My Experiment in Retractable Electric Propulsion

Small Craft Advisor|March - April 2020

My Experiment in Retractable Electric Propulsion
Electric outboard motors, the wave of the future, are a great way to propel small watercraft, since they offer several advantages over standard gasoline-powered outboards.
Michael E. Jostock

They’re quiet, environmentally friendly, cost effective, more maneuverable, lighter in weight and mechanically reliable… just to name a few characteristics. About the only important negative is range, for boaters trying to use a single battery for longer cruises.

I have sailed a 2003 Com-Pac SunCat since new in many locations around the country including the Great Lakes, Florida Keys, and North Channel in Canada. My original mode of propulsion was a 5-hp Nissan four-stroke. I found this inconvenient, heavy and not very maneuverable in tight situations. I found myself often leaning dangerously over the transom when deploying and retracting the motor during solo sailing adventures. The thrust was asymmetrical (due to the outboard’s location on one side of the rudder), and it was an eyesore on the curved transom of my beautiful sailboat.

My imagination went to work as I challenged myself to design and build a retractable electric propulsion system that gave me excellent range, little or no maintenance, great reliability, vibration-free power, superior torque, no noise or smelly exhaust, seamless forward and reverse control, less weight and excellent maneuverability. Additionally, I needed to avoid propeller drag during sailing and I didn’t want the new system to take up usable cockpit space in my small sailboat. Finally, power access had to be immediate, simple and controllable since I enjoy sailing in adventurous singlehanded conditions.

The system I came up with has made my sailing more relaxing and enjoyable over the last four years. (And yes, I’ve tested it under a variety of conditions and it has withstood everything I have asked it to do over this time period.) So, being happy with the system, I’d like to share the design with any small-boat owner who might like to come up with their own version of my idea.

The accompanying pictures illustrate fabrication and installation of a slightly modified Torqeedo Travel 1000 electric outboard in the SunCat sailboat. You can follow the same approach with your smaller cruising sailboat or daysailer.


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March - April 2020