Home > Industry Advice > Jack Plate Blogs > How to Choose Between Hydraulic and Manual Jack Plates

How To Choose Between Hydraulic and Manual Jack Plates

If you've found yourself in a position where you'd like to purchase a jack plate, you may be wondering which type of jack plate you should get. Jack plates are most often used by boaters, anglers and hunters, though anyone who operates a boat can find it useful. Read on to find out which type of jack plate may be best for you.

Hydraulic jack plate vs manual jack plate

The first thing to recognize when deciding which type of jack plate to use are the differences between the two types. The name gives away the biggest difference: a manual jack plate has to be manually raised or lowered whereas a hydraulic jack plate is raised or lowered while underway. When installing a hydraulic jack plate, a lever's installed near the throttle or steering wheel. This is in contrast to a manual jack plate, which requires the user to get out of the boat to change its position. However, both manual and hydraulic jack plates do the same thing when in use.

Advantages of hydraulic versus manual jack plates

To begin, we'll focus on the advantages of jack plates in general. The main advantages of installing a jack plate are two-fold:

  • Performance in the water
  • The ability to optimize engine height for depth of water

These can be advantageous to any boater, angler or hunter. When deciding between a manual or hydraulic jack plate what are the advantages of each?

The advantages of manual jack plates are:

  • You can set it and forget it. Once you've picked a height for your outing on your boat, you don't have to worry about changing the height.
  • There are fewer moving parts on a manual jack plate. This means less potential maintenance.
  • A manual jack plate is less expensive than a hydraulic jack plate.

In contrast, the advantages of hydraulic jack plates are:

  • The engine height can be set if moving from deep water to the shallows. This allows optimization of the height of the engine for changing conditions while on the water.
  • You can adjust the height of the engine with ease when on the water, based on load and weight distribution.
  • You can optimize the performance of the engine while going up on plane or trolling around. This optimizes fuel consumption and maximizes thrust.

Keeping these advantages in mind is important when deciding which type of jack plate to get. While they both have their unique advantages, having a jack plate, in general, will help increase your boating performance. However, knowing the advantages of each begs a new question.

Which type of jack plate is best?

This question is one of the hardest to answer. A better approach would be to ask yourself what you want out of a jack plate? If you yearn for the greatest flexibility and optimization of engine performance at all times, then this may merit the extra cost of a hydraulic jack plate. However, if you'd prefer to identify the best vertical position for the jack plate that optimizes your engine's performance during most outings, then a manual jack plate may be best. A manual jack plate can be set and then forgotten about.

Other than cost, hydraulic jack plates do offer the greatest advantages. One of the main reasons people purchase a hydraulic jack plate is for the added flexibility to adjust the height while in the water. This allows the user to, for example, increase the vertical height of the engine while moving from deeper waters into shallow water to fish or hunt. Another example is lowering the vertical position of the jack plate if you find yourself unexpectedly in rough water to mitigate cavitation.

Furthermore, some users suggest that depending on the main purpose of the boat will inform which jack plate to purchase. For example, in a speed boat where most of the running time on the boat will be on plane and moving quickly, a manual jack plate is preferable. This allows the user to simply set the optimal performance height at speed and on plane. This is in contrast to someone who often fishes or goes from deep water to shallow water, which may merit the added flexibility of the hydraulic jack plate.


If you've already purchased a manual jack plate, the question becomes: Can you convert a manual jack plate to hydraulic? The short answer is yes, you can. However, the cost, conversion and installation can easily merit the purchase of a new hydraulic jack plate. The major cost of a hydraulic jack plate is the hydraulics themselves. Therefore, not much money is saved if converting.

Final thoughts

If you're considering the purchase of a jack plate and are not sure which type to buy, think about what you use your boat for most often. If you want the greatest flexibility, the obvious choice is a hydraulic jack plate. If you'd prefer to optimize performance once and never worry about the vertical height of your engine again, then a manual plate may be best. In both cases, the performance of your engine can be optimized if a jack plate (either type) is purchased. Vance Manufacturing has both manual and hydraulic jack plates to fit your boat when you're ready to purchase.