Jet Boat or Propeller Boat?

Boats are propelled forward by various power sources, such as human power, wind power, and internal combustion engines. Nowadays, even electric boats are coming onto the scene. Propulsion for human-powered boats occurs via rowing, and wind-powered ships use sails. 

Internal combustion-engined boats work in one of two ways. They can use a propeller or a jet drive. So what’s the difference between them? We are on hand to explain and help you decide whether a jet boat or propeller boat is best for you.

What Is A Jet Boat?

  • Jet boats use an engine to create a jet of water and force it out of nozzles at the rear.
  • Steering is accomplished by angling the nozzles and can only be done under power.
  • Jet boats offer superior speed and can make tighter turns.
  • They can be steered in shallow waters but are susceptible to sucking up debris and fouling.
  • They are purpose-built and existing boats cannot be converted to jet operation.
  • Jet boat mechanics are far less common.

A jet boat uses an onboard internal combustion engine to power a water pump, called a jet pump. This pump sucks in water from the lake, river, or sea and forces it out as a high-pressure stream through one or more nozzles. The water intake is typically at the front or center of the boat. The nozzles typically point backward and can be adjusted left and right in order to provide steering. A piece of kit called a diverter or “reverse bucket” on some jet boats can be placed over the nozzles to create reverse thrust.

Jet boats are speedy and nippy little things that can power along shallow stretches of water at thrilling speeds. They can make tight turns “on a dime” if desired. Their compact and integrated design means no external propeller hanging off the back of the boat, waiting to chop off the legs of unsuspecting people who may typically use the rear of a pleasure craft to enter or exit the water.

However, jet boat impellers have a lower tolerance to debris and foreign objects fouling with the mechanism. They can quickly be overwhelmed and even damaged if run in shallow waters that contain mud, sand, stones, and other debris. They also have poor steering ability at lower speeds due to the nature of steering — the nozzles must be producing thrust when they are angled appropriately. Backing off the throttle in a jet boat can usually result in loss of steering ability, as well. Furthermore, with the engine directly coupled to the impeller, there will be some thrust whenever the engine is running. As a result, the boat may wander about. Some manufacturers offer a feature to lower the engine RPM, and others do offer a “neutral” position, but it is not universal. Furthermore, jet boats are purpose-built machines, and you cannot convert an ordinary boat to a jet boat in the fashion that can be done with an outboard motor. The final factor is that mechanics who are well-versed in the operation of a jet boat are less commonplace than those who can repair a propeller due to the relatively less common nature of jet boats. 

What Is A Propeller Boat?

  • Boats that utilize an engine powering a propeller are used to thrust the boat forward and backward.
  • Outboard motors can convert any boat to a motorized propeller boat.
  • Some boats may have multiple inboard engines to drive numerous propellers.
  • Steering is accomplished via a rudder behind the propellers or turning off the entire outboard assembly on outboard motors.
  • Can handle murky and debris-littered waters.
  • Controlling and steering a propeller boat is easier than a jet boat.
  • Risk of injury if you make contact with the spinning propellers.
  • More fuel-efficient than jet boats.
  • Propeller boat mechanics are more commonplace.

A propeller boat uses either an inboard or outboard engine. An outboard is an all-in-one package; containing a motor, drive mechanism, and propeller. The engine drives the propeller through a driveshaft, and the propeller spins, providing thrust, and off you go! Some boats may have a single motor driving two propellers - or multiple engines, each with their own propeller. These kinds of boats are called sterndrive boats. Steering a propeller boat is accomplished through a rudder, where a fin is placed right behind the propeller and rotates to direct the thrust at various angles. With an outboard, the entire motor rotates to control the thrust at different angles that enable steering. Reversing is also possible simply by inverting the rotation of the propeller.

A propeller boat is remarkably versatile, especially in the case of an outboard, as it can effectively motorize any boat. Controlling and steering a propeller boat is easier than a jet boat, as it offers more predictable handling. It can also power through weed beds and murky waters, as the boat’s hull will push the debris aside before it reaches the propeller at the rear. A propeller boat can also be “held” in place, as it offers a true neutral position where the propeller rotation can be stopped while the engine continues to idle. Propeller boats are also more fuel-efficient than jet boats, and you can find more mechanics who are well-versed in propeller boats. Propeller propulsion is also cheaper when converting a boat, particularly in the area of outboard motors, as the only required purchase is the outboard motor itself, which is an all-in-one package.

However, propeller boat propellers can get fouled by long weeds, fishing nets, or rope tangles, requiring the operator to stop the engine and enter the water to clear the propeller. There is also the risk of injury by the propeller. It is dangerous to enter or exit the water while the propeller is spinning. Thus, the operator must ensure that the propellers are not rotating before allowing individuals to enter or exit the boat from this place.


We hope that this article has helped guide your decision between a propeller or a jet boat. Both types have their unique attributes, positives, and negatives, and we trust you have enough information to make an informed decision.