Looking for a Cheap Used Boat? Buy an I/O

Powerboats with inboard engines and outdrives (I/Os) are a popular configuration for those boaters who want the high-horsepower and weight distribution of an inboard, without compromising the easy kick-up shallow-water capability and trailerability of an outboard.  I/O drive manufacturers like Merc-Cruiser have been perfecting this combination for years.

This 18-foot Sea Ray Seville from the early 1980’s has an I/O and is a perfectly good cheap used boat for use in fresh water

We have more boaters in the U.S. on freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers than we do on the ocean and this is precisely where the largest  percentage of I/O boats can be found.  Their high-torque is great for water skiers and wake-boarders. All the other attributes work well for fishing, too.

I was more than a little curious when a friend of mine picked up an 18-foot 1984 Sea Ray Seville for $1,500 from a boat donation program. He intended to use the boat on Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire and keep it on a trailer in his yard when not in use. I figured the low cost was related to the outdrive needing maintenance, but the outdrive had been removed from the boat to deter theft and this had scared many would-be buyers away. My buddy was familiar with working on and tuning up his own cars and trucks, so the Mercury (Chevy) 4-cylinder gas inboard didn’t intimidate him—but the outdrive service did.  So he bought the Merc-Cruiser Alpha I service manual and a few specialized outdrive tools for less than $200, and set about fixing the boat.

A $75 service manual, a few special tools, and a little initiative can allow you to fix your own I/O

Outdrives have a rubber seal called a bellows where the outdrive unit can raise and lower to keep the water out.  After a number of seasons in the sun the seal can fail and water can get in.  After replacing the universal joint and reinstalling the outdrive with the special alignment tool and a new bellows, he was in business.

My buddy has had his boat for seven years now. He did buy a new trailer for $1,900 and put maybe another $1,000 into general maintenance in that time to doll it up, but now he has a nice boat that’s perfect for his needs and is still going strong.


  1. Derek says:

    Beautiful, but too small for my tastes!

  2. I have found in my service department that the I/O will cost about five times as much to maintain and you will usually have more trouble with an I/O. The outboard design was designed from the beginning to be on a boat unlike something that was designed for a car and adapted over. Save time and money and buy an outboard powered boat the first time. Also a first time boat buyer that buys an outboard is ten times more likely to stay in boating and in this business that is what we need.

    • Sailor Bob says:

      An excellent point about the outboard. I think an o/i looks a heck of a lot nicer. Plus if you know cars you can work on an I/O motor. I did basically what Peters friend did. I bought a 1990 Maxum with a cracked block. I fixed the motor with a crate engine from Jasper and the help of a few friends fixed the interior and some rotted wood, all pretty easy stuff. Bought the boat for 2500.00 put 2000.00 into the motor probably another 1000.00 into the cosmetics. So now I have a very nice boat, I know exactly what had been done to it. And for 5000.00 bucks I got a boat that looks every bit as nice as my buddies 3 year old 18000,oo boat. And it’s got a brand new rebuilt engine.

  3. I am bookmarking this right now.. Thanks for writing it.

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