Outboard Motors: Just Cruising by Keith Fleming


Every cruiser has one and many catamaran owners have three of them. The outboard motor is an essential item for any cruising boat and making the right choice of size and brand can be one of your most important decisions. In the old days, the first criteria was weight. In many skippers’ mind, the weight of the outboard dictated the size of the dinghy they carried. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. With lifting straps around the motor and miniature cranes mounted on the pushpit, the weight of the outboard is not important.

The first decision to make is how can I carry the largest dinghy possible on the yacht and then purchase an outboard to suit both your requirements and that of the dinghy. These days, we carry many items over many miles in our dinghy and we need to keep ourselves dry at the same time. The one problem that the larger outboard will have over its smaller rival is that of fuel consumption and the amount of petrol that will have to be carried on board. Some skippers use four-stroke motors in an endeavour to make the fuel go further. But this increases the weight (if weight is of great importance) and also the cost. For the average coastal cruiser, this really need not be a problem. Unless you plan on going overseas, fuel is readily available for the coastal cruiser, which is about 90 per cent of us. The reliability of the modern outboard is great and two cylinders are better than one for easy starting. Spare parts can be sourced all over the world.

When choosing a dinghy and outboard, you need to look at what you are going to use it for and how often. Most of us use them every day when on the water, so they have to be reliable, reasonably fast to cover large distances like fishing, going ashore, visiting other yachts and carrying drums of water and fuel and food.

All of this with two or three people on board and keeping them dry at the same time. You can see why the choice of the dinghy comes first and the motor second. Make sure that the motor is always done up tight on the transom and is padlocked to resist thieves. Even when the outboard is on the bracket on the pushpit, it should be padlocked and make sure you oil the padlock regularly to stop it seizing from the saltwater.

It is just as easy to maintain a large motor as is a small one. Here I am talking about 2hp to say 15hp for the tender. As most modern outboards are well-sealed these days, they can suffer quite an amount of inclement weather. Make sure you keep the power head well sprayed with Inox or WD. A soft engine cover will keep the motor in new condition. Always carry a spare set of spark plugs and the tools to change them. One item that many owners forget about is to carry a spare propeller. Somewhere, someday you are going to hit the bricks with your prop and break a blade. If you are travelling overseas, a tube of gear box oil and perhaps a spare water pump impellor would be worth carrying. You need to learn how to remove the carburettor and the filter bowl on the engine in case of a immersion. Having three times drowned my motor over 25 years of cruising, I can tell you it is a heart-stopping experience. It can happen as simply as steady rain overnight that fills up the dinghy and sinks it. One time at Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays, I had the dinghy tied behind the boat as you would and a great gust of wind came down and lifted the dinghy and 9.9hp motor up off the water and flipped it over. We had it going again within an hour.

The maintenance procedure was to remove the motor from the dinghy (on shore), remove the spark plugs, turn it upside down and drain out the water and pull the start cord many times to expel all the water. Pour petrol down the spark pug holes and repeat the previous, clean the carby and filter bowl. Next you spray the motor with WD and refit the motor to the transom of the dinghy. Pull the starter cord several times and fit the new set of spark plugs. Connect up the fuel and pump it up and the motor should now start easily. Make sure your fuel tank did not take in any saltwater before you try to start it. Check the oil in the gearbox every 12 months and replace.

Cat considerations
Catamaran and trailer sailors need a special mention. While the purist will tell you that an overweight catamaran will be dead in the water, the cruiser will not find an overweight cat such a problem. It is a matter of what you use as a gauge for being overweight. Most cruisers buy cats for their stability, carrying capacity (this is where the weight goes out the window) and their ability to enter shallow rivers as well as being able to take to the hard. There is nothing worse than having too little power as a supplement to any sailing boat. When conditions are against you sailing then you need to have good power to push you along. There are sorts of configurations with motors on these boats but the outboard is by far the cheapest and easiest to mount and will allow you to take to the hard very easily. Because of the space needed on smaller cats the lighter outboard is the most logical as opposed to motors that are too heavy and take up lots of valuable cabin space. On larger cats you can afford to have the outboards mounted in a tube and a pulley system to raise and lower them. Some owners ponder over whether to use four strokes or two strokes. If you can afford a cat then you can afford a four stroke and the extra weight will be averaged out over the less weight of fuel required.

Some owners choose diesel inboards so they can have large alternators to power their batteries. A great idea I once saw was an 80 amp alternator mounted vertically on top of a two stroke outboard connected with a direct drive to the top of the flywheel. He had a smart regulator and it worked very well. He cut a hole in the lid of the outboard and fitted a top hat over it to keep it dry. As you can see, there is a lot to think about when choosing your outboard, but make the dinghy or tender your first decision then choose the motor.

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