Choosing Between Outboard and Sterndrive Power

Life is good. You have just decided to buy a new TAHOE sport boat. There it sits in the showroom, ready to be all yours. You envision warm, sunny days on the water with the family in the boat of your dreams. There is nothing left to do but give the nod to the sales consultant and close the deal, right?

Not just yet. Now comes the perplexing decision of choosing between sterndrive or outboard power. Both options are available throughout the TAHOE lineup, just as they are with many runabouts and deck boats of the same or nearly identical model.

Which is better? The answer is confusing because there is no wrong answer. But there must be a right answer because you must choose between them. What gives?

The reality is there are differences in the power options, and those are reasons why TAHOE gives you options. The intentions are all good, because TAHOE wants you to have the very best boat for you.

Once upon a time, sterndrive was the most popular power option for sport boats. The sleek lines of the boat without an outboard protruding from the transom made them eye appealing. There was only one choice for ski competitions, which also influenced consumer buying, and that was a sterndrive. Now, things have changed.

Four stroke outboard technology makes both power sources worth considering. As you research the options, consider the following helpful facts.




Compared to older two stroke outboards the four stroke is lighter in weight, which improves fuel economy. Four strokes are quieter, idle smoother, pollute less and are very reliable. The combustion process works similar to an automotive engine. There is no oil to mix with the fuel—which can be messy—because the lubrication system has an oil pan and filter. Fewer moving parts also makes the four stroke easier to maintain and less expensive to repair.



Sterndrive engines are a combination of inboard and outboard engines. They are powered by an automotive engine connected to a drive unit that is both the transmission and the propulsion. A turn of the steering wheel turns the entire drive, just like an outboard.


There is little difference from the console forward to the bow in either power option. Where you will notice the difference is toward the stern of the boat.


Outboard interior

Outboard models allow better transom access for fishing when fighting and landing a prized catch. There is more interior space inside the cockpit without the engine compartment in the way.

Inboard interior

For lounging, sunning and enjoying watersports, there is much to like about sterndrive layouts. Wide sunpads over the engine compartment and swim platforms extending across the transom are obvious. Sterndrives also provide an important safety consideration. The view aft is free of obstruction so a driver can easily see anyone towed behind the boat during watersports activities.

If easy access to the water is important, along with allowing passengers to spread out, the sterndrive is worth considering. On the flip side, you lose space on the back of the boat but gain cockpit space for storage or seating with an outboard model.


Here is something you might not have thought about—trimming the engine. If you want to beach the boat for picnicking or exploring, the engine will need to be trimmed up. You can do that with an outboard but not as much with a sterndrive, which has the outdrive and propeller protruding lower than the boat hull.

What is more, tilting the outboard when not in use allows water to drain out. That is a must when boating in fall/winter to avoid water freezing inside the motor. With a sterndrive, you don’t have such options, making these boats more seasonal.



With a sterndrive, you get more torque, which is directly proportional to engine displacement. That gives a performance advantage to the sterndrive. Torque has practical advantages, such as keeping the boat on plane at slower speeds or pulling a skier or wakeboarder out of the water.

On the flip side, you get a great holeshot from a performance-designed outboard. Top-end speeds are impressive as well. Outboards are nimble and can be maneuvered in tight places like narrow channels and marinas.



As the name implies, outboards are mounted high and outside of the transom. The motor is visible and easy to access. All it takes is removing the cowling for repairs and maintenance.

A sterndrive mounts in a compartment at the rear of the boat. Reaching some parts requires removing either the engine or outdrive, which takes more skill and knowledge, along with money.

Winterizing an outboard is simple—you can even do it yourself. The task is more difficult with a sterndrive and usually performed by a marine mechanic.



For budget conscious buyers, you will spend less money up-front with outboard power. Outboard models are also affordable and easier to repower if you keep your boat for a long time. You get much of the same longevity with the automotive engine dependability of a sterndrive. The decision comes down to how long you plan to keep the boat.



If entertaining family and friends and enjoying watersports is your goal, a sterndrive is hard to beat. If a lower up-front price and long-term maintenance costs are a priority, an outboard is worth considering.

Those are examples of how to decide between sterndrives and outboards. An even better idea is talking to another boater with expertise in both power options. You can find that expert at any Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center. Our sales consultants can answer your questions and guide you to the best boat for your needs.



Related Articles

Jody Graves
Meet The Pros-Jody Graves

Preventive maintenance and repairs, rigging new accessories and repowering your boat is what you expect to find at the service department of a boat dealership.

Tracker Boat v19
Targa Boat Comparison

When waves and wind roughen the surface on wide-open lakes, it’s hard to beat a Deep V aluminum boat. These lightweight rigs are equally at home in shallow water, too, making Deep Vs the ideal choice for anglers seeking versatility and value in a boat. 

We're everywhere you need us to be.