Important features in the best small outboard motors

By Tom Keer

Mar 08, 2018

Get started gunkholing in a small boat powered by a low horsepower outboard.  You'll catch some fish while learning many of the necessary skills needed for a lifetime of fun on the water.

One of the best ways to learn boating basics is to start with a small boat.  A flat-bottom jon boat or aluminum skiff around 12 feet in length is perfect for fishing, exploring shallow waters and learning how to run and maintain a boat.  The best small outboard motors don't necessarily pertain to a brand as much as they do components.  Here are some points to consider when choosing small outboard boat motors.

1.  Size Matters

In August 1973, the U.S. Coast Guard required a capacity plate for boat motors.  The purpose of the plate was to match a safe weight and horsepower with your boat.  If your boat is old, then the plate may not be in place.  Best small fishing boat motors don't need to be heavy or pack a lot of power.  Balance is more important than speed, and lighter motors don't drive the bow up and allow water to come over the transom.  Small outboard boat motors can be about half as heavy and powerful as specified by the manufacturer.

2. Choose your Features

The best small outboard motors are simple to install and use, but there are two features that are helpful.  As small boats are light a strong wind or current can push 'em around.  In those situations, electric starts are helpful.  Recoil starts are better for stronger boaters who can pull the cord without tipping over the boat.  Power tilts are also a nice option as they allow a new boater to trim up the outboard without taking focus off navigating.

3. Two Strokes versus Four Strokes

Fuel economy and environmental friendliness are the hallmarks of four stroke engines.  It's why folks consider them among the best outboard engines.  Two strokes are enough to power small boats and they're easy to work on.  Learning to work on small boat motors pays big dividends; you'll learn how the work and will be able to fix minor repairs that arise when you're on the water.

This season, get started with small boat and outboard.  Soon enough you'll have the confidence and skills you need to make every day on the water great. Check our boat explorer tool to learn more about each type of small fishing boat motors and get ready hit the water!

Tom Keer
Tom Keer
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at