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Do Sailboats Have Motors? Does It Require One?

Without a doubt, one of the most famous types of boats is sailboats. They symbolize journey and adventure and give us all that special feeling of venturing off into a new world.

In movies, they symbolize freedom and mystery, and they are often associated with being carried along by the breath of life, simply because their primary form of power is the wind in their sails.

Do Sailboats Have Motors Does It Require One

However, wind is not the only thing that can power a sailboat, they can have motors too, but do they have motors all the time and do they even actually need one?

Do Sailboats Need Motors?

To answer this question, yes sailboats do have motors, but not all sailboats have them. In the present day for the most part sailboats are using electric motors instead of traditional diesel or gas ones.

Motors on sailboats are usually only used in an emergency or at the marina. Typically, no one will use a motor on a sailboat for regular sailing.

Only some sailboats will have motors, and typically if they exceed around 6 or 7 meters in length they will have a motor in them. Although people do not often use these motors, they will just use the sail to move in the sea or ocean.

Most motors will be turned off while sailing as if the boat is moving in the water with the aid of the sails then turning on the motor and increasing propulsion will not actually do very much, so it is actually rather pointless to do so.

Instead of actually doing anything to a positive effect, it will just cause some unpleasant and concerning sounds and will eat up fuel for no real reason.

Cruising sailboats will typically always have a motor of some form. Coastal cruisers and blue water boats will typically have an inboard engine, while smaller day trip sailboats will typically only have an outboard motor.

Dinghy sailboats will usually only utilize the wind as propulsion, as well as the sailboats who have owners that prefer motorless.

Sailboats have been around for thousands of years, and it has only recently become more commonplace for them to be fitted with engines. Small sailboats will typically not have a motor, but larger sailboats often will.

The Types Of Sailboat Motor You Can Have

The Types Of Sailboat Motor You Can Have

This leaves us with questions, mainly, ‘what kind of motor can a sailboat have?’ Well, there are two configurations of motors found on sailboats; inboard and outboard motors.

How effectively the motor moves its vessel through the water is dependent upon the sea state, the wind direction, and the current. A sailboat will require a particular amount of speed to maintain the steering.

It is possible for a motorized sailboat, whether inboard or outboard, pounding into the wind against the current to lose its ability to hold its course, though.

So, what are the options. You could have an outboard motor, this is a motor that is visible to the naked eye from your boat. Outboard motors are attached to the transom by using a special motor mount. This allows the outboard motor to be raised or lowered as you wish.

Outboard motors come in a range of varying horsepower, and by knowing your vessel’s hull speed, or the maximum speed that the hull is made to travel at through the water, then you can choose the appropriate horsepower.

You can get diesel or gasoline outboard motors, which are available in two-stroke or four-stroke configurations.

The downside of outboard motors is that it is unable to keep the propeller fully in the water in some conditions, steep waves can cause outboard propellers to rise up to the water surface and cavitate which would mean a loss of power for the vessel and trouble for you.

Alternatively, you could have an inboard motor, which is a motor that is installed inside the sailboat itself. It is not visible to the naked eye from the boat.

Besides the sound of the motor, the only evidence that it even exists is the water coming out of the exhaust at the stern. These motors are typically water cooled, and the wastewater will exit the boat at the exhaust.

The propeller of these engines will operate on a shaft that runs through the hull of the boat underneath and connects up to the motor.

These are larger motors than outboard motors of the same horsepower, this can create ballast and stability for your boat. By having the propeller deeper in the water, cavitation is no longer an issue.

Yet, the issue with these engines is that as they are installed prior to the decks’ installation, cutting the deck away to replace them is an unfortunate fact of having this set up.

What About Wind Powered Sailboats?

Of course, you can still have a sailboat without a motor, and there are many world cruising sailboats that do not have a motor. The crew of vessels like such have the skills necessary to maneuver their boat within anchorages and marinas, not to mention oodles of confidence too.

Having this experience and knowledge is necessary to navigate a sailboat solely by the power of wind, and it is very admirable. Besides, having a well-designed boat in hull and sail configuration and having engine-less sailors who rely on a number of tools to assist them in their motorless pursuits is all part and parcel of this style of sailing.

A skulling oar is also a necessity for any motorless vessel. By sweeping the oar behind the stern of the boat in an eight shaped motion, forward momentum can be achieved on top of steering. This is often how a sailboat with no motor may enter a slip or maneuver a tight anchorage without wind.

What About Wind Powered Sailboats

Sailboats With No Wind

Whether you have a motorless sailboat as a world cruiser or just a small training boat, you will be a sitting duck if you are stuck in windless conditions.

Training and racing sailboats will stay in port on windless days. But the same cannot be said for world cruisers, these people could easily find themselves stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind, twiddling their thumbs, and this can easily become a dangerous situation if it goes on too long.

When you are crossing an ocean, the crew will provision or stock the boat for the estimated duration of your journey. If you get becalmed for too long, food and water can easily become an issue.

Although it has been known that rescue has been required in situations like these, it is not normal. A majority of motorless sailors find that they do not often need to wait more than a few days for wind to return. As even the slightest breeze will move an experienced sailing-vessel through the water.

This means that the key to sailing without a motor is patience, the journey is oftentimes as enjoyable as the destination and motorless sailors certainly know this. However, if you are not one for patients, perhaps get a motor, as sitting waiting for wind for hours or days might not be the best idea for you.

Advantages Of Not Having An Engine

Having an engine takes a lot of the stress and skill out of sailing, so while you do not need the skill to set up and rely on winds, or the patience of waiting during calm periods, there are other downsides to choosing an engine, but there are plenty of pros in deciding to sail engine free!

For one, the cost of the engine can be very high, both the initial outlay and maintenance is very important and comes at a significant cost too. This means several hundred dollars a year just to keep the motor running, services, and winterized.

Learning to sail without an engine being needed means saving a few hundred dollars a year, which instead you could put towards other boat related funds.

Then you cannot forget the cost of fuel either. Okay, sure, sails will need replacing and repairs done to them as well, but fuel is by far more expensive.

It’s like trying to compare having your curtains tailored to your car’s fuel consumption. Fuel will always trump in costs, and this is another reason why going engine free can be a better choice.

As your engine will likely double as a generator to aid in the running of other systems onboard your boat, you will likely be reliant on those systems as well, be it a refrigerator or air conditioning.

Adopting a sail only approach may make you think twice about having the expense of other systems to worry about too, and instead you might find yourself enjoying a more simple life on the water.

There is much to be said for engines when sailing, and they can be really useful. However, engines are not the be all and end all of boating, and some still choose to go engine free, not only is it peaceful and potentially cheaper, but you can also brag about your skills. We certainly would be bragging.

Lucas Jones