Houseboaters want plenty of good, reliable power for their vessels. They also want to give up as little space as possible for the power plant. Stern drive engines offer one solution to this problem, but not the only one. A second alternative for those who like a four-stroke, inboard source of propulsion is the V-drive.
The V-drive uses an engine mounted in the stern with the flywheel forward.
The transmission is attached to the bell housing in the conventional manner but also facing forward. There is a further set of side-by-side gears appended to the end of the transmission and arranged one above the other. The lower gear is at a down angle, usually 8 degrees to the engine, but facing aft.
The propeller shaft then runs from a position toward the bow, back toward the stern.
The transmission is facing ahead and the propeller shaft passes beneath the engine so that the engine and the drive shaft form a "V" in relationship to each other, thus the term V-drive.
The total space required for this installation is only about 40 inches more than the length of the engine! This allows for an easy rear mount and very little more space consumed than a stern drive (I/0).
The transmission operating that V-drive may be direct-geared, or it may incorporate a reduction gear. The owner of the vessel can choose from a variety of gear ratios and propeller sizes to accommodate the intended usage.
Thus versatility is a feature of this installation as well as a compact unit. The transmission is generally a Borg-Warner unit with the attached V-drive manufactured by Walters and others. Parts are readily available and the unit is both rugged and reliable.
Nothing is totally foolproof, and of course, the V-drive is no exception. Reasonable care should be used in the matter of maintenance. The drive has its own oil supply as separate from the engine. That oil supply must be maintained at proper levels and changed at proper intervals.
The V-drive incorporates a universal joint between the transmission and the gears in the "V" section. That universal joint is working at an angle, on a continuous basis. It does not like to be grounded or run into obstructions.
If you have maintained your "V" properly and used it wisely you will get many years of trouble-free service from it. When that universal joint begins to be noisy or to cause a bit of vibration, replace it immediately.
The vibrations from a faulty universal joint can play havoc with the remainder of the transmission. There are a few other very simple maintenance items to consider. The drive has its own oil cooler and you should be certain that nothing blocks or interrupts the water flow to the heat exchanger (cooler). This is very important.
Periodically you should inspect the seals on the entire unit for oil leaks. Oil leaks are unsightly, they cause pollution, they foul the bilge, and if the Coast Guard should board your vessel, they might just bring a fine.
Always keep the propeller shaft properly aligned to the coupling. This not only adds to the life of your unit, but it also makes operation of the houseboat more enjoyable. The coupling on the V-drive is tucked away under the transmission and it is not really that easy to align. Yet it certainly can be done.
In fact, it must be done. You don't want to travel the waterway with the floor shaking beneath your feet.
A V-drive system is a pretty good choice for the boater who is considering a new vessel, or for re-powering an existing houseboat. Go down to your re-power center and ask the engine dealer to show you one. You may just find it to your liking.