What Size Motor Should You Get For a Drift Boat?

Drift boat powered by outboard motor on river

Drift boats are elegant rowboats used for river running and fishing and are usually only used downstream. They are easy to row and can turn on a dime. But having to always pick your boat up downstream can become a bit of a pain. Luckily, mounting an outboard on the boat could eliminate this inconvenience.

What Size Motor Can A Drift Boat Take?

Drift boats are rowboats that were not designed to be propelled by a motor.

Their unique hull design means there are restrictions on the size of motor a drift boat can handle.

A 15 HP electric trolling motor is a good choice and probably the most powerful motor you should mount on a drift boat.

More powerful motors will cause a loss of control on a drift boat. 

What size of motor works for a drift boat?

As we outlined in a previous article, you can put a motor on a drift however, there are some restrictions on the size and power of outboard motor the boat can handle.

Aluminum drift boat with motor

The drift boat evolved from the ocean dory boat and over time was given an enhanced rocker to better deal with the whitewater and rapids of the McKenzie and Rogue rivers in Oregon.

This gave the drift boat its uniquely curved shape.

A drift boat’s ability to ride rapids means it has a hull that is less suitable for motor mounting than other types of rowboat.

However this does not mean you cannot mount a small motor on one.

Smaller hp motors work best on a drift boat due to its hull design (which we will cover later).

A high hp motor will send a drift boat into the banks quickly.

It is generally accepted that a low thrust, low speed (low hp) motor is best for a drift boat.

3 HP motors are popular with some drift boat owners because they are small and give the boat just enough of a push to help it on its way downstream.

Of course 3hp isn’t going to offer enough power to push such a large rowboat upstream and for this reason mounting a 3hp motor on a drift boat seems to defeat the purpose of having an outboard on the boat in the first place.

People do it though.

By far the best choice for a drift boat is a 15hp motor.

A 15hp outboard motor is just small enough, and light enough, to be mounted on a drift boat. It offers just enough power to push the boat upstream in calm conditions.

Some drift boats can be heavy and a 15hp motor may not supply enough power to propel the boat upstream in strong currents though.

That doesn’t mean you should mount a bigger motor however.

Drift boats simply cannot handle big motors.

Due to the design characteristics of this boat, the thrust from a powerful motor will send it completely out of control making steering almost impossible.

Bare in mind also that regardless of what motor you mount on a drift boat it will not provide you with more speed.

Mounting a motor just makes moving the boat easier.

Electric or gas?

Should you mount a gas motor or electric motor on a drift boat?

Well to get the answer to that question you need to answer three other ones first:

  • How big a motor do you want?
  • How much boat space are you willing to give up to it?
  • How much weight are you willing to add to the boat?

The plain and simple truth is that gas motors are heavier than their electric counterparts.

Motor on a drift boat
Drift boat with motor

They also require a battery, a gas tank and heavy gasoline.

Electric motors on the other hand require only a battery.

So, the electric option mean less weight on your drift boat. But it isn’t just about the weight.

The thrust of an outboard motor has a huge effect on how a drift boat handles.

As I mentioned above, a high HP motor will send a drift boat into the banks quickly.

This is due to the thrust that the engine provides.

Drift boats do not respond well to thrust.

As an electric motor has lower thrust than a gas equivalent it makes for a better choice for drift boat owners.

It is generally accepted that a low thrust, low speed (low HP) motor is best for a drift boat.

This means an electric trolling motor is the better choice because it has lower thrust than its gas-powered counterpart and is also lighter in weight.

Where to mount a motor on a drift boat

Mounting a motor on a drift boat is not as easy as mounting one on other boat types.

Both the stern and the bow of a drift boat are pointed meaning there is no flat transom to mount the motor on.

As I pointed out in the article how to mount a trolling motor on a drift boat:

“Some drift boat owners mount the motor directly to the boat.

However, due to the acute rocker of a drift boat this approach can force the prop to go below the boat and also cause damage to it when dropping the anchor”. 

outboard motor mounted via bracket to drift boat
Outboard trolling motor mounted via bracket to drift boat

It is necessary to use a specific type of bracket to both protect the boat and to raise the prop to an acceptable height and angle.

I show you how to do that in the above mentioned article.

Using a motor on a drift boat

Using an outboard motor, even a small 3 hp trolling motor, on a drift boat is not the same as using one on other boats like a Jon boat, or even a canoe or kayak.

The unique hull shape of a drift boat makes using a motor much more difficult than you might expect.

It takes time and patience to learn how to use a motor on a drift boat.

And, if you jump from a smaller hp motor, say a 3hp, to a more powerful one, like a 15hp, you will need to learn how to do it all over again.


The best sized motor for a drift boat is a 15 hp.

This 15 hp outboard should be an electric trolling motor because it will produce less thrust.

Too much thrust will send a drift boat out of control and into the banks quickly.

A good 15 hp electric trolling motor suitable for a drift boat will supply enough power to push the boat upstream in calm conditions.

An electric trolling motor also takes up less space on the boat as all you need is a battery, while a gas motor requires fuel storage.

An electric motor is also lighter than a gas counterpart.

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