Getting to Know your Boat’s Engine

May 18, 2015 - 11:24 AM by Samantha Pudney

When it comes to boats, people tend to be more concerned with its appearance and functions than they are about the engine that allows it to run. Why? That’s because many people assume that most boats have similar engines, and choosing one over the other is just a matter of preference. But they couldn’t be more wrong. A boat’s drive system should be your basis for deciding if you should choose to buy a particular boat.

Here are some drive systems for getting to know your boat’s engine so that you can make a good decision about which to buy, or so you can familiarise yourself with the one you have.


Outboard Motors

These transom-mounted units are one of the most typical types of boat propulsion. You may have already seen this motor at the back of many small motorboats.  Outboard motors have propellers, engines and steering controls on the lower unit. These motors have no rudder since the boat would be steered by the pivoting outdrive. A wide variety of engines are available for the outboard motor, so you have more options when it comes to gear ratios and propeller RPM.

Inboard Drives

Like the name suggests, these are located inside the hull of the boat, therefore leaving the transom clear. These engines can run on diesel or petrol, and you can also choose if you would prefer a single motor or twin motors. They are also often seen on sailboats, speedboats and other pleasure craft, as well as larger boats, ships and commercial boats.


Surface-piercing drive

If you’re all for speed and high performance, the surface-piercing drive is perfect for you. These engines have greater thrust because its propellers convert the engine power output into thrust. In addition, when you’ve gotten a kick-start from this engine, your acceleration causes the drag to become less and less. It’s mostly seen on lighter boats made for racing.

Jet drives

These drives are more common bigger boats and personal boats. It doesn’t use a propeller like the other engines. Instead, it ejects a jet of water from the back of the vessel to propel it forward. One major disadvantage of this drive is the fact that its performance can be hindered by a big enough foreign object disrupting the flow of water through the jet unit. However, if the body of water you’ll be using it on is clean and clear, then this shouldn’t be an issue.



Sterndrives combine the power of both inboard drives and outboard drives. Its engine, like the outboard drive, is just forward of the transom, whereas its outdrive is outside the hull. This unit works by transporting power from the inboard engine and carrying it through the transom and down into the propeller beneath the water line. Like many inboard drives, the sterndrive is commonly seen on many pleasure boats.


Getting to know a boat’s engine sheds light on the type of maintenance services and expenses you would need to consider. It also helps to know how to do basic troubleshooting for the engine of the boat you intend to buy. Once you’ve got the engine type, the design and the amenities all figured out, everything else should be smooth sailing from there!