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What Is A Sterndrive Boat (Sterndrive Vs Inboard Vs Outboard)

Once you have picked out what boat you want to have, that is already half the battle over, however, now you need to choose the engine.

There are different types of engine to power your vessel, sterndrive, inboard and outboard.

With so much advancement in boating in the last few decades, there is so much to be said about all of these types, and there is no real way to discern which is the best in any other way than simple personal preference.

What Is A Sterndrive Boat (Sterndrive Vs Inboard Vs Outboard)

Each engine will have advantages and disadvantages, it all depends on the boat you have and its purpose. Whether you will use the boat as a fishing boat, cruising boat, or a boat for water sports. It is all down to you.

So, let’s look at these three engine types and understand what a sterndrive boat is, so we can discern the differences, thus helping you figure out which boat drive type is the best suited for you.

Summarizing What A Stern Drive Boat Is

A sterndrive boat can also be known as an inboard/ outboard, simply because they combine features that are found on both inboard and outboard engines.

They are four-stroke automotive engines that are adapted for marine use, they are also mounted inside the boat, and they are quieter and more fuel-efficient engines.

Stern drive engines are attached through the transom to a drive unit (the out drive), which is basically just the lower unit of an outboard.

The engine will turn a drive shaft which is attached to a propeller at the other end. When you steer a stern drive boat, the boat is controlled by an out drive, which will swivel like an outboard engine to direct the propeller thrust.

Sterndrive, Inboard, And Outboard, What Is The Difference?

Every boat requires a system to help it move through the water, there are a variety of these propulsion systems that exit. However, the terminology and jargon around these different drive types can be confusing and trying to figure out which is the best option for you is no easy task.

Even certain drive types will have sub-variants with their own advantages and disadvantages. These pros and cons will depend on the activities you intend on doing using your boat.

Some types of drive are better suited for water sports such as water skiing, while some other options will be better suited for gaining access to shallow waters for fishing.

While we understand the basics of what a sterndrive is, we will have a look at the three drive types, so we can truly understand the differences and similarities and discover which activities each of these different drive types are best suited for.

Inboard Boats

Inboard drives are the most popular type of engine you will find used for water sports due to the small and clean wake that is created by the underwater propeller. They are also much easier to repair and service in comparison to the other two types of engine.

They will also have two different variations as well, having both direct drive or V-drive.

If your boat should use a direct drive inboard then your engine will be positioned in the center of the boar with a drive shaft that runs straight to the propeller which is situated in the under area of the boat at the rear.

On a smaller boat, you should be able to see the location of the engine compartment in the center of the passenger area.

If you have a direct drive engine, there will be pros and cons of this specific variation. Let’s have a look.


  • Direct drive engines have very little power loss when compared to V-drive engines.
  • The engines are really easily accessible, which makes repairs and servicing a cakewalk.
  • There is a more stable weight distribution, which makes it much easier for you to get the boat on the plane.


  • Direct drive engine location will take up space at the center of the boat, which will result in less seating area than you would find in a V-drive set-up.
  • With direct drive engines, there is less ability to adjust the trim.
  • Some boats will be fitted with a V-drive engine, this engine is found in the rear of the boat behind the transom. The engine is placed backward in comparison to direct drive engines, with the driveshaft exiting toward the front of the boat and quickly turning and angling down in the direction of the stern.


  • V-drive offers more free space for passenger seating in the center of the boat.
  • A V-drive engine creates a platform on the stern of the boat, which can make fishing and other activities easier.
  • The small wake that it provides is perfect for water-skiing and some other water sports.


  • The position of the V-engine against the rear makes repairs and servicing more difficult than with the direct drive alternative.
  • The V-angle of the drive shaft will result in more of a power loss than you would find in a direct drive engine.
  • Unlike with direct drive, you cannot adjust the trim.

Outboard Boats

Outboard Boats

Outboard engines are another option. These engines consist of an all-in-one unit that is positioned at the rear of the boat- this is probably the type of engine you see most on boats in movies. A larger boat could use multiple out-board units together to gain even more power.

There are several advantages to outboard motors that inboard engines and sterndrive engines both lack.


  • Outboard motors are lightweight.
  • Outboard motors can be lifted to completely go out of the water, which can allow you access to shallower areas that other boats cannot access.
  • These motors are very easy to work on as the entire engine is exposed and out of the water. So it makes for sure easy repairs and servicing.
  • Outboard motors do not require the same level of winterization as other motors do.


  • Outboard motors do not have the power and torque that you would find in inboards or stern drives. Although, that being said, the gap is closing and modern outboard motors can be rather powerful, and if you have a large boat then you can use more than one at the same time to make up for the gap.
  • They are noisier than their alternatives, since they are exposed.
  • The older 2-stroke outboards are banned due to pollution and excessive emissions.


Stern drives are where we are putting our focus. These are an arrangement that takes elements of inboard motors and outboard motors and combines them into one mixture- the best of both worlds, you could say.

Stern drives use an inboard engine, which is often a marinized automotive engine, and they drive the boat using a lower unit much like outboard motors due.

These motors have also got advantages and disadvantages, as even though they share components from the other two options, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.


  • You have the ability to trim the lower unit, much like you would on an outboard motor.
  • It provides a more powerful inboard engine that will outperform all single outboard motors.
  • Since the engine is at the stern it provides more seating space, and it also allows for a larger rear platform as well.


  • There is only one real downside to these motors, and it’s a biggie. Continuous exposure to water can actually damage the lower unit.

Which Is The Best?

The choice between stern drive, outboard and inboard motors is all about your own personal preference, and the activities you wish to do with your boat.

An avid fisherman/fisherwoman, might find that the maneuverability and low weight of an outboard motor is most ideal for what they need. Whereas, a water skier might look towards getting an inboard set-up so that they can take advantage of the larger engine and the smaller wake that it offers.

If you want a bit of versatility, you might want to consider a sterndrive to get a mixture of the benefits of both inboard and outboard set-ups.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors that will come into play when you are making your decision as well. Things such as family size, and how many passengers you expect to have on board.

Do not forget that options like a direct drive inboard engine will take up a lot of space in the boat. So, if you are likely to have many passengers on board but still want an inboard engine, you might want to consider getting a V-drive engine or a stern drive if you also want some of the pros of outboard engines.

The decision is yours, and no one engine is better than the others, it is all down to you and how you intend on using your boat, what for and what you need to get out of your engine.

Do not forget ease of servicing is also something that many may take into consideration and this is flawed in inboard V-drive engines.

Lucas Jones