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How To Choose the Right Jack Plate for Your Boat

Jack plates give you control over your outboard’s position, which helps you get better performance from your boat in any operating condition. However, with several options for lift mechanisms, coatings and setback, choosing the right plate can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know about choosing a jack plate that will work with your boat.

Why Would I Want a Jack Plate on My Boat?

If your outboard is fixed in place, it’s rarely in a position that best matches your operating conditions. A jack plate lets you move your motor up and down to get the propeller and shaft in the right position, no matter what you’re doing. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Traveling in shallow waters? Raising your motor keeps the prop clear of the ground, reducing turbulence.
  • Having trouble starting off? Lowering your motor can help you get a good hole shot, while raising it can help your boat get on plane easier than adjusting trim alone.
  • Want a higher top speed and better fuel economy? Most boat builders are conservative with prop height, and drag increases exponentially with speed. Lifting your motor leaves less of the prop in the water, which reduces the power needed to maintain speed. Keeping your motor’s cavitation plate plate above the waterline can improve performance dramatically.
  • Does your motor want to ventilate and slip under load? A drop down plate lets you lower the prop, helping it push the boat through the water.
  • Pulling your boat out of the water? You can use your jack plate to raise your motor up high, keeping it clear of the ramp until you can fit a transom support.

What Size Jack Plate for My Boat Offers the Best Performance?

We rate our jack plates based on the horsepower they support for motors built after 1978. For smaller clamp-on engines less than 40 HP we have our mini jack plates. For smaller engines less than 40 HP that are not clamp on style and have the standard bolt pattern you can use the 40 HP and up jack plates. The motor manufacturers do not necessarily always use the standard bolt pattern in their motor brackets for engines 40 HP and less so we recommend double checking this before ordering.

How Do You Choose a Setback on a Jack Plate?

Setback is how far the jack plate extends past the transom. The more setback you have, the more leverage the motor will have on the boat. This leverage helps raise the bow out of the water. Setback also positions the prop or jet away from turbulent water coming off of the hull, which can help with performance. As a general rule, you want your motor cavitation plate to be slightly (1 inch) above the bottom of your boat transom. You do not want your motor cavitation plate dragging in the water, this may cause spraying, drag, and RPMs lost if the motor is too low. Prop position varies widely between outboards. Prop length is measured from the top of the clamp bracket to the cavitation plate.

There is no set rule of thumb for how much setback you need for your boat. It all depends on how much bow lift you need and how far you need to move the motor to push through clean water as well as any clearance you may need to clear hydraulic steering rams, swim decks, etc.. When you tilt your motor up if you don’t have enough setback and have clearance issues your hydraulic steering may hit the top of the boat transom. We offer jack plates in several different lengths, eliminating the need for a setback bracket.

Hydraulic Vs Manual Jack Plate: Which One Is Better?

Both hydraulic and sliding manual jack plates use the same basic design. The frame mounts to your boat’s transom, while your outboard motor bolts to the plate. Moving the plate up and down changes the position of the motor.

A hydraulic jack plate uses a hydraulic ram driven by an electric pump to lift and lower the plate. A hydraulic jack can be adjusted on the fly, going deep in the water to help you get a good hole shot, then raising up for optimum performance once you’re underway. This is the best choice if your focus is speed, shallow water, or ease of use.

A manual jack plate uses a large screw, like a C-clamp, that moves the outer plate up and down. Manual plates are cheaper than hydraulic plates, and they work well if your main concern is finding the best position your engine works in and locking it down. Manual Jack Plates can be adjusted on the water but require more effort and may be time consuming to adjust.

What’s the Difference Between a Propeller Outboard Jack Plate and a Jet Outboard Jack Plate?

A jet motor needs to run closer to the back of your boat transom than a propeller motor, especially if it has a large outlet. We make special patented products just for outboard jet motors here. If you’re converting between jet and prop drive, you need a jack plate made for your new motor.

What Does a Performance Plate Do?

This plate attaches to the bottom of our jack plates. It prevents water from spraying up through the jack plate, improving overall efficiency for increased speed and performance. The performance plate must be installed on the jack plate at the factory because the jack plate must be modified to fit the performance plate.

Which Coating Should I Choose for My Jack Plate?

We offer four coating options on our products, each with its own unique advantages.

1. Raw Aluminum

Raw aluminum corrodes, but not as quickly as steel. This is a good option if you’re on a tight budget and you only operate in freshwater. However, these parts will degrade quickly in brackish water and saltwater.

2. Black Powder Coating

This is a type of baked-on paint that creates a glossy finish. This layer doesn’t protect against corrosion, and it can chip off over time. Like raw aluminum, this is a good option if you only operate in freshwater. However, black jack plates are preferred for fishing and waterfowl hunting because they won’t reflect light that can catch the attention of game.

3 & 4. Clear and Black Anodized Aluminum

Anodizing oxidizes the surface of aluminum, creating a hardened, corrosion-resistant layer that won’t flake off. We make jack plates out of two kinds of anodized aluminum. Clear anodizing has a slightly gold tint compared to raw aluminum. This offers improved corrosion resistance over raw aluminum, making it a good choice for brackish water and saltwater. Our black anodized plates have a harder-wearing surface that is more resistant to saltwater corrosion than clear anodizing.

To learn more about our jack plate coating options, check out this article.