How to use a dinghy outboard

All sailors using dinghies encounter challenges such as: B. the contortions required to bring a dinghy outboard onto the transom. Rachael Sprot shares her advice and top tips

Outboards have changed dramatically in the last decade.

Most yachts prioritize ease of handling and stowage over performance and range, which has led to steady adoption of electric motors, but prop wraps and heavy transfers are still an issue.

Loss of performance, whatever the reason, is also to be avoided.

A man using an outboard lift

A dedicated outboard lift makes life easier. Credit: Miranda Delmar Morgan

Some sailors use a trolling motor with a self-contained battery.

The system keeps the boat well balanced as the heavy battery could sit in the bow but can be prone to water intrusion.

An engine with a sealed battery pack would require less vigilance.

Lifting a dinghy outboard

Transferring the outboard to the tender is a delicate process, but easier with an electric motor where the battery can be disconnected.

An outboard hoist or dedicated lift arm like the Forespar Nova Lift gives purchasing power and security for larger engines.

A crew of two might find that manually passing a small outboard is faster and easier with a safety line.

A dinghy outboard that is lowered in a harness

A harness around the dinghy outboard facilitates vertical descent. Credit: Rachael Sprot

Secure the tender alongside with the transom under the engine lifting point and make sure the person on the boat is strong enough to lower the weight to the tender.

The person in the dinghy should not be carrying much weight as they have a much less stable surface to work on.

All you have to do is kneel on the crossbar and guide it into place. This process is much easier on a modern electric outboard where the heavy battery can be managed separately from the cumbersome motor and shaft.

Before lifting a motor, fully open the clamp plate screws. This makes it easier to find on the mount.

Starting the outboard

Before you start, become familiar with the controls – throttle, shifter, engine tilt, steering lock and stop button.

Be sparing with the choke or you may flood the engine.

An indicator light on a dinghy outboard motor

Check if the indicator light works on water-cooled engines to avoid overheating. Photo credit: William Payne

Check the water control once the engine is running.

On a small boat, it pays to start the engine before the crew gets on board to avoid the classic elbow-to-face tug of the start line.

Handling a dinghy outboard

Driving characteristics vary significantly depending on how powerful the engine is and how many people are in it.

With no keel or ballast, tenders rely on form stability and crew positioning to stay upright, so manage the weight carefully.

Clearance is unavoidable and must be considered when starting off.

A kill cord from an outboard motor around a sailor's leg

Use the kill cord around your leg. Credit: Miranda Delmar Morgan

Small petrol engines and electric outboards lack the momentum to compete in headwinds or strong currents, so aim for an upwind or downwind landing spot.

In recent years there have been several tragic accidents involving fast RIBs.

Most yachts don’t have powerful outboards, but if speed is your thing, getting some training is important.

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A few lessons are relevant no matter what ship you’re in, and one of them is the importance of the killing line.

Wear it around your leg to prevent slipping and replace when stretched.

solve engine problems

Common problems include running out of fuel or battery power; contaminated fuel; old fuel; Propeller windings and dirty spark plugs.

Basic engine checks and routine maintenance are just as important as with your main engine, but are often overlooked.

A spark plug from an outboard motor

Know how to clean a spark plug and carry the tools to do so. Photo credit: Matthew Sheehan

Annual maintenance and fuel changes improve reliability.

Be concerned about storing gasoline.

Cockpit lockers can vent into the accommodation areas.

A service kit for a dinghy outboard

Servicing your outboard yourself is not difficult and will help if you need to repair it outside of shore services. Photo credit: Matthew Sheehan

It may be better to store it in the anchorage or on deck, but in hot weather direct sunlight will cause expansion and the container will need to be vented.

Commercial regulations dictate that in the event of a fire it must be stowed in an easily discarded location.

Tips for using a dinghy outboard

  • Test under favorable conditions
  • Launch before the crew enters the dinghy to avoid injury
  • Knowing how to change the fuel filters and spark plugs and carry spares when exploring
  • Hold or tie the painter to avoid prop wrap
  • Tie down the engine with a safety rope, do not rely on the clamp pads as they can fail. Tie the clamp pads together for long rides
  • Take the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course to learn basic RIB driving skills

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