Sailing Boat: Motor Or Not

After having read yet another great article by Viki Moore (Astrolabe Sailing) I could not stop thinking about a topic that had been at the back of my mind for quite a while: “motor or not” on a sailing yacht.

Lin & Larry Pardey have sailed around the world without one. Bastian Hauck on his folkboat Tadorna has completed his second half of the tour around the Baltic Sea without one. And the 12mR s/v Anita has sailed the seas for many years without one: a motor. I am sure there are many more examples of sailors solely relying on their sails, not only for day trips but also for cruising. What is it then with that motor-thing on board?

During last year’s Hanseboot (boat show in Hamburg) I asked a sales rep how much cheaper the yacht would be if I ordered it without gas installation, cooker/oven and motor. “That is not a good question to ask on a boat show”, he said, not smiling. Ok, he wanted to sell his boat as produced in standard production, but do I really need everything that it has been equipped with?

That actually got me thinking about the so-called standard and must-have equipment of modern yachts – whereby “must-have” quite often seems to have been defined by the marketing departments. Next step was Viki’s article on the maintenance and handling of the diesel engine on board. This has re-started my thinking process and whether a motor is really required.

Pros and Cons of motor on a yacht

So, here I am, trying to figure out why a motor should be part of a sailing boat. Just some thoughts (additions welcome):

  1. get out of calms
  2. move forward against the tide
  3. get out of the way of other vessels
  4. support in getting away from reefs or shorelines
  5. manoeuvre in marinas
  6. charge batteries.

And why would you not want to have an engine on board?

  1. expensive to buy and to run (spare parts, fuel, repairs)
  2. heavy
  3. noisy
  4. dirty, oily, smelly – not really a “nature”-experience
  5. maintenance time can be spent sailing

It all depends…

Going sailing without a motor on board clearly has its pros and cons. It certainly increases the adventure-level, same as very likely the negligence-level. It is probably fair to say that it mainly depends on where you are going, how much time you have and how big your appetite for a potentially dangerous situation is (which you could have motored away from – maybe, if the motor started on time and worked properly). If you do not need to motor out of calms, against the tide or back into a marina to get to work, then you could take it easy and wait until the wind is in your favour again. Somehow this sounds far too easy. But “sailing vessel”, “sail boat”, “sailing yacht” and the like do not really suggest that “motor” is also to be included or even necessary.

Anita and Tadorna have now been equipped with a motor (again). That possibly says it all, despite of all the lines above. Having a motor on board certainly helps keeping nervousness down, and I very gladly take advantage of that. My future aim, however, will be to not have a “combustion engine” on board.
More thoughts to be spent on that topic, and I will continue in a separate post. In the meantime, any comments or feedback are highly appreciated.

7 Replies to “Sailing Boat: Motor Or Not”

  1. As much as I do not like to use the motor in my Morgan 45, I certainly have enjoyed having it when I need to get out of a shipping lane and the wind dies. I do cringe at the thought of my large 3 blade propeller dragging through the water, slowing me down; but the fact that I have an additional method for short bursts is certainly handy (and provides peace of mind).
    On the other hand, I do not have an engine in my Alberg 30. I get sail it in and out of the slip in the marina. If the winds are not favorable to get out of the marina, I warp out with long lines. I have been working on making a sculling oar to help maneuver around when I can’t sail. The Pardey’s used a sculling oar when they were not able to sail.
    I have mixed feelings about my electric motor. It is costly to install, cheap to run and maintain, but I it is one more system on the boat that can fail. For this reason, I have also been building a sculling oar for the Morgan, so in the event that the engine can not power us, we can still move forward. I think viewing the engine as a “Nice to have” rather than a “Need to have” will make all the difference while cruising.


    1. On one point I’d certainly agree: It is good for peace of mind to have a motor ready to assist and get you out of a situation where sails won’t help or work.
      Regarding another system that can fail, yes, true, but failure can (and very likely will) also happen to any other motor. And I just love the thought of a motor with very little maintenance… have sailed a Varianta 18 for a long weekend with an e-motor, and that was simply fantastic, especially the very silent manouvres in marinas.
      I’d be interested to know how you get along with the sculling oar, maybe after a season of having used it. I have seen it working fine on smaller boats, e.g. a folkboat, and would definitely be curious re your experiences with it.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with Behan – cruising without an engine sounds very romantic in theory, but in reality it means you’ll be missing out on quite a few cruising grounds and an additional safety back up when needed. Keep up the good work, Hubert, of choosing and sharing great articles and topics;) x

  3. Forget maneuvering in marinas – you’ll need help just getting into a lot of harbors! The cruisers who are famous for sailing engineless boats are somewhat infamous about requesting tows. A lot. That just doesn’t make it into the popular literature.

    1. thanks, Behan, for that crystal clear comment.
      For almost all of the Baltic Sea this is doable, but then this is just the Baltic Sea 😉 Your vast experience of all those other places all over the world certainly gives you a different view, and I am very glad that you sent your comment.
      As usual: Reading and studying is one thing, doing it is quite another…

  4. Thanks Hubert!
    I certainly admire people who can cruise the world without a motor.
    I absolutely love to be sailing, the noise of the motor annoys me, but I still don’t think I could cruise without it.
    Happy sailing!
    Viki 🙂

    1. Not having a motor on board a yacht is also for me not really an option. That’s why I have started looking into the e-motor for 30-36 ft yachts. Not cheap, I know, but I do love the idea (as of today, that is).
      Happy sailing also to you, Viki!

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