Outboard Emission Standards Working towards standards

Posted by Gary Fooks and David Heyes on 14 April 2015 |




We have been explaining to Industry for a long time now that emission standards for outboards were on the way.  Changes in Federal Governments in past years have had varying priorities on the timelines to having standards in place. But now there is a renewed focus and agenda that places emission standards firmly back on the agenda and we explain what, why and when.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt made an announcement in February that clears the path for a final statement at the next Ministers’ meeting in mid 2015, and then the process of drafting the laws begins.

Most industry observers are cautious about predicting the future – but we feel that industry needs our best estimates, so no one is planning for their business in the dark. 

Our firmest prediction is that we will have a mirror copy of the USA regulations. After all, that’s the only plan that has been considered in the government papers since 2007, in the 2010 public consultation, the Cost Benefit Analysis an in every conversation we have had with Government.

That’s a good thing.  It means that Australians get access to the full range of outboards sold in the US markets, without the need for costly re-certification to some unique Australian standard.

Remember when Inflatable lifejackets cost $160 each?  When the authorities dropped the requirement to meet Australian certification and allowed the sale of PFDs certified to the identical EU standard, the price of safety fell to $65 at boat show specials.  That’s the kind savings that come with adopting a world standard.

 The USA EPA small engine emissions standard is the de-facto world standard.  It has been adopted by Canada, and Japan, Europe is harmonizing toward it and China has adopted the same approach. 

So, depending on whether we jump in the deep end and go directly to three star, or phase in with two star initially, the result is the same: we will no longer be able to import carby or even EFI two strokes.  

It will also mean that used boats, without certified outboards, won’t be allowed through Customs either, assuming the regulations match what we expect to see. That will put severe limits on personal imports and the grey market. 

Only four strokes and Direct Injection two strokes will pass the proposed standards.  What Australians own now won’t be “banned” of course.  The laws will only affect new imports after a certain date, so stock already at dealerships and warehouses won’t be affected either.  Though, we have had a hint that excessive stockpiling before regulations commence won’t be acceptable. 

But what date?

Here is where the crystal ball can get cloudy and where some in the industry get convoluted.  But the Marine Industry deserves to be aware of both the facts and our best estimates so that we can each make informed business decisions.

No one has yet decided when regulations will start.  There are no secrets here, just a process to go through. 

As we mentioned above, in February 2015, Environment Minister Hunt announced a final agreement on the Decision RIS to be reached by mid 2015.  So that’s the agreement of all Environment State Ministers and a final green light to proceed.  What follows is the drafting of legislation, and passing the laws through Parliament.

When the politicians want some new laws in a hurry, they can be in place in a few weeks.  But small engine emissions is not front-page news, so the process will include further consultation on the details of the new Regulations, before final drafting.   So it will take months not weeks.

With the National Clean Air agreement planned for 1 July 2016, it would be no surprise if that was a target date.  It could slip, but for sure, someone in Canberra has that date in mind.  Given that the next Federal Election can be no later than 17th January 2017, the Minister will want to get all this squared away before the election run up. 

What will be regulated?

All small non-road petrol engines will fall under the new standard.  That includes lawn mowers, brush cutters, chain saws, generators, outboards, inboards and PWC’s.  (Diesel standards will come later.)  The standards are pragmatic and are matched to product types.  No surprise there as the practical details have been ironed out over 15 years under the USA Standards.  

For example, the emissions limits are 30 g/kw/hr HC+NOx for outboards up to 4.5kw (6hp) but get progressively tougher so that the limit for a 250hp is about  13 g/kw/hr HC+NOx.  And handheld equipment like lightweight chainsaws have their own set of standards.

It’s not only Hydrocarbons (HC - chemical smog, seen as blue smoke) and Nitrous Oxides (NOx – a health risk and case of acid rain) but also Carbon Monoxide (CO – a poison) that are all to be limited.  

For half of Australians who buy 4 stroke of DI outboards now, the extra cost for an outboard after regulation will be $0.  It’s not going to cost anything because the three star outboards we are buying right now already meet the standard.  No changes, modifications – nothing needs to be done.

For those who buy engines that are carburettor or EFI (that will be non-compliant), converting to clean engines next time will save them money.   Yes, the clean engine will cost about 22% more, but they use 30% less fuel and last years longer – so a 3 star outboard will save Boat owners money in the end.

For some brands and dealers there will be cost savings.   With carby/EFI two strokes removed from the catalogue will mean less stock to hold in storage, slimmer catalogues and fewer technician training days.  In the end, fewer spare parts to hold as well.  Of course that only true for those brands who today sell a full range of carby two strokes.

Yes, some people will be unhappy.  Change is always a challenge. 

Some outboard companies have 60%, even as high 90% of their unit sales in non-compliant outboards.  Others have been both proactive and have moved early to focus on clean outboards. 

Every major outboard company distributes a full range of clean products right now.  There is nothing to be developed or prepared and therefore no advantage or disadvantage for any one manufacturer. 

Instead of Green Zones shrinking the fishing market, a big plus is clean engines are opening up new fishing areas.  Queensland fishers now have access to Lake Lenthalls and Wivenhoe Dam, but only for low emission outboards.  There are similar moves in S.A. and soon other states. So regulations will help open up new market opportunities and make boating a preferred and healthy choice of family recreation.

Boat Hulls will also change

To reduce fuel vapour adding to smog levels, new boat hulls introduced after the commencement date, will need to meet a fuel evaporative standard.  The same sort of standards that have been on cars for a decade, will also come into effect with outboard emissions.  That means low permeable hoses, fuel tank expansion capacity and a carbon canister on the fuel line. 

Boat builders who have kept up with the announcements, like Haines Signature, already have their hull designs ready to add these extra components.   Others will wait until the due date and rush to make costly last minute hull adjustments, which may necessitate backward steps like reducing fuel tank capacity to allow for ullage if they cannot fit in an expansion tank.

The extra cost will be about $150 per boat, if your hull design is planned ahead.  

You can read more about the US requirements at the Perko-Delphi web site or ask you engine supplier.  AMEC has also offered to assist.    AMEC has also offered to assist boat builders.

Boat hulls should by now all be ready for the slightly heavier, clean engines.  The Boat Building Standard AS1796 was updated in 2009, so any boat builder who has not kept up to date by 2015, should not be expecting sympathy from regulators.    (Contact your BIA or AMEC for a copy of AS1796.) 

Why do we need emissions standards?

Australians buy about 2 million petrol engines a year. Half of these are in cars - and they have had emissions standards since the 1970’s.  The other million engines we buy each year, are non-road engines:  from mowers to outboards and they have been completely uncontrolled in Australia.

Marine engine emissions standards were first regulated at the Bodensee Lake (Europe) in 1993. The US Environment Protection Agency has regulated small engine emissions since 1997, while the European Commission introduced the first emission standards for marine engines in 2003.  China introduced small engine emission standards in 2010 followed by India in 2012. 

For a country that claims we look after our waterways and fish responsibly, we are well behind the world in limiting air and water pollutants from outboards. 

“But the small two strokes don’t pollute much!” is still an all too common catch-cry.

Sorry, but that’s just not true.   No outboard, even the cleanest, is as good as the equivalent car. A carburetted 2-stroke has about 11 times the emissions of 3 star engine.  You can see this for yourself at a glance at the Engine data base (  ) and the emissions numbers in the right side columns. The HC+NOx and CO numbers tell the tale.

While you are there, pull out the calculator and you can work out that a 6hp 2-stroke has the same kg of emissions per hour as a 150hp 4-stroke.  And an 8hp two stroke can have 59% more!  These numbers are rock solid: they are calculated by the engine manufacturer in their own labs, and audited by the USA EPA.

With evidence like this, it is no wonder we need to catch up to the world and limit what we are pushing into the air and waterways.

What took so long?

The road to Australian standards started way back in 2003, but escalated with expert panels in 2006.  The writers sat on one of those panels and contributed to the report that came out in 2007.  What followed were further studies, a Cost Benefit Analysis and a Public Consultation in 2010 that suggested regulations in 2012 – but then progress stalled.

Following a change of government, the new Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt got the process started again.  In April 2014 he ordered that the report stalled in 2010 be completed within 6 months.   That happened, and at the Ministers meeting last month (February 2015) the National Clean Air plan was launched with an implementation date of 1 July 2016.

In the fine print on page one is a statement under   Finalising existing work streams that “Under the Agreement, Governments will complete work by mid 2015 to develop emissions control measures for: - wood heaters; - non-road spark ignition engines and equipment;”

Well that’s us – “non road spark ignition engines” includes outboards, PWC’s and inboards.   

So the writing is on the wall, and not in pencil.  This time it is written in ink.

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