Friday, February 05, 2010

23 Reasons Why Putting an Engine in a Sailboat is the Worst Sailing Innovation Ever

Why do people want an engine on a sailboat? I mean, isn't the whole point about owning a sailboat that you use it for sailing? For actually making the boat go from point A to point B using the natural power of the wind? Isn't that why it's called "sail-ing", not "engine-ing"?

So my nomination for Worst Sailing Innovation Ever is the engine. Or more specifically the crazy idea of putting an engine in a sailing boat. I don't care if it's an inboard engine or an outboard motor. It's just plain wrong.

Here are 23 reasons why putting an engine in a sailing boat is the worst sailing innovation ever....

  1. You don't need an engine. Lin and Larry Pardey have sailed all over the world, in and out of all sorts of exotic stopovers, for gazillions of miles, on two boats they built themselves... both boats without engines.

  2. An engine costs money to buy and install in the boat.
  3. It costs money for spare parts.
  4. It costs money for repairs.
  5. It costs money for fuel.

  6. An engine takes up space you could use for other things.
  7. An engine adds weight to the boat.
  8. The propeller increases drag.

  9. Maintaining an engine takes time away from sailing.
  10. Repairing an engine takes time away from sailing.

  11. An engine breaks down.
  12. An engine is noisy.
  13. It is dirty.
  14. It vibrates.
  15. It is smelly.
  16. It pollutes the air.
  17. If you spill the fuel it pollutes the water.

  18. If you have an engine you need several extra holes in your hull for the cooling pipes, exhaust, prop shaft etc.

  19. An engine does not provide extra safety. Murphy's Law says that it will fail just when you most need it. If you don't have an engine you will be more prudent about getting yourself into bad situations and you will develop the skills to get yourself out of difficulty using natural methods.

  20. Without an engine you will feel closer to nature.
  21. Without an engine you will have to learn to sail well.
  22. Without an engine you will have the joy of entering the same anchorages in the same way that Columbus, Drake, Cook, Nelson - and the Pardeys - did... under sail alone.

  23. You don't need an engine. Adam Turinas sailed most of last season without one after his outboard failed. He says he is "better for it".


Capt. Puffy said...

So, where exactly does one install a diesel on a Laser? Just kidding.

I can appreciate the idealistic philosophy of not having any motor on a sailboat, I can not agree that it is practical for most circumstances and sailors. My lovely wife absolutely loves sailing our boat to dock under sail alone, but in some situations it would simply not be safe to attempt this. Weather, other boaters and the like often dictate what is prudent.

What I can suggest as an alternative to reasons 3.-5. and 9.-17. is an electric motor, such as the one written about on the glorious pages of Tremendously relevant article, I must say.

Sorry for the shameless self-promotion.

I do agree that all sailor's should be skillful in sailing their boats in any of the aforementioned circumstances. Not to mention being able to steer their boat with the sails in case the rudder becomes unusable for example.

The fact that we are relatively new sailors also means that we have not acquired all of these necessary skills yet. I stress the yet part, because our goals are to acquire these skills. We would not want to limit our sailing opportunities however, to only those circumstances which would allow us to go out without a motor. So here is how it works for us. We are sailing relatively small bodies of waters with many boaters. Depending on which lake we go to, we may be the only sailboat on the entire lake, so when we are returning to the dock, for instance, about 20 fishermen will zip by us so they can beat that "damn sailboat" to the dock, this can create some interesting predicaments. By the time we make it to the dock, there is now a line up of people waiting to pull their boats out of the water, so now we have to motor around in circles waiting for our turn. Also the placement of the boat launches a lot of times are such that there is just not that much room for maneuvering. My point being, having a motor so we can putt around in circles so we don't drift onto the shore makes our life much less stressful at the end of the day. We did try to do it without a motor with our first sailboat, a Capri, and we almost got divorced over it.

Anonymous said...

For those of us with cruising boats, and, unlike the Pardeys, have jobs and don't live full time on their boats, an engine is a necessary evil.

It's illegal to sail through the Chesapeake and Delaware canal, as well as the Cape Cod canal. There are alternatives to both canals, but they're not especially pleasant. It's not smart to sail through the East River, but I suppose it's probably legal. Most marinas prefer (if not mandate) that you enter and exit your slip under power.

Then of course, we cruisers double the evil by having dinghy outboards.

Steve in Baltimore
(whose boat is under 30 in. of snow at the moment)

Anonymous said...

An alternative to having an engine in your sailboat is to have it in the dinghy, and push the big boat.

[the reason for the skipjacks doing that is they're only allowed to dredge oysters under power certain days of the week. The push boat makes it obvious to the Dep't of Natural Resources aircraft]

Steve in Baltimore

yarg said...

When I had a 36' Pearson I would have loved to try pulling into a slip without the engine, but I wouldn't have wanted to pay for the damages. It would have been an expensive learnig curve to figure out how to backwind the main so as to slow to a graceful stop. I was able to pick up a mooring under sail in light to moderate wind, but it wasn't easy.

Turinas said...

yeah but it made the summer sailing very limiting. Because we sail in a crowded area with a lot of traffic and a complex network of waterways there were so many places we couldn't go.

in my view, it's a necessary evil. It also gives me something to bitch about

Turinas said...

And what I am really looking forward to is getting a boat with diesel rather than a gas-powered outboard because I hear they really are a major pain in the ass

O Docker said...

Aw c'mon guys, I think the Laser man is just having some fun with those of us whose boats are too big to be easily handled under sail in tight quarters. He also knows that when the Pardeys started out in the '60s, the world's harbors were a lot less crowded than today, and that they didn't plan on spending much time in marinas anyway.

Admittedly, one of my most satisfying moments ever was sailing a rented 30-footer smoothly into a tight spot at the customs dock in Friday Harbor, Washington when the engine quit. It's amazing the number of heads that start popping up from companionways when a maneuver like that is attempted, all of them just hoping you will screw up.

I do agree, the most evil part of my boat is that iron monster. Never has a more fiendishly complicated, service-hungry device been devised to make a measly 21 horsepower.

But the Laser dude forgot about no. 24 - waiting for the engine guy.

Skye Sweeney said...

Murphy's Law says that it will fail just when you most need it.

Back in the 1970's near Cleveland Ohio, a section of the breakwater was named after a certain sailor. After the Sunday race, the crew took down the sails and was cleaning up the boat for a quick departure for home. With the mainsail and foresail down, the engine conked out. Probably due to the very heavy seas stirring up crud in the fuel tank. As the boat drifted towards the breakwater, a cry for help went out as the crew scrambled to raise a sail and/or set an anchor. Neither happened in time. What did happen was the entire anchor and line was thrown overboard before the boat hit the breakwater.

The first wave placed the boat on its side on the breakwater. The second lifted it up and slamed it down on the top of the rocks. The third pushed it over on the other side in the relative calm of the harbor.

All the crew survived without significant harm. But now the Coast Guard arrives to effect a rescue. They pull up the the yatch and tie off onto they stantions. In short order the CG vessel gets its prop tangled in the dozens of lines hanging over the side. The Captain slams his engines in reverse to fix the problem and takes off in reverse at full power ripping all the stantions off the deck.

At this point it is discovered the hull is taking on water. A call to the yatch club has the hoist ready for the crippled boat as the CG tows it in. Once lifted, it is apparent why the boat was taking on water. The keel was bend to one side like a fish hook.

After unbolting the keel and sending it to be hammered back into some shape, the boat was found to point 5 degrees higher on starboard than on port.

And had they sailed into harbor, that section of the breakwater would not be called "Tom McCraw's Wall".

Tillerman said...

Thanks guys. I guess I was being a little bit deliberately provocative to get you guys to defend engines. I really like some of your answers... I need an engine to go round and round in circles... I need an engine to drive along canals... I'm not a good enough sailor to sail into a dock safely... None of them surprise me and I know that's why so many sailors have motors on their boats.

But the real reason I wrote this post was, as I mentioned in another post, I have recently started reading some of the stuff by the Pardeys, and they do make a very convincing case for the benefits of engine-less sailing.

Ari said...

Love it. I just wrote a similar blog post on why we sail without an engine:

- Ari

harrymvt said...

24. It's just one more thing for crackheads to steal from your boat. (Learned this the hard way last summer.) said...

Awesome post! You've almost got me convinced...

A friend of mine teaches sailing to aspiring cruisers, and it's great to see that he always insists on sailing off the mooring in anything but dead calm. It's amazing how much learning you can pack into the first two minutes of a voyage that way!

PacEth: Applied Anthropology Just About Everywhere said...

My Islander 30 has been without motor (actually the transmission is at fault) for three years. I sail out of San Pedro weekly, single-handed. Now, I've not had the balls to make the Catalina run in three years, but I just got a big-ass sculling oar, and more than once, I've dropped into the dink and two-oar rowed myself the last mile home in one of those late-night LA Harbor dead calms. With a little anchoring practice, I'll be ready for the Island. I may get stuck, but I won't die of monoxide poisoning, and I'm looking to pull the dear old Universal three banger out of the Chamber of Horrors, which will free up more room for other gear. Yep, I've banged up my bow pulpit once or twice, getting out of the alley, but that's learning for you. I've not motored into my slip since way before the engine conked out, and I'm going to keep it that way, just to be a curmudgeonly luddite. (It helps that I'm parked head-to-wind, and we have a reliable breeze, usually, hereabouts.

Anonymous said...

While i see the beauty of sailing without additional aids like motors the fact is that the infrastructure today is not made to do so.
See for example the marina at and imagine sailing with a 35 footer into one of the berths far inside when the bora blows with 30+.
From an adventurous point of view that would be an interesting attempt but i wouldn't want to pay for the damage caused.
Of course one can say the marina was built in the wrong way but living today and having to deal with today's infrastructure i wouldn't like to leave a motor out of any boat above a certain size that uses that infrastructure from time to time.

Dreamr OKelly said...

You sir are a danger to the rest of us because you can't sail. Next time your engine wont start and you hit something because you don't know how to control a sailboat you will be crying anyway.

Dreamr OKelly said...

Pffft. Engines are for powerboaters who can't sail, or people with 40' sailboats that looks like a tugboat.

Humans have been sailing for thousands of years without an engine......

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch bitching and complaining to me, if I want to put a engine on my sailboat ill put one, fuck off. Just saying..

Anonymous said...

I have a small day-sailing boat (a Potter 15)....and having the small 2hp get's me out of and in to where I dump the boat into the many times there are 'wind shadows' in those area's. Also, if there's a waiting line to bring the boat in to the trailer, and not much maneuvering room, an engine helps tremendously. There are other times, an engine wouldn't be necessary: Plenty of wind and nobody else around.

Anonymous said...

Purists!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Yarg, just ignore the complete jerk that replied you "are a danger to the rest of us". What a complete a**hole. That, or it was a kid typing on their parent's computer...

Waterdancer said...

I had to tack up the East river because our engine overheated... all the way throgh Hell Gate to Huntington. It was a nice sail though.
I presume this article was tongue-in-cheek. I agree with the replies. I have a 45 foot 30,000 lbs sailboat, and my wife as crew. Columbus had many more. I am in a bay where it may be impossible to sail out through the narrow channel. Not to mention docking boat that size in my slip :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think that "Unknown" even knows what a sailboat is. Yarg is totally right.

Anonymous said...

According to our friends that crossed paths with Lin and Larry Pardey many times in 12 years of cruising, they would often wait outside an entrance for someone to come tow them in, putting others at risk and debunking their own self-sufficiency bit.

max mulhern said...

does that mean going so far as to remove an old diesel and replacing it with water tanks?

Mark said...

Wow, people really get riled up on this topic. It's a great post... I absolutely LOVE the idea of not using a motor. However I completely understand why some would want one. There is something very cool about cruising out on the water with no gas-fuelled, noisy motor. It is in my opinion a totally different feel... almost like you are one with the elements. That being said, an engine comes in handy in certain situations so I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up yet.

Pat said...

Something to think about is how large sailing vessels were handled before the advent of steam engines. Sailing ships could put their boats over the side and, if they had enough crew, use the boats to tow the ship through close quarters in light air (or negotiate the use of boat crews in a harbor). Or, an anchor could be very carefully secured to a boat and rowed out to kedge the ship. Or, some tight harbors had installations of warping buoys at convenient intervals to which ships could secure a hawser to warp toward in succession.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Reason #8A: The propeller is just one more thingy to which kelp can attach itself.

Kyle said...

I've seen some people coming into a dock with an engine at speeds that concern me - always trusting that reverse gear will make for a happy ending... Want to become a better driver - try a car with bad brakes. Want to be a better sailor - try docking in neutral.

Anonymous said...

I've been sailing my 1925, 25' knockabout for 33 years without any motor. Playing the weather (& the idiots) is 2nd nature.

Unknown said...

try sailing without a rudder, keel, motor. its quite a challenge with my 16ft open bow saillboat. if you go in the drink the boat is gone.

Tillerman said...

I have often sailed without a rudder, keel or motor. I don't have a keel or motor on my Laser anyway, and sailing without a rudder is a standard drill for improving feel for the boat.

Anonymous said...

I have a 14ft wanderer and if the wind drops and your keel snaps and the current is strong, a
motor might prove useful, otherwise you had better start rowing, (hard work) and make sure you have an anchor,VHF radio ect ,and lights , just in case. Respect the sea, it's the boss !
People have been sailing without a motor for hundreds of years and some have drowned.

Edwin said...

I love sailing but I don't have any knowledge about the configuration of sailing yachts. I just know one thing that it is the best way to enjoy real beauty of nature and finding myself more close to it.

Keep Sharing

Anonymous said...

An engine can save your life.

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