Electric Trolling Motor vs Outboard: Key Comparisons for Boaters

The main difference between an electric trolling motor and an electric outboard is the outboard is used for a primary means of propulsion, and the trolling motor is not.

Granted, there are exceptions where it’s possible to use an electric trolling motor as your propulsion system, but generally speaking, they are supplementary to your outboard. Here’s a really quick snapshot of what to know:

At a Glance:
1️⃣Electric trolling motors offer quiet operation and precise maneuverability at low speeds, ideal for fishing and docking.

2️⃣Electric outboard motors provide higher speed propulsion, making them suitable for cruising, watersports, and faster transit.

3️⃣Both electric trolling and outboard motors have their pros and cons, with factors like noise, eco-friendliness, weight, maintenance, and battery dependence playing a role in the decision-making process.

Now let’s dive deeper into the topic and compare these motor types side-by-side to help you make an informed decision when buying an electric motor.

⚖️ Electric Trolling Motor vs Outboard: Fundamental Differences

Function and Power

Electric Trolling Motors are designed to provide precise maneuverability and low-speed propulsion. These motors are generally less powerful than outboard motors, with thrust levels often ranging from 30 to 100 pounds.

Trolling motors are typically used for accurate control while fishing or for gentle cruising in calm waters. They can be mounted on the bow, stern, or even the engine of the boat. Take a look at 24-volt trolling motors as a mid-range example.

Electric Outboard Motors are the electric equivalent of traditional gas outboard motors. They are designed for higher-speed propulsion and are generally more powerful than trolling motors.

Typically they serve as the main source of propulsion for small to medium-sized boats mounted on the transom of the boat. Use cases include cruising, watersports, and getting to and from fishing spots more quickly.

Operation and Noise Levels

Electric Trolling Motors operate very quietly, which makes them ideal for activities like fishing, where noise reduction is essential to avoid disturbing the fish.

Electric Outboard Motors are also relatively quiet compared to their gasoline counterparts, but they might produce more noise than trolling motors, particularly at higher speeds. However, their noise level is generally still lower than gas outboard motors.

Battery Life and Range

Electric Trolling Motors often have a longer battery life at low speeds, making them suitable for prolonged use in activities like fishing. However, their range and how long they run compared to an outboard are somewhat limited due to their lower power.

Electric Outboard Motors can offer a wider range and higher speeds, but their battery life may be shorter when operated at higher speeds. They are, however, improving in efficiency and range due to advancements in battery technology.

📋 Understanding Electric Trolling Motors

They’re popular among anglers and boaters because they are quiet, eco-friendly, and perfect for low-speed maneuvers required when fishing or docking.

Types of Electric Trolling Motors

There are generally two types of electric trolling motors based on their mounting location on the boat:

  • Bow-mounted: Bow-mounted trolling motors are installed at the front of the boat, providing efficient control and precise steering capabilities. This mounting location is suitable for medium to large-sized boats.
  • Transom-mounted: Transom-mounted trolling motors are attached to the rear of the boat, offering easy installation and operation. They are often preferred for small boats, kayaks, or canoes.

There are also many other types of electric trolling motors categorized by voltage thrust, mount positioning, and other factors.

Battery Power and Energy Density

To operate, electric trolling motors require batteries, with the two most common types being lithium batteries and lead-acid batteries. Lithium batteries offer several advantages over lead-acid batteries:

ParameterLithium BatteriesLead-Acid Batteries
Energy DensityHigh energy density allows more energy to be stored in a smaller, lighter package.Lower energy density means they are generally larger and heavier for the same energy storage.
LongevityLonger cycle life allows them to be charged and discharged more times before losing their storage capacity.Typically have a shorter cycle life, which means they lose their storage capacity sooner.
EfficiencyMaintain consistent voltage levels throughout their discharge cycle, resulting in more efficient usage of stored energy.Voltage levels can decrease throughout the discharge cycle, potentially resulting in less efficient energy usage.
CostHigher initial cost, but can offer cost savings over time due to their longer lifespan and better performance.Lower initial cost, but may be more expensive over time due to shorter lifespan and lower performance.

Runtime and Efficiency

One of the key aspects of electric trolling motors is their runtime, which mainly depends on the battery capacity (measured in amp-hours) and power output (measured in watts) of the motor. To extend the runtime, you should consider factors such as:

  • Using a higher capacity battery (e.g., a higher amp-hour rating)
  • Operating the motor at lower speeds, which consumes less power
  • Setting up a battery bank that consists of multiple batteries wired together to provide additional power

Efficiency is another important aspect to consider. The efficiency of electric trolling motors can be influenced by factors like proper maintenance, well-matched propellers, and using the right motor for the boat size and load.

Outboard Motors: Gas vs Electric

Horsepower Range

Gas outboard motors offer a broader range of horsepower, with models available that deliver over 600 horsepower.

Electric outboards, on the other hand, generally have much lower (for now) horsepower ratings, and even the most powerful is some way short of gasoline. Despite this limitation, electric motors still provide adequate power for smaller boats, inflatables, and tenders.

Fuel Efficiency

The hallmark of an electric outboard is efficiency and low running costs. By using energy stored in batteries, which can be recharged using a generator, solar panels, or shore power.

This makes them a cost-effective option for vessel propulsion. Gas motors, in contrast, require a consistent supply of fuel, which can be a significant expense, particularly for larger horsepower outboards.

Environmental Impact

Electric motors have a smaller environmental footprint compared to their gas counterparts. There are two main reasons for this.

First, electric outboards do not produce exhaust gases, thus reducing air pollution.

Second, unlike gas outboards that can sometimes result in water pollution, electric motors have no risk of fuel spills, making electric outboards a more environmentally friendly option.

🎭 Pros and Cons of Electric Motors

AspectBenefits of Electric Trolling MotorsDrawbacks of Electric Trolling Motors
Noise LevelTypically less powerful than outboard motors, more suited for smaller vessels.N/A
Eco-FriendlinessNo harmful emissions.N/A
Weight & InstallationLightweight and easy to install, suitable for smaller vessels.N/A
Power LevelsAdvances in technology have improved power levels, requiring fewer volts.Typically less powerful than outboard motors; more suited for smaller vessels.
MaintenanceGenerally require less maintenance due to fewer moving parts.N/A
Speed CapabilitiesN/ASpeed capabilities usually lower compared to outboard motors.
Battery DependenceN/ARequire battery recharging or replacement, which can be inconvenient during long trips.
AspectAdvantages of Outboard MotorsDisadvantages of Outboard Motors
Power & SpeedOffer more power and speed than electric trolling motors, suitable for larger boats.N/A
Fuel AvailabilityRun on gasoline, which can be more readily available during long trips.Generate pollution due to gasoline engines.
RangeMore extensive range, allowing for greater distances without recharging or refueling.N/A
Noise LevelN/AHigher noise levels can scare away fish and disturb tranquility.
Weight & MaintenanceN/AHeavier than electric trolling motors and require more maintenance due to mechanical complexity.
Initial CostN/ACan be more expensive initially compared to electric trolling motors.

🏃‍♂️ Speed and Performance Factors

Low-Speed Trolling vs High-Speed Cruising

By now, you’ll be aware of the use cases for each motor type, but to add some figures to the picture, you can expect trolling motors to have a maximum speed of around 5 mph. You want sufficient thrust capability over top speed.

Outboards will offer higher speeds, and the engine is rated in kilowatts rather than pounds of thrust. But again, you need to size the outboard according to the boat’s dimensions and weight.

Weight and Drag

Weight plays a significant role in boat performance, and electric trolling motors tend to be lighter compared to their outboard counterparts. For example, the ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 EVO has a motor weight of 10.5kg and a battery weight of 9kg.

Lighter motors not only help to reduce the boat’s overall weight but can also contribute to improved handling and decreased drag, positively affecting the vessel’s efficiency.

The choice between a long shaft and short shaft outboard can also affect the performance comparison with electric trolling motors.

🔑 Key Takeaways

1️⃣ Electric trolling motors are quiet, eco-friendly, low-maintenance, but less powerful and battery-dependent. Outboards provide greater power, speed, range and are used as primary propulsion.

2️⃣ Trolling motors excel in low-speed maneuvering, while outboards provide higher speed capabilities, necessitating consideration of boat dimensions and weight. Therefore each is for a different use case.

3️⃣ Electric trolling motors, being lighter, contribute to improved handling and decreased drag, enhancing the boat’s efficiency.

Nice to e-meet you. I’m Justin, a seasoned sailing journalist and communications pro with more than 25 years of extensive industry experience. And a track record of successfully promoting teams and events on the global stage.