the future.

  2. Josh says:

    I’m with you guys, Diesel would be the way to go for a tow boat. I would pay extra for the diesel option knowing I’ll have better fuel economy and better resale value later on. Don’t forget diesel exhaust has less danger of asphyxiation than gasoline exhaust too; that’s less to worry about when the kids are out back..

  3. airboat ride says:

    Yup diesel is the best option for tow boat. as its has better fuel economy. Till now diesel is best for tow boats as electric boat is new concept and people don’t know more about it. And yes you are right in new or used boats, diesel engines always cost more up front and the fuel itself is more expensive, but you use less of it. Thank you:)

  4. Stazi says:

    Yeah, bui t how bad are the fumes, smell and particulates coming out of that when you’re getting towed, or worse, up close surfing? My bet is that it would reek!
    Every diesel boat I have been around stinks! Not to mention passenger cars or even worse trucks.

    • Tom says:

      The new diesels are not your father’s/grandfather’s diesels. Check out the new German diesels and Ford’s Powerstrokes. No fumes, no knocking sounds….smooth, clean power and incredible torque.

  5. peter cruz says:

    diesel is the way to go when it comes to boating, longer range cheaper consumption but not on a tow boat.

  6. Michael says:

    I drive a diesel pickup and like the power but it’s a terrible choice for a tow boat. The skier would “die” from the stench of even the newest and cleanest diesels. Also, unless the engine is supercharged, it would take ages to pull up a skier, especially a big guy on a single ski. Gas engines rule the hole shot. Leave the diesels for what they do best-efficiently push heavy boats at steady speeds.

    • Jack says:

      Your thinking about diesel in the form of an auto or truck. Because of the torque they would be every bit as fast out of the hole. Plus, you wouldn’t smell the diesel anymore than you do the regular exhaust, as they are both ported below the water level. What you would notice is a little more oil on the water when a bunch of them are sitting ideling at the same time…not as bad as the old two strokes, but there is a little oil sheen when I’m out in the cove and a bunch of guys have their diesel generators running.

  7. Bob W says:

    The VW 3.0 TDI is a beast – I have one in a Touareg. Quiet and smooth with over 400 ft lbs of torque – that is the more important number than the HP for a tow boat. I taught water skiing professionally for nearly 50 years – a multitude of tow boats which I serviced myself. Reports indicate that MasterCraft has been testing this engine in an R&D mode in Europe for over a year. It will be very interesting to see who jumps on the bandwagon first with this as an option – since it should prove to be an excellent alternative to the current gasoline V 8 engines. However the economical benefit would be questionable – the current gasoline engines are extremely efficient with all of the electronic engine management systems onboard. My experience is that the average GPH for my fleet over a season dropped from 7.5 to 3.5 as they migrated from carbureted/breaker point ignition to injected/ECU engines. I’m not sure that the economy of the TDI will offset the initial outlay for the “premium” engine unless it’s used for over 250 hours per season.

  8. scott says:

    I would put diesels in my Formula 370 SS if I could afford it. I drive an 06 Chevy pickup (slightly modded to have 3 superchargers), it produces over 600 horsepower and over 1000 lb. ft. of torque, and uses less gas than the Dodge with a Hemi I used to own previously.

    Biggest problem is you just can’t use a standard stern drive with a diesel like that. There are some high end stern drives that cost upwards of $30,000, but again the cost becomes prohibitive. However, in a V drive or direct drive situation, this may not be nearly the same issue (and i wold like to see greater use of direct and V drives in boats anyway).

    In addition, whatever added cost there may be at purchase, you will certainly gain back on fuel economy, longevity, and resale value. Thus, I welcome and encourage the use of diesles in boating, and hope they become more prevalent.

    • Jack says:

      You have a point. Never thought of the outdrives being a weak link….just like they have to provide a different transmission for cars and trucks that are diesel. Personally, I’ve owned several diesels….. and all have been great…..except for a lousy VW diesel back in the early 80’s that VW sold to Volvo. I would have never purchased the Volvo had I realized the engines were provided by VW, even then you could always tell the VW piece of garbage because of the huge smoke cloud, even in a new car. In fact, that was the only way you could tell it was a VW, as the cloud was so thick you couldn’t even see the car.

  9. Doug Logan says:

    If they’re maintained, today’s marine diesels are much cleaner than they used to be. For skiers and wakeboarders, noxious exhaust can be even further reduced by running a good percentage of processed biodiesel — 20 to 80 percent — mixed with the petrodiesel. It’s harder to find professionally processed biodiesel than it was a few years ago, but a lot of fuel companies are now carrying B20 (20 percent bio) as a stock fuel. Maybe fuel docks will be next.

  10. Needless to say but I’ve been a bit carried away by this article despite of being around for almost 3 years. Well, In any case, I’m not against using diesel power because I’ve seen some high-powered ones yet with lesser gas consumption. Here in seattle, we have an annual motor boating competition in the midst of may and a couple have joined. Some have huge engines like VW or Volvo of example. But as one of the participants, i choose the cheaper one with only 40 percent reduction in petrodiesel. Good thing to know though that there manufacturers now who’ve been improving the horsepower at very cheap cost.

  11. john says:

    I have no idea why all these boat companies haven’t started bringing out diesels. They are considered off road vehicles so the emissions isn’t as big of a deal, with wakesurfing and over loading a boat is the rave the low end torque would be awesome not to mention the gas mileage benefits. I was so excited to see mastercraft offer a diesel and then so bummed to find out the extra 20k price tag and later it got discontinued. I thought for sure diesels were finally coming to USA boats like the rest of the world. I was wrong.

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