Sterndrives Versus Jet Boats: What's The Right Choice For Your Family?

February 8, 2012

You may have seen some of the new jet-drive boats that have come into the boating marketplace in the past few years. They are kind of like an overgrown personal watercraft (PWC), and they can be fun to drive. But are they the right fit for you and your family? Let’s compare jet-drive boats to traditional sterndrive propulsion. The answers may surprise you.


This is probably the most important factor to consider when comparing a jet boat to a sterndrive. If you’ve ever ridden a PWC, then you may remember that you didn’t have total control at all speeds. Jet drives lose the ability to steer when you back off the throttle. Of course that’s most noticeable when you are heading toward a hazard and the natural inclination is to slow down. Just like with a PWC, you have to remember to “power out” or apply more throttle to make a sharp turn. While that may be part of the fun on a 10-foot PWC, a 21-footer with a boat full of friends and family is another story. Sterndrives, on the other hand, allow you to steer with confidence at all speeds.


You never hear anyone complaining about the quiet, efficient operation of a sterndrive. Everyone on board is able to have a conversation at just about any speed. And that adds to the enjoyment of the day. Jet boats, however, can be up to three times louder under normal conditions. Again, think about the PWCs zipping around your lake and the amount of noise they can generate compared to traditional boats.

Ride Quality

This really isn’t much of a contest. Simply put, the traditional Deep-V hull shape of a sterndrive is made to cut through choppy water. It’s a more comfortable ride, and it’s much easier to handle. Jet boats are okay when the conditions are flat-glass perfect, but how often does that happen? When the going gets rough out on the water, so does the ride of a jet boat.

Shallow Water

The familiar and dependable operation of a sterndrive is perfect for “skinny” water. The outdrive is easy to trim up in shallow conditions and you still have excellent control and thrust. Jet drives are a different story. Because the boat’s propulsion relies on pulling in water and shooting it back out, it’s very common to suck up all kinds of debris into the intake. Rocks, sand, weeds and other foreign matter can put you out of commission in a hurry, stranding you out on the water, and possibly causing expensive damage.

Tow Sports

One of the great joys out on the water is the fun of board sports such as wakeboarding. But those sports depend on a crisp well-defined wake behind the boat for the best results. Jet drives, though, tend to produce a small wake that’s full of “wash” and not that great for launching out of the water for more complex maneuvers. The sharp wakes created by a sterndrive boat, however, are perfect for even the most advanced tricks.


Sterndrives have been around for many years and their durability and reliability is well known. Since the current selection of jet boats has really only been around for a short time, the jury’s still out on how they will hold up over time. One thing to consider, however, is that jet systems are constantly pulling in raw water for propulsion. That’s more water contact with the internal systems, which could lead to corrosion problems down the line. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to have to deal with, it’s the prospect of solving rust issues inside your engine.


Here’s one area where sterndrives and jet drives are pretty evenly matched. A 21-foot jet boat with two four-stroke engines (two x 200 horsepower) will top out at about 50 mph, while a 21-foot sterndrive with a V6 220 horsepower will be nearly the same speed at roughly 48 mph.

No matter what you’ve heard, the fact is that jet drives just come up short when compared to the dependable, safe, proven performance of a sterndrive.