Being out on a boat, you have two options. You can either go old school, forgo all the comforts of modern living, wear 18 sweaters not to freeze to death and eat only the raw fish you can spear over the side.
Or you can embrace the modern world, put some lights on, run your coffee-maker to that out your fingers, and get something warm and tasty in the microwave.
If you want to go the latter way – especially with the microwave, you’re going to need a portable generator.
That’s no problem. The world is awash with portable generators, right?
Sure – but among all those, there are some that are especially suited to life on a boat.
Do you know which ones those are?
You will by the time you’re done reading this page. Let us show you the 5 best marine generators – and tell you why they work better than any others on the market. That way, you can get your clicky-finger working and bring your boat life right into the 21st century.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
OUR TOP PICK
OUR TOP PICK
If you thought about the ideal generator for anything from a dinghy to a small ship – you probably wouldn’t think of the Durostar DS4000S.
In general terms, you’d be looking for something lighter, extremely portable, and probably with a decent but unremarkable power generation capacity.
Sometimes though, you need more juice than the “look at us, we’re handy for boats” crowd of generators can bring to your party.
And we’re not talking about anything extravagant here – you don’t need to host an all-night electric-grill burger party to out-class most commercial generators that people take on boats.
We’re talking about such monstrous extravagances as, y’know, running an air conditioning unit.
Most smaller generators keel over in shock at the thought of that kind of workload, and have to be brought cups of green tea in darkened rooms for a week to recover.
That is not a problem from which the Durostar suffers.
With 4,000 starting watts and a running wattage of around 3,300, the Durostar is like that guy you know who works out hard and then demands that you punch him in the stomach to show how little he feels it?
Air conditioner? Please! What else ya got?
Now, also like that bodybuilding friend, the Durostar is distinctly bulkier and heavier than… well, than most of its peers.
Without help, it would struggle on a boat. Heck, without help it would struggle to get from place to place on land.
But the Durostar people have seen that and given it a dual-handle system so you can drag it about the place a lot more easily than you’d be able to otherwise.
There is also an optional wheel kit, but whether that makes sense on your boat will tend to depend on the size of the vessel, the amount of free rolling space, and whether portability is your big concern, or power.
Fuel-efficiency is not in any sense bad on the Durostar, and 4 gallons of fuel will get you 8 hours of generator power, so you’ll get a reasonable nod of satisfaction from it – but it’s true there are more efficient generators out there (we’ll show you some in a moment).
But remember, you’re not buying the Durostar for its efficiency per se, you’re buying it so it can provide you with the power that other generators simply can’t muster.
Likewise, it’s not as quiet as some other generators, but at 69 dBA, it’s a lot quieter than your brain tells you any machine delivering that sort of wattage should be.
Add that to a pleasingly low-end price-point and what you have in the Durostar is a marine generator that defies a lot of the marine generator conventions, but gives you a machine that’s more fit for purpose when it comes to delivering power than many other pretenders on the market.
If there’s one perplexing issue with the Durostar, it’s that you need to be able to ground it. That can be tricky in a marine environment.
- The Durostar delivers you more power than most marine generators, to let you use equipment on board that would otherwise be out of the question
- Durostar has a strong reputation of making sturdy, reliable generators
- It’s surprisingly portable with handles, despite its size and weight
- For its size and power, the Durostar is a surprisingly quiet generator
- You have to be able to ground the Durostar generator, which can be difficult on a boat
The thing to remember first and foremost about the Westinghouse WGen7500DF is actually the DF in its name.
That’s dual-fuel for any newcomers to the idea of marine generators, and what it means is that the generator will run just as happily on propane as it will on gasoline.
That in turn translates to extra running time for your generator.
If you take a 6.6-gallon tank of regular gas and an additional tank of propane, you have enough there to keep your generator going for a solid 24 hours.
Weirdly enough, the generator is fuel-efficient that if you put out to sea and realise you’ve left your propane on the dock, you can still get a good 16 hours out of the 6.6 gallons of regular fuel.
Never mind the efficiency, let’s talk raw power!
OK, let’s. On gasoline alone, you’re looking at 9,500 peak watts, with a running wattage of 7,400.
Going propane-solo, you’ll get 8,550 watts at start-up, and 6,750 watts of running power.
This is a pretty rugged generator, surrounded by a hardened steel frame that makes it well prepared to stand up to the rigors of life on board a boat, and further precautions have been taken too, like covering the GFCI power outlets with rubber, for extra safety.
While you’re out on the ocean, potentially prey to currents and swells, one of the things you need least in the world is a complicated or uncertain start-up process on your generator.
We’ve all seen the movie where the captain of the little boat tries to start their generator time after time, getting more and more desperate and frustrated before offering profane prayers to any water-spirit that’s listening, trying once more and feeling the generator catch, and the lights come on.
It’s great as suspense-rich big-screen entertainment.
There are no printable words for how much it sucks in real life if you’re the captain.
So the extremely convenient single-button push start on the Westinghouse is something every skipper everywhere will appreciate.
Sure, it would make a sucky movie, but in real life, we’ll take that reliability and convenience every single time.
It’s on the heavier side for a marine generator, and it’s also by no means an unobtrusive, quiet piece of technology to have on board, but with a high-as-heck power capacity and some sweet reliability features, it’s pretty much everything you need in a First Mate.
Added to all of which, the Westinghouse comes with an additional reliability guarantee - a 3-year limited warranty, to underline the effectiveness of the generator.
- The dual fuel potential of the Westinghouse means you get the opportunity to power your generator for longer
- The Westinghouse also has exceptional fuel efficiency, even in single-fuel operation
- Westinghouse is also known for the sturdy builds of its generators
- A simple push-button electric start takes the uncertainty out of power-up
- The Westinghouse comes with a 3-year limited warranty to underscore its reliability
- It’s neither the lightest, nor the most maneuverable, generator to haul on board a boat
If you’re sweating just thinking about hauling the likes of the Durostar or the Westinghouse on board your boat, the WEN 56200i might be more in your… ahem… wheelhouse.
That’s because it makes a virtue of both its lightness and its ease of transportation.
Weighing in at just 48 pounds, there will be some horny-handed sea dogs who can carry the WEN on board with one hand.
Try doing that with the Durostar and you’ll snap your wrist.
Now, with that lightness comes a significant reduction in power output, with just 2000 watts on start-up, and a running power of just 1600 watts.
That’s a big drop from the first two generators on our list. You’re not getting an air conditioner to work on 1600 watts.
You may just about get a microwave working on that power output, which is still reason enough to take it on board.
And whereas with some generators, you run the risk of damaging the sensitive electronics in equipment you might want to plug into them in a marine environment, the WEN is an inverter, so they’re comparatively safe.
You can get around 6 hours of run-time in standard mode, but the WEN also has two tricks up its sleeve to maximize your run-time.
First, you can switch it to eco mode to stretch out that fuel, and secondly, if you want, given that they’re light and portable, you can take two units on board and parallel connect them for double the output – at which point, you might risk flicking that AC on after all, making the WEN more of a real marine contender – but without the back-breaking weight of some of the bigger units.
- The WEN is a lightweight, easily portable unit
- If you bring two on board with you, you can parallel connect them and double your power output
- Eco mode helps you make the most of your fuel economy
- The price-point is impressive for a lightweight generator option
- The WEN also comes with a 2-year warranty
- The power output of a single unit is a big drop from the bigger generators
Honda has long had a strong reputation in the land-based portable generator market.
This EU2200ITAG 2,200-watt inverter takes that reputation out beyond the bay and proves how it came to be in the first place.
While 2,200 watts is in a different league to some of the larger, heavier, and louder machines, as an inverter, it’s pretty impressive, and it’s also relatively neighbor-friendly – you won’t wake up the people on the next boat in the dock with this generation, which usually runs at 48 dBA, and peaks around 57 dBA.
So you get power without the roar and grind of some of the bigger generators.
In terms of fuel efficiency, you can get anything between 4-9 hours of power from a single tank of gas, and of course, that power should be pure, so it won’t damage the electronics of anything you plug into it.
Remember, those 2,200 watts are your figures at start-up. The Honda is rated for 1800 watts of standard running power.
And the Honda also offers excellent ventilation – which is especially crucial in a marine environment.
Like the WEN, because this is an inverter, you can parallel connect it with another unit and double your potential power output, while not substantially adding to the hassle of having the units on board.
- This is another lightweight, easy-to-transport inverter
- The very low noise threshold of the Honda means it’s dock-friendly
- This is a fairly fuel-efficient generator
- You can parallel-pair two units to double your power output
- Significantly lower power output than some of the bigger units
Power is what ultimately matters most about a generator, right?
Especially one that you need to rely on in a marine environment.
Still, if you don’t mind your marine generator looking retro cool as all-get-out, then the Yamaha EF2000iSv2 is a good way for you to go when clicking the “Buy” button.
It’s lightweight and easy to transport on and off the boat, having the look of the coolest transistor radio you ever saw.
It’s a clean-power inverter with Pulse Width Modulation control, offering 2,000 watts at start-up and 1600 watts of running power, which will be enough for most of your minor on board appliances.
As with the other inverters, if you want more power output, you can parallel-connect two units to give yourself a bigger all-round output.
And thanks to a clever little gadget called a Smart Throttle, you can get 10.5 hours of power out of the inverter on a quarter-load.
- The design of the Panasonic is like nothing else in the marine generator market
- It’s lightweight and easy to transport
- There’s great fuel economy here, boosted by the Smart Throttle
- As an inverter, you can parallel-connect units to double the power output
- The gas tank here is not as large as it could be
Best Marine Generators Buying Guide
When looking at marine generators, there are a few things to keep in mind before you make your decision.
As with land generators, match the power output of the generator to your actual on board needs.
If you want to run an AC unit for several hours, or a refrigerator, say, you’re going to need a generator that can bring more power than the inverter generators can offer you.
That might well come with consequences like the size and weight of the generator, but if you need a refreshing refrigerator-chilled beverage at any point – or a properly microwaved meal, come to that – you’re going to appreciate that extra power.
On the other hand, if your on board needs are fairly straightforward and minimal, there’s no reason to invest in a generator that could power Manhattan.
In that case, one of the inverter generators should offer you enough power while bringing the benefits of lightweight, easily portable generators.
Be aware of the size, the weight, and the transportability of your generator. If your generator is large and heavy, you might want to keep it on board all season long, bringing extra fuel in as necessary.
While, if your generator is smaller and lighter, you should be able to take it on and off the boat with each trip.
Look out for anything that helps protect the generator, like rubberized covers, etc. Anything that keeps the generator safe from the buffeting and weather of a marine environment makes your generator more suited to life on a boat.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Makes A Generator Good For A Boat?
Providing enough power to use on board appliances is key. Longevity of power supply is also extremely useful – go for a generator with the longest run-time and best fuel economy, as well as the highest power output.
What Sort Of Power Output Do I Need From My Marine Generator?
That depends on what you intend to power on board. It’s a worthwhile exercise to add up the amperage of all the appliances you want to power on board, because that will give you a good idea of how much power output you need from your generator.
If you have heavier appliances to power, like microwaves and air conditioning units, you’re obviously going to need a more powerful generator, like the Westinghouse or the Durostar.
If your power needs are lighter, then one of the inverter generators will be more than enough to see you through.
Are Inverter Generators Better Than Standard Ones?
It’s not the case that they’re better, necessarily – and they’re unlikely ever to give you the bigger power outputs you need for more complex electronic systems.
But they do give you safe, pure sine wave power, which can protect the sensitive electrics in some of your on board appliances.