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Tough Little Duck

The Surf Scoter 26, named for a stout seabird, can be matched to a range of power options, each with its own advantages.

The Surf Scoter 26 gets its name from a bird that favors the winter waters around the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. A strange little diver duck, the surf scoter spends a great deal of its time feeding underwater, and seems to frequent rougher waters that other, more noble ducks shun. I think one could do far worse than to name a boat design after a sea duck that likes rough water.

The Surf Scoter 26 is a trailerable cruiser that can be easily towed from one destination to another. With a beam that’s just under 8 feet, 6 inches, the Scoter is legal for all-hours trailering in the United States. And, she’s easily stowed: Sitting on a trailer, her height will allow her to fit into most barns or storage sheds (with standard 12-foot door heights). Options for power abound. A conventional inboard (gas or diesel) engine with straight- or V-shaft drive, a gas or diesel sterndrive, or outboard power (single or twin) all can work for the Scoter.

The inboard-power version would have the engine mounted in the cockpit, straddling the cabin’s after bulkhead, with half of the engine box in the interior of the boat and the other half in the cockpit. That setup would place our companionway door on the vessel’s port or starboard side, as the engine could not be sunk so deeply into the cockpit sole that it would allow walking over the top of the box.

However, with an off-center companionway in a pilothouse cruising boat of this size, there is a considerable waste of available interior space. The passageway requires the sailor to come in from the side and then into the centerline before moving forward. Hence, no cabinets, heads or other structures can be used in this space, as it needs to be clear to allow for free movement.

We originally designed and built the Scoter 26 in 2000 and specified a diesel sterndrive engine—to my mind, a perfectly viable option for power. I wanted something around 150 hp to 200 hp, to achieve the performance from this design that I specified. The sterndrive installation placed the engine directly connected to the drive, right at the boat’s transom. Being able to retract the drive/prop leg of the sterndrive would allow the boat to be beached.

At a cruise speed of 18 knots (she would run flat-out at about 25 knots with 160 hp), the Scoter burns exactly 3.5 gallons of fuel per hour, good for 5.9 mpg—pretty darn good for a boat. In my home waters of the Pacific Northwest, 18 knots is about the maximum speed that you can consistently run a boat and stay out of the way of flotsam, while still keeping a good clip along the shore. I can run from my home in Olympia, Wash., to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands (about 122 nautical miles) in just over 6½ hours, burning 23 gallons of fuel.

While the Surf Scoter 26 with a diesel drive was an economical and perfectly viable option for our boat design, times have changed. These days, gas or diesel sterndrives are out of fashion, and every new boat seems to have outboards.

Devlin’s original plans for the Surf Scoter 26 had her mated to a sterndrive. Today’s quiet, reliable outboards are a great match as well, so he modified her design. 

Devlin’s original plans for the Surf Scoter 26 had her mated to a sterndrive. Today’s quiet, reliable outboards are a great match as well, so he modified her design. 

The current crop of outboard engines is a far cry from the versions available in 2000, when I first penned the design. Outboards run smoothly and are amazingly quiet-running at speed. Fuel economy is about 33 percent less efficient than diesel counterparts, and I believe it would be safe to expect that the overall life of an outboard is about half that of a diesel sterndrive. To keep up with the changing times, I modified the design to offer diesel-sterndrive and outboard-powered options.

A diesel engine is more fuel efficient than a gasoline engine, and with fuel costs at almost all-time highs, that may be a consideration. There are a couple of diesel outboards available, but they are expensive, and the range of horsepower is limited. I am not seeing them as a viable option for powering a trailerable cruiser like the Scoter 26.

The current offerings in gasoline outboards are indeed smoother and quieter. In a boat as small as the Surf Scoter 26, getting your power package another 3 feet farther aft (the outboards can be mounted on a bracket or in the splash) from the “people part of the boat” makes a big difference in comfort and perceived noise levels. And, modern outboards are unbelievably quiet at low rpm.

As for longevity and maintenance, there is a bit of a myth that a sterndrive engine would last almost twice as long as a gasoline outboard. A sterndrive can never retract itself completely out of the water—some parts always stay submerged, even though the drive might be retracted fully. This is not much of a problem if you are only using the boat off a trailer and then pulling the boat out of the water when not in use. But, where boats stay in the water year-round, the drive leg can grow an amazing amount of grass and barnacles. And, with the majority of the drive legs being made of aluminum, it is difficult to anti-foul for all those idle moments. Newer outboards can retract completely, clear of the water, and that makes a big difference in maintenance. There is way less potential for corrosion due to dissimilar metals in contact with salt water.

Whether your boat will live in the water for long periods of time, or live on its trailer for the majority of its life, would make quite a bit of difference in the powering call in the long run. Whether you decide to power your boat with a single outboard, twin outboards, sterndrives, or an inboard engine, there are never any black-and-white decisions. You have the option to choose which shade of gray suits you the best.

26ft. 8in.
Beam: 8ft. 5½in.
Draft, outboard: 2ft. 1½in.
Draft, inboard: 2ft. 6in.
Draft, sterndrive: 2ft. 3in.
Displacement: 5,600 lbs.
Engine: Up to 160 hp total

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue.