More Power, More Everything | The Benefits of Repowering a 27-Year-Old Bass Boat

Meet the Author

I am an avid bass fisherman and part of the ANGLR marketing team. I recently graduated from the Pennsylvania State University after being the team captain of the PSU Bass Fishing team for four years. I fish in tournaments nearly every weekend of the fishing season. I love to fish and have devoted my life to constant improvement with big goals to accomplish. I hope to help others improve and increase their knowledge along the way!
As an angler, I’m in awe of the peace and serenity of being on the water. There’s nothing like seeing the sun rise as the world wakes up – the water looks like glass, birds are chirping, and fish are boiling on the surface.

I’ve witnessed many such sights in countless locations across the country as I dropped my boat into the water on tournament mornings. I started tournament fishing for bass as a 15-year-old when I joined the Tyrone Bassmasters, a local Bass Federation club. After winning the second tournament I fished as a co-angler, I knew this hobby was about to become much more than that.

At 18, I joined the Penn State University Bass Fishing Club my freshman year. A month later, I purchased my first boat – a 20-foot 1992 Ranger Comanche with a 200hp Johnson outboard. During my four years at Penn State, I fished from that boat in 15 states against some of the best college anglers in the nation. I competed in three national championships, won the Pennsylvania Bass Federation state title, and compiled a stack of other accolades. But I always knew that reaching the next level, would require something more reliable than that 200hp Johnson.

Chapter 1 - Pre-Repower Experiences

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Pre-Repower Experiences

While competing on the road I learned about my boat as things broke or malfunctioned. I didn’t have angling-savvy family members to turn to and was forced to figure out repairs on my own. Along with plenty of success came a lot of boat trouble. Whether it was replacing the lower unit, replacing the powerhead, or fixing a carburetor, I was constantly working on my motor. I competed in many tournaments where I wouldn’t make a run to a spot I had found in practice because I was afraid my motor would let me down.

When I reached a point where my motor was doing me more harm than good, I cut back on my competitive fishing and started fishing team tournaments with a buddy who had a more reliable rig. My Ranger sat in the garage as I fished local events and saved money. When I had saved enough I made a purchase I knew I would never regret… and I made that purchase only a month ago.

Chapter 2 - Why I Chose to Repower an Old Boat

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Why I Chose to Repower an Old Boat

You may think I’m a little crazy for putting a brand-new motor on a 27-year-old Ranger. I chose to repower instead of purchasing a new boat package for several reasons, starting with the cost: Some of the new bass boats out there are selling for $60,000 to $80,000. Some cost even more, and as a recent college graduate that’s just not sustainable. The second reason I chose a repower is I love the old Ranger hulls. They handle rough water incredibly well and are built to last. I’ve said for years if I could keep my boat but swap out the motor, it’d make a world of difference.

So when I began looking at my options, I considered what I would need in a new motor. Reliability, speed, better fuel efficiency, and better hole shot; that Johnson took its time getting up on pad.

As I looked at motors from every company, I fell in love with the Mercury Pro XS. The reviews from the professional anglers and others in the fishing and boating industry are remarkable, and how could you not love the sound they make when they start?
Before I had made a final decision, I met Jen Nicklas, manager of creative services & advertising at Mercury Marine, at the Bassmaster Classic. Jen and I discussed benefits of the new Pro XS, as well as the possibility of telling my “repower story.”

I placed the order and started mapping out the story of how the Mercury (IS IT 200hp?) Pro XS has changed my boating. That’s when I met Travis Hayes, a senior application engineer at Mercury. Travis has worked on boat engines across the country, and not just bass boats – literally any boat you can imagine. We talked more about the repower process and how I could tell my story with valuable data about repowering.

Chapter 3 - Boat Repower Day 1: Test Day

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Boat Repower Day 1: Test Day

To collect relevant data from my specific repower, Travis and I spent a day on Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania testing my old rig. Now, I’m not an engineer but it was interesting to see the data from those tests. With the decibel readings hitting up to 110, a fuel consumption at 26.9 gallons per hour at top speed, and a top speed of 63 miles per hour, there were plenty of improvements to be made.
We gathered a ton of data that day, starting with tests on the Johnson’s performance from 1,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm. Well, we tried to at least. That old motor would max out at 5,700 rpms.

From these tests we gathered data on speed, fuel consumption in both GPH (gallons per hour) and MPG (miles per gallon), range, and sound levels. One stat that blew me away was the decibels produced by that old two-stroke. To say it was loud would be an understatement.

Chapter 4 - Boat Repower Day 2: Off with the Old, On with the New

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Boat Repower Day 2: Off with the Old, On with the New

The next week, I arrived at Jim’s Anchorage in Hesston, Pennsylvania.
During the past few years I had taken my boat to Jim’s whenever I had projects that were over my head. The folks at Jim’s were gracious enough to allow me to use their garage for a few days while Travis was performing the repower.

Travis was tasked with swapping out the old ’92 200hp Johnson for a new 2020 Mercury 4.6L V8 200hp Pro XS in just three days. Work began the minute I backed the rig into the garage.

Removing and Replacing

After removing the steering cables and few bolts that held the motor to the transom, we were ready to remove the Johnson.
With an engine lift, we hoisted the Johnson away from the boat and my 1992 Ranger 392V became motorless for the first time in 27 years. As you can imagine, there was some serious cleaning to be done.
After wiping down the transom, Travis pointed at the giant box in the corner of the garage and said, “Let’s open her up.”
I will never forget lifting the cardboard cover and just staring at the engine. I was in awe at the size of my new Pro XS.
Once my heart stopped fluttering, we got the Pro XS onto the lift and slowly lowered it onto the freshly cleaned transom. We bolted it down and Travis threaded in the steering cables, and my heart fluttered again..
In about 30-minutes, we had removed the Johnson and replaced it with a sleek, clean and shiny new 200hp Mercury Pro XS.
Travis removed the old steering cables and broke out the new cables and dash kit. The real work was about to begin.

Chapter 5 - Boat Repower Day 3: The Depths and Doom of a Hull

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Boat Repower Day 3: The Depths and Doom of a Hull

Day 3 was more of a “sit back and watch” day for me. Travis, however, was shoulder, hip, neck, and ankle-deep in the part of a boat the general public rarely sees – inside the hull.  The goal for the day was connecting gas lines and new throttle cables. This is generally the backbreaking work done between the deck and the bottom of the hull that boat mechanics seem to thrive on.
To access the gas tanks, Travis removed the seats of my boat and a piece of the deck that I didn’t even know was removable.
Travis then removed the dash and various wires. As you can see in the image above, it seemed like organized chaos. I never realized how much goes into properly wiring a dash and running cables from the motor to the Hotfoot. For me, zip ties and duct tape always seemed good enough, but Travis did everything right!
As my boat deck transformed into a mechanical warzone, I wondered whether or not it’d all piece back together. But Travis was following his game plan.
By the end of the day, the seats were reattached, and gas lines and throttle cables were hooked. But there was still a ton of work to be done.

Chapter 6 - Boat Repower Day 4: All About That Dash

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Boat Repower Day 4: All About That Dash

As we entered the final day of installation, Travis started the “artsy” side of this repower process.
The day’s main goal was installing new gauges on the dash…  something that was much easier said than done.
For starters, the key landing hole was too small; Travis had to screw down and backfill with a piece of plywood the size of the current landing hole so he could land in the center. With some “inventive” engineering, Travis made the hole the correct size for the new key landing hole. After that, we were lucky enough to have the rest of the landing holes sized correctly for the new gauges. One by one, each gauge was dropped in, wired to the engine and powered.
Once all gauges were connected, Travis spent about 30 minutes organizing the wires under the dash to ensure they were secured out of sight.
While he was under the dash, Travis installed a VesselView Mobile router and my favorite piece of Mercury technology, Active Trim.
Then we ran into some Hotfoot issues. Basically, my old Hotfoot was fitted for Gen 1 steering cables, while the new Pro XS uses Gen 2 cables. Our only option was to “overnight” a new Hotfoot and install it the next day.

Chapter 7 - Boat Repower Day 5: Final Touches and Break-In Process

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Boat Repower Day 5: Final Touches and Break-In Process

The final day of the repower process arrived. With giddy anticipation, I met with Travis at Jim’s Anchorage one last time so he could finalize some wiring, then we were off to the lake.
The time to break in the new Pro XS had arrived, and water and weather conditions were perfect.
We started by performing the same tests we had done with the Johnson, but we experienced very different results.
The Mercury Pro XS was absolutely awesome, beating the Johnson in every test category! We improved our top speed, acceleration, fuel efficiency, and hole shot. The Pro XS exceeded my expectations. The decibel readings differed so much we had to retake them to be certain we tested it correctly. Instead of screaming to Travis so he could hear me, we held a regular conversation while running down the lake at 60 mph. The Pro XS is just flat out better in every way.

Top speed increased by about 7 miles per hour, but Travis told me the top speed would increase as I put more hours on the motor, and he was right.

Chapter 8 - Boat Repower: A One Month Recap

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Boat Repower: A One Month Recap

As I continued to break in the motor, it just kept improving. My fuel efficiency increased even more, and my top speed is now 74 miles per hour, well beyond anything ever achieved by my Johnson.

As I’ve grown accustomed to the new motor, I’ve already become lazy when it comes to trimming thanks to Active Trim. To be able to simply sit down, start the motor and take off knowing Active Trim is maximizing my fuel economy based on the throttle I’m giving has changed the game for me. And I can override Active Trim in rough water, something other anglers have asked about.

So far I’ve put 13 hours on the new Pro XS and have not yet refilled my gas tank – not once. Maybe most importantly, there is nothing better than the reliability I’ve experienced with this motor so far. On every instance I’ve turned the key, it has started. Coming from that old two-stroke, this is like being on another planet.
Thank you, Jen, Travis, the entire Mercury Marine team, and Jim’s Anchorage for being a part of this life-changing repower. I am still blown away and in awe at the power and performance of the 2020 4.6L V8 200hp Pro XS, and I can’t wait to continue to Go Boldly every single time I hit the water!