All sailors who use dinghies come across challenges such as the contortions required to get a dinghy outboard onto the transom. Rachael Sprot shares her advice and top tips

Outboards have changed dramatically over the past decade.

Most yachts prioritise ease of handling and stowage over performance and range, which has led to a steady uptake in electric engines, but prop wraps and heavy transfers are still an issue.

Loss of power, for whatever reason, is equally to be avoided.

A man using an outboard lift

A dedicated outboard lift makes life easier. Credit: Miranda Delmar Morgan

Some sailors use a trolling motor with a stand-alone battery.

The system keeps the boat well-balanced as the heavy battery could sit in the bow, but it can be vulnerable to water ingress.

An engine with a sealed battery pack would require less vigilance.

Lifting a dinghy outboard

Transferring the outboard to the tender is a precarious process, but easier with an electric motor where the battery can be separated.

An outboard lifting harness or dedicated lifting arm such as the Forespar Nova Lift, gives purchase power and security for bigger engines.

Two fit crew might find manually passing a small outboard with a safety lanyard is quicker and easier.

A dinghy outboard being lowered in a harness

A harness around the dinghy outboard will make it easier to lower vertically. Credit: Rachael Sprot

Secure the dinghy alongside with the transom under the engine lift point and make sure that the person on the boat is strong enough to lower the weight all the way to the dinghy.

The person in the dinghy shouldn’t do much weight bearing as they have a much less stable surface to work on.

They just need to kneel in the transom and guide it into place. This process is much easier on a modern electric outboard where the heavy battery can be handled separately to the awkward motor and shaft.

Before lifting any engine, open the clamp pad screws fully. This makes it easier to locate onto the bracket.

Starting the outboard

Familiarise yourself with the controls before starting – the throttle, gear lever, engine tilt, steering lock and stop button.

Be sparing with the choke or you may flood the engine.

A telltale on a dinghy outboard

Check the telltale is working on water-cooled engines to avoid overheating. Credit: William Payne

Check for the water tell-tale once the engine’s running.

In a small boat, it’s worth starting the engine before the crew get in to avoid the classic elbow-to-face during energetic pulling of the start cord.

Handling a dinghy outboard

Handling characteristics vary considerably depending on how powerful the engine is and how many people are in it.

Without a keel or ballast dinghies rely on form stability and crew positioning to stay upright so arrange weight carefully.

Leeway is inevitable and must be taken into account when setting off.

A kill cord from an outboard engine around the leg of a sailor

Use the kill cord around your leg. Credit: Miranda Delmar Morgan

Small petrol engines and electric outboard motors lack the oomph to compete with a headwind or strong current, so aim for an uptide or upwind landing point.

In recent years there have been several tragic accidents involving fast RIBs.

Most yachts don’t carry powerful outboards, but if speed’s your thing it’s essential to get some training.

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Some lessons are relevant whatever vessel you’re in, and one of them is the importance of the kill cord.

Wear it around your leg to prevent it slipping off and replace them if they’re stretched.

Solving engine issues

Common problems include running out of fuel or battery power; contaminated fuel; old fuel; propeller wraps and dirty spark plugs.

Basic engine checks and routine servicing is just as important as it is on your main engine but is often overlooked.

A spark plug from an outboard engine

Know how to clean a spark plug, and carry the tools to do so. Credit: Matthew Sheehan

An annual service and fuel replacement will improve reliability.

Give some thought to petrol stowage.

Cockpit lockers may vent into the accommodation areas.

A servicing kit for a dinghy outboard

Servicing your outboard yourself isn’t hard and will help when you have to fix it away from shoreside services. Credit: Matthew Sheehan

Storing it in the anchor well or on deck may be better, but in hot weather direct sunlight will cause expansion and the container will need venting.

Commercial regulations stipulate that it should be stowed in an easily jettisonable location in case of a fire.

Tips for using a dinghy outboard

  • Test in benign conditions
  • Start up before crew enter the dinghy to prevent injuries
  • Know how to change the fuel filters and spark plugs and carry spares when exploring
  • Keep hold of the painter or tie it off to avoid a prop wrap
  • Lash the engine on with a security lanyard, don’t rely on the clamp pads as they can fail. Tie the clamp pads together for long journeys
  • Take the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course to gain essential skills for RIB driving

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