Trolling Motor vs Outboard: Which Is Best for Your Boat

Whether you are a new boat owner or someone that spends more time on the water than they do on dry land, understanding the differences between a trolling motor and …

Whether you are a new boat owner or someone that spends more time on the water than they do on dry land, understanding the differences between a trolling motor and an outboard motor is important. 

While they have distinct differences in terms of power, applications, and cost, they also share several traits and features too. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of motors so you can make an informed decision when purchasing a new boat or motor.

What’s a Trolling Motor?

Minn Kota Ultrex Trolling Motor 1
A trolling motor is a small electric motor mounted on a boat that allows for quiet and precise maneuvering at low speeds.

A trolling motor is a type of electric motor used to propel a boat at slow speeds, usually installed on watercraft used for fishing on ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. It is typically mounted on the bow of the boat, but transom mounting on the stern of the boat is common too. Control of the trolling motor can be done with a foot pedal, a hand control, or via a connected fish finder.

An electric trolling motor is powered by a 12-volt, 24-volt, or 36-volt lead acid battery or lithium battery, and can run for several hours on a single charge covering decent amounts of water on your fishing trip. Trolling motors are an extremely useful tool for fishing since they provide a quieter and more efficient way to move around in the water without scaring the fish.

What’s an Outboard Motor?

Outboard motor
An outboard motor is an engine that uses either battery or gasoline to move a boat at high speeds.

An outboard motor is a type of battery or gasoline-powered engine used to propel a boat at much higher speeds than a trolling motor can. It’s not uncommon to find a gas or electric outboard motor in a variety of sizes ranging from 2-stroke engines to 4-stroke engines, and up to 300 horsepower.

Gas or electric outboard motors are typically mounted on the rear transom of the boat and can be controlled with a steering wheel or a tiller. Your gas or electric outboard motor will normally be your main propulsion system and can move your boat through the water extremely fast making them a reliable choice for getting from point A to point B.

Trolling Motors vs Outboard Compared

Speed

When it comes to maximum speed, trolling motors offer slower speeds compared to outboard motors maxing out at around 5 mph. This low-speed motor is designed to provide steady speeds, allowing anglers to troll in an area or move slowly while fishing. 

Gas or electric outboard motors, on the other hand, are designed to provide faster and more powerful speeds of up to 60 mph, allowing a boat to travel more quickly across open waters. These high-speed motors are great for getting around a large lake or when traveling along the coastline of a bay or gulf.

Stealth

Trolling motors are more suitable for fishing since they are able to move the boat at a much slower speed and with greater precision, meaning fewer disturbances for the fish. This lets anglers tuck their boat into a tiny cove or heavy cover area without having to worry about moving too fast and damaging the boat.

Gas or electric outboard motors are much louder and faster, so they are better suited for faster journeys and activities that require more power. They also generate more wake which can be a hindrance when trying to remain inconspicuous.

Precision Positioning

Electric trolling motors are designed specifically for precision positioning since they move much slower and with more intention. They also provide excellent control and accuracy, making them the preferred choice for anglers looking for exact positioning while fishing.

A gas or electric outboard motor is more powerful and is best used for long-distance cruising or trolling. While they do offer excellent control and maneuverability, the precision of their positioning is largely dependent on the operator’s skill.

Fishing With Motor Running

Electric trolling motors are extremely quiet and don’t provide any wake or many vibrations, making them suitable for fishing with the motor running.

Outboard motors are extremely loud, can produce a strong wake, and can disrupt the current below the water. These motors are not suitable for constant running when fishing as they will scare away almost all of the fish in the area.

Cost

An electric trolling motor can range anywhere from $800 to $5,000 depending on the brand, model, size, and features. Many brands have budget options for anglers just looking for a basic motor to get started with.

A gas or electric outboard motor price will also depend on the brand, model, size, and features – but can run up to $50,000 or more. Extremely high-end models from well-known brands can be extremely expensive and may need considerable thought before you invest in the cost.

Cost to Run

A trolling motor is typically more affordable since they do not require as much power as outboard motors. They are also easier to maintain and repair, making them a more cost-effective option in the long run, especially if they have a long battery life because of high-quality lead acid batteries or a good brand lightweight lithium battery.

Since the outboard motor is a gas motor, it will require more power and fuel which can add up quickly depending on how often you take to the water for fishing or weekend trips, and they can be more expensive to repair and maintain as well. Smaller outboard motors won’t be as costly as large horsepower gas outboard motors, but they are still more expensive than an electric power transom mount trolling motor.

Range

Trolling motors are typically smaller and provide a shorter range than outboard motors, making them ideal for fishing in smaller bodies of water such as ponds, smaller lakes, or reservoirs.

Outboard motors can provide a much longer range due to their larger size and power, making them better suited for larger bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, large reservoirs, coastal areas, and bays.

Best Option: Outboard Motor and Trolling Motor

Garmin Force Trolling Motor
An outboard motor and trolling motor combination is ideal for fishing enthusiasts looking to maximize their time on the water.

Having both an outboard motor and trolling motor on the fishing boat together is a great idea for anyone who wants to enjoy the water for fishing or casual cruising.

The outboard motor can serve as your main cruising motor, pushing your fishing boat through the water at high speeds and being able to cover dozens of miles in a short amount of time.

The trolling motor is a very useful tool for avid anglers, providing a slow and steady speed when you want to get into those hard-to-reach fishing spots.

Having both installed on board allows you to stay out on the water longer, giving you more opportunities to catch that trophy fish! Additionally, having both will make sure you’re covered in case one of the motors fails, so you don’t have to worry about being stranded out in the middle of nowhere.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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