Skiff vs Drift Boat. Cost, Capacity, Use and Convenience

Skiff vs Drift Boat

Drift boats and skiffs can sometimes be seen on the same waters especially when fishing is involved. But when it comes to choosing between these two boats you may be at a loss to know which one is right for you? So here we will look at these two freshwater fishing boats. In this battle of the boats post we are looking at the drift boat vs the skiff.

A skiff is a great freshwater fishing vessel with a shallow draft. A drift boat also has a shallow draft, is a river runner and is also excellent for fishing. Rowing skiffs can be motorized with a small trolling motor. Drift boats also use oars but are much more responsive to the oarsman and easier to maneuver. They can be fitted with small motors but will be difficult to handle. Skiffs are great for calm water and solo fishing while a drift boat is better in moving water and can easily handle whitewater rivers with class IV rapids.

Skiff vs drift boat – which one is right for you?

A skiff and drift boat may often be seen in the same calm waters but they perform very differently in different environments and are handled very differently.

In this post we will look the similarities and key differences between these boats so you can better tell which one is the best choice for you.


What exactly is a skiff? Believe it or not this is not an easy question to answer.

The term skiff is used to describe a number of different boats with different characteristics.

For the purpose of this article I will assume that you are interested in a smaller skiff that is fitted with oars as that is the closest type of skiff to a drift boat.

Most skiffs are inland water boats and come in two basic types:

  • Flat bottom skiffs.
  • Semi-v skiffs.

Although skiffs can come in very small sizes most of the ones you will see on the water are fairly large vessels, comparable in size to a large drift boat.

Skiffs are designed to be used on inland waters like lakes and rivers and are almost always set-up for fishing.

They are stable in fairly calm water though the semi-v type is more than capable of handling the chop that comes with large open bodies of water like deep lakes. There are also ocean skiffs that can be taken offshore when the weather is optimum.

Skiffs have wide open decks with plenty of space for gear, passengers and catch.

Semi-v skiffs for deeper waters

Although the semi-v skiffs excel in deeper inland waters they are less likely to be found in shallow waters.

The semi-v hull gives it too deep a draft for shallow water areas and for this reason many people who regularly boat in rivers will opt for a flat bottom skiff.

Flat bottom skiff for the shallows

A flat-bottomed skiff can be used to navigate shallow waterways even though it is sometimes by an trolling motor.

By simply trimming up the motor a skiff can move from deep water to shallow water easily. If the skiff skipper wants to move into the extreme shallows where the prop could get damaged all he/she has to do is trim the motor up completely, in order to lift the prop out of the water, and the boat can then be pushed via a pole or by oars.

Propulsion and maneuverability

Although there are larger skiffs that are motorized with the outboard motor being controlled via a center console on the boat, small skiffs are usually fitted with oars.

Skiffs are responsive boats but they pale in comparison to drift boats. Drift boats are designed to be instantly responsive to the oarsman because they are used in extremely turbulent waters. Although a skiff is easy to maneuver it is not nearly as responsive as a drift boat.

Skiffs are much more comfortable when sitting in still water, if you like fishing off an anchored boat.

You can mount a small trolling motor on a rowing skiff for propulsion, in addition to its oars, and as long as you don’t go overboard (excuse the pun) and try to mount a powerful outboard motor a rowing skiff will respond quite well to the motorized propulsion.


Finding rowing skiffs is not that easy. Most small rowing skiffs are home-built though you can find commercially made vessels for sale if you hunt long enough.  However, must commercially built skiffs are larger vessels fitted with center console controlled outboard motors.

There are some excellent boat building plans for small rowing and sailing skiffs if you want to try your hand at some DIY boat building.

Commercially build skiffs are not cheap and they are difficult to come by. Even a 25 year-old skiff can cost as much as $9,000.

A home-build kit, for something like a Jimmy skiff II, is much cheaper and will cost around $1,400 at the time of posting this article.

Drift boat

Drift boats are beautiful rowboats that are truly unique in the boating world.

Although they have a flat bottom, drift boats are used in some very turbulent waters – most flat bottom boats are used in calm, shallow water.

Drift boats were the natural evolution of the dory boat which was traditionally used in ocean bays and coastal waters as as fishing vessel. The dory boat was only given a flat bottom to make it easier to stack on the larger ship, that carried it out to sea and brought it back again after the day’s fishing was complete.

As the drift boat evolved it became a perfect river runner capable of being used in rivers with extreme whitewater and class IV rapids.

Propulsion and maneuverability

Drift boats move under oar-power. As they are deigned to be used in moving water, and to ride rapids up to class IV, they are super responsive boats. Not only will a drift boat instantly respond to the oarsman but they can literally turn on a dime.

These boats are “drifters” and therefore not ideal for anchoring and fishing off – though it can be done. These boats are used more often for a unique style of fishing simply called, drift boat fishing.

Drift boat fishing is unique to other forms of boat-based angling because the boat is in constant motion, moving upstream, while the angler fishes downstream from the bow of the boat.

Although a drift boat can be motorized, to help move the boat upstream, this must be down with extreme caution as these boats were never designed for motorized propulsion. A drift boat must only use small trolling motor as a powerful motor will make the boat almost impossible to control.

Learning how to steer a drift boat, with even the smallest trolling motor, requires a certain degree of patience.

Even fitting a motor to a drift boat is not an easy task due to its double pointed and curved hull!


Drift boats are not cheap. In fact, they are quite expensive.

A drift boat can cost anywhere from $3,000 up to $24,000. Used drift boats are not that much cheaper because these boats hold their value very well and most used boats will be kitted-out.

Like a small skiff you can use some proven boat building plans to build your own drift boat for much, much less money than it costs to buy one new. However, unlike a small skiff, drift boats are abundant in the marketplace so it isn’t too difficult to find one that suits your needs and falls within your budget.


These boats may look similar but they are very different beasts.

Drift boats are more abundant in the marketplace. You may have to do some hunting and be patient if you want to find a skiff that suits your needs.

You can build either boat yourself as there are some great boat building plans and kits available.

If you have the budget, get both boats. 😉

If you must choose between these two excellent inland waterway watercraft then I would suggest you get:

  • A skiff for calmer waters like lakes and still rivers.
  • A drift boat for fast moving waters and whitewater rivers.
  • A skiff if you like to fish alone off an anchored boat.
  • A drift boat if you prefer fishing off a moving vessel.
  • A skiff for still water.
  • A drift boat for river running.

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