When I wrote about using our dinghy motor to putt-putt along when both our diesel and the wind died (December 2014), I got a couple of questions about how we did it.
There are two possible techniques:
- Previously have installed an outboard bracket on the boat for use in an emergency; or
- Side-tie the dinghy to the “big boat”
Which one works best and how fast you can move depends on your boat and the outboard. Our 6HP moved our lightweight Gemini catamaran (with a very clean bottom) at 2.5 knots in flat water. I’ve seen a 15 HP move a heavy 45-foot monohull at one knot. You’re not going to go long distances this way, but it can get you into a harbor or marina.
A previous owner had put an emergency outboard bracket on the stern of our port hull. Dinghy motors generally aren’t long shaft, so an outboard bracket won’t work on many boats as there’s no way to mount a bracket low enough that the prop will be in the water.
You also have to consider whether you’ll physically be able to move the motor to the bracket position from wherever it’s typically stored . . . without dropping it in the water or wrenching your back. And you’ll need to be able to get to the motor to start it, put it in/out of gear and set the throttle. You do NOT need to be able to steer from the location (see details below on using it).
Consequently, an outboard bracket works best with smaller outboards or where you have a motor crane in just the right place. Our 4-stroke 6HP motor was about the largest Dave and I could have manhandled without a crane – and that was in glassy flat seas.
IF you’ve got a spot that will work, you can use a simple bracket such as these from Garelick (see photo; link is to Amazon which has a better price than any marine store). On ours, the heavy plastic mounting board was replaced with a shorter thick piece of wood – shorter so that the prop would reach the water. NOTE: with the 6 HP at about half throttle, this bracket started vibrating some.
A larger motor would need a beefier bracket – different ones are rated for different size engines. Also some will allow you to put the motor on the bracket and then lower it into a position closer to the water (they are actually designed for racing boats to get the prop – and its drag – out of the water when racing). I don’t like to cut out marine retailers, but Amazon has most models for about 15% less than even the discount marine stores – see one here and search for others.
Make sure that the bracket is very securely mounted on the boat. It should be through-bolted with hefty backing plates and sealant.
You’ll also need to have a secure place for the gas tank that’s close enough for the hose to connect. We tied ours to the radar pole.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: If you have a propane refrigerator, like ours, and it’s lit, be very careful with where you place the gas tank and where you refill it.
Side-Tying the Dinghy
For most boats, side-tying the dinghy works better. It’s exactly what it sounds like – tying the dinghy to the side of the boat and using the dinghy’s motor to propel the big boat. We had to do this twice with our Tayana 37 and it worked better than I expected.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos, but you’ll need several strong lines – one going from an aft cleat on the big boat to the dinghy, one from somewhere slightly further forward on the big boat to the dink, and one from slightly forward of the dinghy to the bow of the dinghy. Exactly how you tie up is different with every boat/dinghy combination, so it may take a few tries before you discover the optimum setup.
For most boats, it works best if the dinghy is just slightly aft of the center of the big boat. Don’t try to steer with the dinghy – use the big boat’s rudder. It works MUCH more effectively. Simply set the dinghy motor straight ahead. If there are enough people aboard, it’s good to have one ride in the dinghy to slow down and put the motor in neutral when needed.
If you have to really nudge the big boat into a slip or travel lift basin, it’s usually easier to untie the dinghy (and maybe solicit help from another dinghy or two) and use it/them as little tugboats to push the boat into position.
With either an outboard bracket or side-tying the dinghy, it’s best to have the outboard pointed straight ahead and steer from the big boat. Since the motor almost certainly won’t be in the exact center (side-to-side) of the big boat, you’ll have to compensate in your steering – but that is generally much better than having the outboard slightly turned to try to make up for being off-center.
It’s generally best to run at half to three-quarters throttle. It’s hard on outboards to run full throttle under a heavy load for long periods of time, and pushing the big boat is definitely a heavy load. This also gives you a little in reserve in case you get caught in a current or a cross wind.
Don’t expect to stop the big boat by throwing the dinghy into reverse. Instead, plan for the big boat to simply coast to a stop. Get a feel for how far it coasts and handles in a cross wind BEFORE you come into a tight anchorage.
Admittedly, you’re not going to go hundreds of miles this way, and you’ll do better if you have a 15 HP outboard on your dinghy than if it’s a 2 HP. But we’ve gone 5 to 10 miles four times that I can remember. And that can be enough to get you to a safe place.