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How to Get Home When One of Your Boat Engines Quit

Tips on getting back to port with a down engine

How to Get Home When One of Your Boat Engines Quit

Starboard engine (off) trimmed up slightly while port delivers power to get home. Don't push it too hard... Photo credit: Deep See Visuals

Today’s engine technology is truly amazing. Motors run longer, faster, and more dependably than ever before. Engine breakdowns that we used to experience at least every half a dozen offshore trips, now we often go a half dozen years without. Be that as it may, as long as men make motors, they are going to break sometimes.

Spinning a prop hub or picking up line (think floating braid here) hopelessly wrapped around a prop are among the biggest reason you may find yourself immobilized. I highly recommend you have a towing service membership, especially if you head offshore on a single engine. I have talked with Sea Tow from 70 miles off Jacksonville, so if you need to be towed, one call on your VHF should get the job done. Very, very pricey if you are not a member! Annual fees are very modest.


I recently had lunch with Mike Maunier, who is the best Yamaha mechanic I know. My question was centered around how to change a prop offshore if I lost a blade, spun a hub, or couldn’t get a line untangled. He quickly told me about the spare prop I’d need, and the socket to fit the shaft, and another handful of tools I’d need, before telling me to never attempt it offshore. “People don’t understand what they’re getting into. Even on a calm day, the boat with its razor sharp stainless props and skegs are constantly moving up and down. If you are concentrating on not dropping the cotter key, the prop nut, or any of your tools, you’re not paying attention to the prop that can easily slice your scalp. If you have twin engines, you’re much better limping home on one, than you are trying to change a prop on a moving ocean.” Years ago, it was common for a boat to have a single power plant, and then a spare, much smaller “kicker” engine to get home in case of emergency. More boats fishing much farther from shore than in years past, coupled with the incredible four stroke reliability, has made that option far less popular.

Breakdowns we used to experience every half-dozen offshore trips, we now go a half dozen years without.

On my boat, my 200 Yamaha’s have brought me home every time for the last 3,000 hours of being on the water, just like the single Yamaha 300 I had originally powered her with. I have however stored some important knowledge about limping home on one engine in case the unexpected breakdown happens to me.

First off, move all the weight (passengers included) forward to find out if the boat will plane on one engine. Don’t push it. The worst thing you can do, is spin the other hub, or blow a lower unit because you’re pushing your remaining engine too hard. Eighty percent of your max RPMs is all the strain you should ever put your engine under for a long run. You’ll also find you will make better time if you raise your disabled engine out of the water. Mike had some strong thoughts on that, too: “It’s fine to raise your motor, but lifting it higher than 30 degrees will damage your tie bar. The biggest problem most people have in a break down situation is a lack of patience. If you can’t plane off easily on one of your twin engines, put the baits back out, notify someone onshore that you’ve deviated from your float plan, and be prepared to troll home.” My buddy George LaBonte recently hooked a blue marlin in 45 feet of water off Stuart. Who knows, maybe losing an engine on your way home will lead to a fish of a lifetime.

How to Get Home When One of Your Boat's Engines Quits


Sea Tow and BoatU.S. both offer unlimited recreational vessel towing privileges for $179 per year. That covers all boats you own, borrow or rent. Plans are also available for commercial and charter vessels. A good deal, for sure. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2022

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