Outboard Or Sterndrive For A Bowrider Boat

Showing a outboard boat on the left Vs. a sterndrive boat on the right with both of them out in the water and people on board.

There are several things to consider in order to make the choice for your drive system on your bowrider. Each have their advantages, so this article will help you make the best decision for you.


An outboard doesn’t allow for the convenience of a large swim deck. However if you want easier engine maintenance, then an outboard is better. A sterndrive usually provides for a more quiet ride, more power, a swim deck, and a sundeck over the engine bay. However the sterndrive will likely consume more fuel than the outboard.


While most bowriders are used for family fun, the sterndrive also known as I/O (Inboard/Outboard) is usually the preferred way to go. However, since outboard technology has come so far in recent years, let’s see if this is still the best option.



Pros And Cons Of An Outboard On A Bowrider


In order to discern whether or not having an outboard motor is better or worse for a bowrider boat, we need to consider multiple scenarios and boating conditions. Remember that for each con we expose, there will be a pro in another category. So lets start digging in to this.


Outboard Horse Power

A set of four outboards looking backwards over the blue ocean with islands in the background.

About a decade ago, there was no competition between the horsepower of an outboard and the horsepower of a sterndrive engine. Back then, you could produce a great deal more horsepower from a sterndrive engine.


Not only can modern day outboards produce very similar horsepower to sterndrives, but the outboard is going to weigh hundreds of pounds less! So when we consider “power to weight ratio”, the outboard drive system is going to win that battle.


Something else to consider in the power category, is that you can multiply your horsepower by adding multiple outboards across the boat’s transom. Generally a bowrider with an I/O would max out a two engines.


So from the standpoint of pure horsepower in a bowrider, there is no denying that you can install multiple outboards and make the single sterndrive engine look stupid. LOL


With that said, we need to remember what most bowriders are used for. Family fun doesn’t require massive horsepower. Bowriders can provide all the watersports activities with almost any size sterndrive engine (but an 8 cylinder always gets the job done with ease).


Convenient Maintenance I/O vs OB

An outboard motor hanging from a hoist ready for maintenance work inside a building.Again we are going to have to side with the outboard in the maintenance category. It’s going to be much easier to work on and maintain a motor that is literally hanging right out in the open. You can access every side of an outboard engine without interference.


Maintaining a sterndrive engine is going to be more expensive, purely from the added labor of accessing the engines components. That’s just the routine maintenance, but don’t forget about repairs. When an engine component fails, accessing it may be difficult in a sterndrive.


Replacing a starter in a sterndrive is not fun at all. It is all the way at the back and under the engine. If I was only a foot tall, it may not be so bad, but for normal humans, accessing this is tough. Seeing what you’re doing is about impossible.


Keep in mind that a sterndrive engine is generally a marinized vehicle engine. If your starter goes out in your car, you can crawl under it to get access to the starter. Try doing that with your bowrider 🙂 .



Winterization kinda falls in the maintenance category, so lets compare that next. This one we also have to give to the outboard. Winterizing an outboard is simple.

  1. Put stable in the fuel tank
  2. Run it for 5 to 10 minutes
  3. Use fogging oil through the intake to choke it out
  4. Fog cylinders
  5. Tilt the unit up an down a couple times for full water drainage
  6. Change lower unit oil


Outboards are pretty simple right? Conversely, winterizing a sterndrive takes more steps, and it’s more difficult again because of access. Most of the time, owners of sterndrive boats have their boats winterized by a professional boat mechanic. Outboards are a bit more DIY.


Read my article on the exact steps to winterizing your boat. Then you should bookmark it so you can access the steps when it’s time to winterize.


Fuel Consumption Sterndrive Vs Outboard

A floating fuel bage out in the water on a lake.At some point, you’re going to think I am pro outboards for bowriders, because a bowrider with an outboard is going to be more cost effective when it comes to fuel consumption and maintenance. But I just may surprise you, so continue reading.


While an outboard is going to cruise at a higher RPM, one would think that means more fuel consumption. This isn’t true when compared to a sterndrive engine. While the sterndrive engine cruises at a lower RPM, it does use more fuel than a “same size” outboard.


Those hundreds of pounds difference between the two does make a difference. If the bowrider is equipped the exact same, other that it’s drive system, the outboard wins this category also. Or does it? Volvo Penta has moved forward with GM technology by utilizing the aluminum engine blocks and VVT (variable valve timing) with greatly improved emissions and efficiency.


This new more powerful and lighter technology does come with a premium initial cost though.


You will have to think about how often the boat gets used to determine the importance of the minor difference in fuel usage between the two. Seems like this category may not really mean too much when compared to some of the other factors involved. I know for me, fuel consumption is not high on the list of deciding factors. Utility and comfort rank at the top.


Trim / Tilt Range Difference

Several outboard boats in a marina floating in the water with the outboards trimmed up and out of the water.Here we go again. That darn outboard grabs this category as well! An outboard can be tilted back to the point that it is completely out of the water. So if you need to access the lower unit while in the water, your all set.


If you are using your bowrider for a lot of shallow water fishing, then it’s important to have as much bottom clearance as possible. When it doesn’t make sense to use the outboard in shallow water, just tilt it out of the water and use your trolling motor. This also decreases drag in the water when trolling.


A sterndrive can’t be trimmed up and out of the water. However, in my opinion when it comes to fishing, it does lift high enough to allow a trolling motor to get you as close to shore as you need to easily fish the shallows. I never had any issues with my Bayliner 1954 Fish & Ski bowrider.


It really depends on what percentage of time you are fishing versus playing with your bowrider. There is another thing to consider though. The outboard can be tilted completely out of the water. So when the bowrider is kept in the water for the season, the outboard won’t get as much marine growth or saltwater corrosion as a sterndrive.


Again, depending on where the boat is located and how it’s used, tilt may not be a significant consideration.



A text image stating the a new outboard will cost less than a sterndrive system of equal horsepower, but only if it's the correct drive system for your needs.There are really two costs involved here. The obvious cost is the initial price of the drive system. The other cost is what you have to deal with by purchasing the wrong type of drive system for your bowrider when considering how you’ll use your boat.


When it comes to buying a new bowrider and having to choose between outboard or sterndrive, the lowest cost unit, considering equal horsepower, will be the outboard. Outboards in recent years have not only increased in technology, but have become lower cost to the consumer.


However, when it comes to purchasing a used bowrider, the used boat market for bowriders with an outboard is slim. Most people buying a bowrider seem to want the sterndrive over the outboard. Why is this? We’ll discuss that in following categories 🙂 .


Bowrider Deck Space

A Monterey 268ss with a large swim deck at dock in the water.I think this one is kind of a toss-up (not really). General thinking is that an outboard hanging off the transom allows for more interior space. But does it?


A bowrider that is equipped with a sterndrive and has a large swim deck for family fun, and then you compare the same bowrider that is equipped with an outboard, you may gain some floor space, but you have lost all of your valuable rear deck space.


If you consider the average sterndrive engine compartment in a 20′ bowrider, much of it is low in the deck (low center of gravity). When the engine is moved to the outside of the boat, I may gain an extra seat with a storage box under the cushion. This is of course generalized speaking because each bowrider is a bit different.


Honestly, most people seem to prefer having the engine cover as a console for drinks or bigger boats may create a big sun deck. I’ve bought and sold a lot of boats, and a bowrider with an outboard is a tougher boat to sell. There will be many people with a different opinion on this who use the bowrider differently than most.


An outboard uses swimdeck space and ony has small space on each side of the boat's tiny deck. Also there is rain coming in the background.Most bowriders are bought with the idea of entertaining family and friends. Sacrificing a swim-deck is going to greatly change the fun factor of water access. Not only that, but a swim-deck goes over the outdrive, protecting kids when they jump into the water.


If you’re looking for a used bowrider and you need to carry that one extra person, then search for the next size up boat. I really don’t remember being short of space in my bowriders that were equipped with a sterndrive.


Sound Level

When considering the sound level between an outboard and sterndrive bowrider, the quieter choice is going to be the sterndrive. There are loud sterndrive engines in some bowriders, but they are performance designed with through hull exhaust.


The most common sterndrive systems exhaust under water, much like most outboards. This really near silences the actual exhaust. So noise level really comes down to the actual noise of the engine itself.


Here is a quick video demonstrating the sound level of a 24 year old bowrider with a 5.7 V8. Back then, there wasn’t as good of sound deadening materials as there are now. In fact, this boat didn’t have anything other than the engine cover for making it quiet. There wasn’t any other insulation.


A bowrider with a sterndrive has an engine compartment that has plenty of room for noise cancelling insulation. Most of my bowriders made very little engine sound. At idle, you almost can’t hear it run. When underway, it is a smooth hum. If two people try to talk to each other under way, it’s not the motor that makes it hard to hear. It’s the wind noise.


An outboard on the other hand doesn’t have as much room for noise canceling insulation. However, in recent years, new products have become available to outboard manufactures that really have improved sound deadening. I have to give the advantage to the sterndrive for this category.


Style / Looks

This is the most important category. The aesthetic look and style of the bowrider has to fit your individual needs. “I am looking at this from the viewpoint of a boat buyer that is typical of bowriders. The boat is going to be used for entertaining friends and family”.


It’s going to be used for:

  • a little fishing
  • day rides and to dinner on the lakefront
  • relaxing in the sun with some beverages
  • waterskiing, tubing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, swimming
  • etc.


So considering the bowrider’s use, there are some things that are going to matter more than others. Number one on the list is going to be a full swim deck. If you’ve had one, then you agree. If you haven’t, then just trust me when I say you want a full swim deck.


A swim deck/platform is incredibly useful, not just for kids, but for everyone. It’s great for:

  • A bowrider boat out on the water with a family playing on the swim deck on a sunny day.safely entering and exiting the water when not moving
  • relaxing with your feet in the water when not moving
  • extra open floor space when not moving
  • a great place to sit and easily put on waterskis, wakeboards
  • easy place to get young kids into a towable tube and slowly let them out
  • It’s a great fishing platform
  • and more


Another thing people want is a clean look. People (including myself) like a clean look of the bowrider without having to look at the engine. Everyone can have there own opinion on this, but for the family and friends use, an outboard is not attractive and eats up some of the best real estate in the boat. The swim deck.


Another issue is when towing towables behind the bowrider, I personally don’t want to look past an outboard to watch the rider. If I was talking about a dual console or center console boat, then I would love to have outboards having off the back, but we are strictly talking about bowriders here.


Sales numbers for bowrider boats clearly agree with my assessment on what most bowrider owners actually want. While outboard sales have increased in recent years, it is more about the style of boats that are getting purchased.


For folks that live coastal, the sales numbers for dual console boats have really grown and center console boats have always been big. For the rest of the country though, who boat on inland lakes, the bowrider is still the king.


Outboard Vs Sterndrive On Bowriders

Well we’ve covered a lot here. It really breaks down to weighting the importance of:

  • Horsepower
  • Maintenance
  • Winterization
  • Fuel cost
  • Tilt / trim
  • Price
  • Deck space
  • Sound level
  • Style / looks


Nobody can really tell you how to think. I can only suggest the things to consider. This way you have a better chance of making a great choice when you are looking for a bowrider. One last thing to consider is the ride your bowrider provides.


While having an outboard may be a lighter weight, that weight has a higher center of gravity and the lighter weight may cause a less smooth ride in rougher water. A sterndrive has a bit more weight and it has a very low center of gravity. This makes the bowrider ride quite stable in comparable conditions.


All food for thought, but you should take this knowledge and go test drive both bowrider versions for yourself. You’ll most likely agree with everything said here, but it will make you feel better about your final decision.


I bought my first boat while in high school 1981. I had more hours working on it than using it in the water. I can't count how many boats I've had since, but I really enjoy reviving boats. I've had so many boats that I could never use them all. Once I fix a boat up, I play with it a couple times and sell it. My goal is to use my many years of experience, and help as many people Begin Boating.

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