Outboard vs. Sterndrive

The outboard and sterndrive are by far the two most popular drive systems available on the water today. There are other ways to get around, but a propeller driven by an engine either on an outboard or in the stern still owns the market. 

Outboard vs sterndrive

So which is the better choice between the outboard and the sterndrive? Read on to learn more about outboards and sterndrives, and the advantages each type of boat motor has over the other.

Outboard vs Sterndrive History

Back in the 1970s and 80s, boats started getting bigger. As the size of the boat increased, so did the performance demands on the powerplant. A sterndrive boat engine is basically an automotive engine, and at the time they were unmatched for power. There wasn’t an outboard around that came close. 

Sterndrive boat motor

But then something happened: heightened environmental standards mandated catalytic converters in auto engines, and the required changes added to the price. As a result, people started giving outboards another look.

Outboard boat motor

As technology evolved, so did the performance of the outboard motor. Gone was the high-pitched buzz of a two-stroke outboard, and consumers found a quieter, more fuel efficient and powerful four-stroke outboard for their needs. 

Advantages of an Outboard Boat Motor 

Lighter weight. The power-to-weight ratio is better in an outboard than in a sterndrive. For example, a 200 HP sterndrive might weigh about 700 lbs., while a 200 HP outboard might weigh between 480 and 500. That’s around 200 pounds of weight savings, which means more speed, hole shot and acceleration across the power band.

Outboard vs sterndrive: outboards on a boat

More space. A motor behind the boat instead of inside it opens up the deck space on a boat. And the smaller the boat, the more coveted the space. 

More tilt range. An outboard offers the ability to tilt the engine completely up and out of the water, which protects it from corrosion and marine growth. This also means you can completely drain the water out of the engine while the boat is still in the water. It allows boaters in colder climates to extend their boating season, since they don’t have to worry about water freezing and damaging cooling systems.

Easier to work on. An outboard engine is mounted outside and above the hull, so it’s easy to get to just about everything. On a sterndrive, some parts might be inaccessible without removing the engine or outdrive.

Advantages of a Sterndrive Boat Motor

Bigger swim platform. Since there’s no outboard bolted onto the transom, the entire width of the transom can be used as a platform to jump in for a swim. Not having an engine in the way also improves visibility, which is great for towing skiers or tubers.

Sterndrive on a boat

Better fuel economy. Four-stroke outboards are far more fuel efficient than their two-stroke ancestors, but they still can’t match a sterndrive when it comes to economy. Take for example a pair of 200 outboards vs. a pair of 220 sterndrives. At 30 knots, the sterndrive might use half as much fuel over an hour. Stretch that out over a season and the fuel savings can be extraordinary.

Better handling. A sterndrive keeps the weight of the engine within the footprint of the hull, giving the boat a consistent feel. An outboard on the other hand has the weight shifted out behind the hull, which can be an advantage when turning, but can present other problems because the boat pitches up out of the water more. Also, the heavier sterndrive engine has greater displacement, which means more torque.

Wake surfing. Without a propeller behind the boat, it’s much safer to surf behind a sterndrive or tow someone behind the boat. And again, no outboard also means better visibility.

Should You Get an Outboard or a Sterndrive?

The advantages of the sterndrive speak for themselves. Things like a bigger swim platform and safer towing are appealing for getting in and out of the boat and for towing, so sterndrives have a niche. But for ease of operation, the outboard tends to be a better all-around fit for many boat owners. Which one you should get ultimately depends on how you plan to use your boat. 



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