Boating with Thrusters

There are two kinds of people; those who have thrusters and those who want them!

Recently, I was having a conversation with Jon Moles from Toronto Yacht Services and he mentioned how much consumer interest there was around installing bow or stern thrusters. He added that there are often attractive deals at the winter boat shows for smart shoppers who want to save a little money and also be ready to go at the start of the season.

So, we set up a time when I could interview Jon and ask what consumers have been looking for from his perspective as the man who actually installs thruster systems. We also wanted to know what it takes to install thrusters into an existing boat.

He started off by telling me that there are 2 kinds of people; those who have thrusters and those who want them! He added that once you have thrusters you will love them even if you are skilled boater who really doesn’t need thrusters. It turns out that just knowing thrusters are there, can reduce anxiety when docking in high winds or tight quarters.

A properly installed bow thruster system should be able to rotate the boat 360° in 30 seconds. It’s easy to see how that would get you out of trouble once in a while!

Jon also cited some other important considerations. He noted that it’s much easier to bring the boat in stern first if you can control its angle with thrusters. This is especially true as slips get tighter, or boats get larger. Of course, to be able to spin your boat in the fairway and drive out forward, is far easier.

Recently, systems have come on the market that include remote control and, in some cases, the thrusters can be used to hold the boat against the dock as your crew gets off to tie up.

Jon felt that almost any boat over 25 or 28 feet can have a thruster installed. It’s not just for big boats. The main issue at the bow is getting the tube about its diameter below the surface.

We also asked what costs are typical and Jon answered that to install an Imtra SidePower system [which is the brand he installs] will run perhaps $7-$8000 for boats up to 32’ while boats from 32’ to 45’ will be $8-9,000 and $10,000 for boats 45’ or larger. Stern thrusters are generally about 70% of the cost of a bow thruster due to reduced installation costs in most cases.

When planning an installation with a customer, John explains what he calls the A,B,C scenario. It’s a matter of choosing the right size and power of thruster for the combination of both your boat and the boating conditions you anticipate being in.

“A” would be the biggest and most powerful system but it might be overkill if you do your boating in sheltered waters. “B” would be a general choice while “C” would be the least expensive, but also the least powerful. (removed the ‘A’ because if you use it there it should also be used in front of the “A” and the “C”?)

Jon also cautions that when you order thrusters from the factory on a new boat, they may be sized for price more than performance.

Consumers might also think it’s better to have the factory do the work in the first place but that’s not necessarily true. The factory does not know what your boating conditions will be, and they actually install the thruster exactly the same way as Jon’s Toronto Yacht Services team does on an aftermarket basis.

Either way, the boat has to be out of the water, cleared out and cleaned up, a special installation tool used to correctly locate the tunnel, and whether it’s a brand-new boat at the factory or your beloved old clunker, you still have to cut a hole in either side of the bow to install the fiberglass tunnel and fair it in.

Jon reassures us that in his experience, he has never seen a tunnel installation fail and in fact, it probably adds quite a bit of strength to the boat when it is installed properly.

From a performance perspective, the installation is critical. It’s not just a matter of installing the tube and trimming it to size. One of the biggest cost elements is faring it in properly and creating a kind of “eyebrow” over part of the tunnel and then a carefully rounded curve to the other part. That’s a lot of grinding and careful hand work. If you don’t do it, you can lose up to 30% of the thrusters’ effectiveness and increase the noise about 30% too.

That’s when you’re installing bow thrusters–installing a stern thruster is a bit of a different matter. If your boat is laid out in such a way that the thruster can easily be accommodated, the engine is mounted inside the boat, the thruster tunnel unit is fastened outside the boat on the transom, out of sight below your swim platform and you can go ahead quite easily.

That assumes that there are no rudder stocks or steering gear in the way, that the fuel tank is not mounted right against the inside of the transom or that the engine installation people haven’t used the transom for all the wiring panels. Also, in a boat with gas engines or in a wet area, an ignition protected, (IP) unit should be used.

Jon assures us that no two installations are the same!

These are a few questions that he thinks are important to ask if you’re planning a thruster for your boat.

Ask what their recommendations are. The most important thing is to get the thruster properly sized for both your boat and the boating conditions. As an example, when Jon and the Toronto Yacht Services crew install a thruster from Side Power, the company does a full workup on that boat.

Be a performance shopper not a price shopper. Going cheap can be a false economy.

Ask if the installation is likely to increase the value of your boat. Jon feels that installing thrusters is one of the few upgrades that increases the value of the boat by approximately the cost of the installation, but this can vary widely.

Ask about the warranty coverage. Will parts be available to refurbish that thruster several years from now? Toronto Yacht Services has had to tear out some old installations and put in newer equipment. A properly sized, good-quality thruster system should last the life of the boat.

In a future issue, we will cover new systems from companies like Yacht Controller that can integrate the main engines with bow and stern thrusters to closely equal the performance available from the latest pod drive systems.

One last thought–even if you have pod drives, remember that they’re steering the boat from the stern only. Also having a bow thruster, can make a huge difference in high winds or strong current.

Have fun shopping at the shows!

For more thruster information visit:

By Andy Adams

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