Pod drives have steadily gained popularity since they debuted in the United States about seven years ago. Their design and installation frees space in the stern, increases speed and boosts fuel efficiency.
The helm-station joystick gets most of the attention at boat shows and in media coverage, but it's the ability of the pods to move independently that results in the great low-speed and docking maneuverability.
Pod manufacturers include Volvo Penta (IPS), Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (Zeus), ZF Marine and, most recently, Caterpillar. These companies are installing pods in more types and sizes of boats, from 34-foot open center consoles to 90-foot sport yachts.
Click play to watch Chris Landry’s take on the future of pod drives.
"I think we are past the point of convincing the boating public that pods are a worthy form of propulsion," CMD Zeus product manager Rob Mirman says. "All the big boatbuilders are offering pod options in the boats where they make sense."
Pods can be found in boat brands from A to Z: Albemarle, Azimut, Cabo, Grand Banks, Hunt, Lazzara, Legacy, Luhrs, Meridian, Ocean, Regal, Rinker, Rivolta, Sabre, Sea Ray, SeaVee, Tiara, Viking and Zeelander. And the list lengthens after each major boat show.
Bigger boats (more than 70 feet or so) are being outfitted with three- and four-pod setups. The drives have gotten larger and are capable of handling more horsepower. ZF Marine's latest pod — the Pod 4000 — can be coupled to an engine with as much as 1,200 hp. And single-pod installation is making inroads.
However, pods are not the answer for every boat. The conventional inboard is still a better choice for a displacement boat because the fuel efficiency of pod propulsion shines at higher speeds — about 18 to 40 knots. Pods add significantly to the price of a boat.
A builder also must change an existing non-pod hull's design to install them. And as with any new product, their durability and longevity are still unknowns. But boatbuilders say the pluses outweigh the minuses, so expect to see the proliferation of pods continue.
Look for a feature article on pod-drive boats in the March issue of Soundings.