Inboard or Outboard? The Boat You’ll Buy Next

You’re in the market for a new boat, you know where you’re going to keep it so you know the general size and draft constraints.  You’ve thought about how you will primarily use the boat—now you’re down to the final details before you buy.  What are your preferences for powering the boat, inboard or outboard power?

Inboards are reliable, and most maintenance can be done by the owner‚ though access may be tricky.

Inboards are reliable and most maintenance can be done by the owner‚ though access may be tricky.

Clearly, from 30-40 feet and up, inboards are the choice.  A boat that size needs an inboard because of its deeper draft and electrical requirements.  Below 30 feet, particularly if you have draft limitations or expect to keep the boat on a trailer, outboards are a good choice.  Also, if you plan to go gunk-holing or would like to drive the boat up on a beach, kicking up the engine is a nice option. The only time that inboards are good in shallow draft situations is when you have jet drives.

So size, draft requirements, and what you plan to do with the boat are some of the considerations in your decision, but you still aren’t sure.  What else should you consider?

One big difference is fuel type.  Outboards run on gas; inboards are predominately diesel-powered. Oh, you can find gas inboards, but for safety reasons I would go with a diesel inboard every time.  (Two exceptions for a gas inboard would be if you are considering a power-driven Formula-type race boat for performance reasons, or an older used boat because it is cheaper.)

Outboards are easy to replace, and new models like this Yamaha VMAX are quiet and environmentally friendly.

Outboards are easy to replace, and new models like this Yamaha VMAX are quiet and environmentally friendly.

Another consideration is power and torque vs. speed. Power and torque are two strengths of diesel inboards. And while there are some very fast turbo-diesel inboard boats, speed is generally the domain of gas outboards.

Finally, there are maintenance, dependability, and cost issues.  A few years ago, I would’ve said that diesel inboards were more likely to be yard-maintained by a professional mechanic and hence would be more costly to own than an outboard; with today’s sophisticated outboards, that is almost reversed.  Simple diesels are easy to work on and very dependable, even if you have to be a contortionist to shoe-horn yourself around a tight engine compartment. Modern computer-controlled outboards—particularly the large ones— need technicians with the right training and tools to work on them.

If you do have to replace or upgrade an engine or prop, it is easier with an outboard.  And on a smaller boat, having outboards will give you more space for you and your guests.

Editor’s Note: To help with your next decision, read Do You Need a Surveyor?

Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    Why do so many houseboats use an outboard motor. I’m really glad you posted this. I am looking for my first houseboat (actually first boat) and always wondered which type of engine would be best.

    • Peter d'Anjou says:

      Hi Kevin,

      I believe that most houseboats use outboards instead of inboards for a couple reasons. Primarily, that living space is at a premium onboard and that outboards maximize that space. By nature, houseboats don’t move as often as other boats, being regularly attached to shorepower and services, so having an outboard is also quieter. Good luck in your search for a boat to live on, I’m sure you will find lots of options.

      Sincerely
      Peter d’Anjou
      BoatTrader.com

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