Better Powertrains For Auxiliary Sailboats and Motorboats


There's a growing interest in power options, for motor yachts and auxiliary sailing yachts alike, that are more sophisticated than the simple, traditional shaft drive.

Fuel costs are a major factor driving this interest. While they're unusually low at the moment, they won't stay that way forever. And even if cost isn't much of a concern for you, range under power probably is—getting a bit of extra distance out of the same tankage volume can make a big difference to your cruising plans.

Fuel consumption, though, is not the only factor that can spark an interest in more sophisticated powertrains. Perhaps you want:

  • Lots of thrust at low speed for towing and for docking in tight quarters.
  • Or the silent, odourless operation of an electric drive for poking around in quiet, unspoiled rivers.
  • Or an engine that can provide an extra boost for motorsailing just as efficiently as it can drive the boat on its own.
  • Or you just want to stop tearing apart your diesel to re-hone its badly glazed cylinder walls every time the thing acts funny. (Many yacht engines die from being used at low loads.)

Just as often, I see people choosing fancy, high-tech equipment simply for the sake of having the latest, coolest toys to play with and to show off. Honestly, I'm OK with that. It keeps plenty of my friends in business.

Fooling youself about your motivations, though, can be dangerous. If you want a $90,000 hybrid electric drivetrain for the sake of having the coolest engine room at the boat show, that's fine, but if your intent is to save fuel, money and repair time then I may very well recommend you look at something else instead.

Matt, Engineering Correspondent, is a Professional Engineer and true renaissance man, with a wide range of expertise including photography and all things boat design. He has a unique ability to make complex subjects easy to understand and he keeps an eye on the rest of us to make sure that we don’t make any technical mistakes. Working as M. B. Marsh Marine Design, Matt designs innovative powerboats of all shapes and sizes.

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