How to Choose Your Motor: Inboard vs. Outboard

Not everyone own boats. While it might start that way, the passion consumes everyone until they understand the ins and outs of their personal watercraft like the back of their hands. Eventually, most owners find themselves upgrading parts and purchasing additions before they know it. It’s just the way boating works.

One element all owners find themselves updating at some point is their boat’s motor. Whether you’re simply upgrading yours or in need of a new model, you run into one severe struggle. Do you choose an inboard or an outboard motor?

The answer, as with all things nautical, is never an easy one. When it comes to inboard vs. outboard motors, here’s everything you need to know before making a purchase.

Set Aside Pre-Made Notions

Every experienced owner has a preference. Ask a handful of enthusiasts at your local watering hole, and you’ll ignite a fiery debate with both sides claiming their engine of choice is the better of the two. While you may have your own opinion in that debate, choosing the right motor for your boating needs requires you to set aside those pre-notions.

The truth is, neither motor wins outright in the inboard vs. outboard debate. They do, however, beat each other out in specific categories. The best motor depends on what you plan to do with your boat as well as your personal preferences.

The Outboard

The market for used outboard motors is enormous. Why? They’re that popular of an option. Often the first choice for fishing, recreational, and light commercial inshore boats, these motors provide ease of use alongside a reliable component.

The engine is easily accessed with its rear mounting position, providing a handle grip for steering as well as tilting. Outboard propellers are capable of being lifted entirely out of the water, as well, making storing them a breeze and eliminating any growth from sitting in the water at a dock.

The positioning also makes swapping out the motor simple. Upgrading to a new, powerful motor is an easy DIY task. That same simplicity carries over to servicing an outboard, though you won’t have to do that very often. Outboard motors are known for their reliability.

The drawback of this motor style is its power level. Larger boats simply cannot rely on one outboard motor alone, unless you want to spend your life savings in gasoline. Outboards are also larger, which means less room for entertaining guests on a smaller or lightweight boat.

The Inboard

You can identify an inboard by the separate rudder used to steer the ship. Fishing boats on the high seas rely on these for their lower center of gravity, while slalom skiers enjoy their smaller wake. Larger vessels also use inboard motors but require larger varieties that cannot be rear mounted on the hull.

Weighing the pros and cons is difficult as those that enjoy inboard motors like them for a few vital reasons. While they require a large box in the middle of the ship to hold the engine, they are quieter than their outboard counterparts and better for entertaining guests.

They are far more expensive, and their size makes them difficult to load onto a trailer, but they’re also the fuel-efficient alternative since they are modeled after car engines. That means they also have better torque and horsepower. Moving the transmission inside the ship also means more cabin space.

The major downside to the inboard is its ability to cause a fire hazard. Many a boat has been lost to sea after their inboard caught fire. If you love your inboard, make sure to run a bilge blower to solve that issue.

The Hybrid

Believe it or not, the hybrid model is more akin to the outboard than you might think. While these models are tucked away and mounted mid-ship, they share most of the pros and cons with their outboard counterpart. The main difference is in their propeller shaft, which passes through the bottom of a ship’s hull. That’s not to say their positioning doesn’t come with inboard complications, however.

Maintenance Comparison

Whether you’re running new or used boat motors, the outboard is often preferred in the maintenance department. Their housing protects the motor’s components from the environment, while their easily removable nature means you can take them right out and work on them regardless of where you are.

Both hybrids and inboards share the same issue of their positioning; at the bilge of the boat. Water, moisture, and vapor can potentially damage these motors once you open them for maintenance. Accessing them is also a difficult endeavor due to the small hatch in their housing, giving you less to work with than an inboard.

Outboard engines also lack a drain due to their positioning, which removes water from the engine when the boat is placed on the land. Inboard varieties don’t rely on this concept, keeping them safer from possible damages caused by moisture.

Cost Comparison

Using a boat payment calculator, you can factor in the price of your chosen engine. Where boating enthusiasts of all types chalk up the price, however, is in replacement. Inboard motors generally last longer than their outboard counterparts.

You can squeeze roughly 1,500 hours out of an inboard before necessary maintenance. Outboards, on the other hand, last about 750 hours on average. So, the inboard option means less maintenance (nearly half) even though they cost more initially. Keep in mind that inboard motors also require better insurance.

Power Comparison

Starting with outboards, their directional thrust and integral skeg allow for easy maneuvering at low power and speed. This makes them simpler to dock and allows for small movements. Outboards are the exact opposite.

An outboard motor requires thrust to steer, which means they are most easily maneuvered with more power and speed. They produce more power normally, making this a perfect pairing. Keep in mind, however, that more power isn’t always the best option in smaller vessels.