Most boaters start out with the classic runabout as their first boat. It’s great to get the family out on the water together. Then it happens. Your kid goes out with another family and they have a ski boat, an inboard, and it’s waaaay better than your runabout for skiing and wakeboarding.
Now your kid is whining for a tow boat. Don’t fret. Odds are you’ll like it better than a stern-drive or outboard-powered runabout. Inboard tow boats are fun to drive. They have a better hole shot than anything on the water. They turn more crisply and sharply than nearly any other kind of boat, and they all have that magic thrum of V8 power.
There are two kinds of inboards, a direct-drive and a V-drive, and they’re used for particular disciplines in water sports.
First, a direct-drive features an automotive V8 mounted longitudinally, flywheel at the rear as it would be in a car or truck, but angled downward in the back. Behind the engine is a transmission with a drive shaft that comes out the back and is routed through the hull. It’s the same power path as a rear-drive car.
Direct-drives are the drivetrain of choice for water skiing because they were built to create soft, flat wakes at 30 mph and above. They can be made to work for wakeboard applications, but that usually involves bringing big, heavy water bags onboard, a practice so cumbersome that it’s just easier to buy a different boat. If you’re interested in doing mostly skiing, the direct-drive is what you want.
If your kids are into wakeboarding — and odds are good they are — you want a V-drive. A V-drive also features an automotive V8, but it’s mounted with the flywheel — the rear of the engine — facing forward. The transmission is mounted forward of the engine. The output shaft from the transmission comes out the back, goes under the engine, through the hull, to the propeller. Essentially, the terms direct-drive and V-drive refer to the path of the power. V-drives are better for wakeboarding because the weight of the engine and transmission is farther aft. The stern of the boat rides lower in the water and throws a larger wake.
As with any boat, it helps to know what you’re going to do with it before shopping. It’s especially true for water sports boats.