8. Toms Bent Prop Tips

By Tom Neale, 8/29/2004

Tom’s Bent Prop Tips

1. When going through shallow water in a small boat, it helps to not only tilt the engine, but to move crew forward. Go Slow!

2. Even a larger boat will noticeably “feel” the bank if you’re getting too close to the side of a channel or the bottom. This has to do with the fact that the hull is able to displace and compress a lesser amount of water as it moves because of the proximity of the ground. Also, your wake behind you will be affected, changing its characteristics. And the wake spreading off to the side will break suddenly on a shallow submerged bank. Be sensitive to this when running. It may prevent a bent prop or a grounding.

3. A favorite way of islanders and watermen to get across known shallow water with outboards is to get up on a plane. This definitely decreases your draft and will get you across shallows that would otherwise snag you. But if you miscalculate and hit—you know the rest. This is such a drastic failure consequence that I don’t recommend it.

4. It’s easy to read depths in the clear waters such as those of the Caribbean, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. But even in unclear or muddy waters, there will often be tell tale signs of shallow depths. See the fifth tip in Tom’s Tips 5 entitled “Getting Serious about Groundings” in the past Tom’s Tips section of this site.

5. The higher up you are in your boat, the better you can read the water. It’s common practice to extend the tiller arms of outboards in dinghies and other small boats with extrusions manufactured for the purpose, or PVC pipe. This allows the operator to stand and see better. But this can be very dangerous, especially if running more than dead slow. Usually the manufactured extrusions are designed for small motors running at slow speeds, and they warn of this on the packaging. PVC pipe, split at one end and clamped over the tiller arm, fails with flexing and frequently slips. Also the hose clamps securing the split ends of the PVC pipe to the tiller arm often slip on the pipe. Further, the twist grip control or rubber handle of the outboard tiller arm isn’t designed for this use. If any of the above fails, or if you just lose your balance, you could find yourself pitching into the sea from a speeding dinghy. Wearing a kill switch is always extremely important and lessens the risks somewhat. But, again, the consequences of failure are too serious for this to be advisable for most people.

6. If you bend your prop out in the boondocks, you can often straighten it sufficiently with a large pair of pliers (I prefer long handled channel lock pliers or vice grips) to help you to limp back. If the prop is aluminum, there’s a good chance that it will break when you try to bend it somewhat back into place, so proceed carefully and don’t try for too much perfection—just enough to get you back. It helps to place stiff pieces of plywood or other stiffeners between the jaws of the pliers and the blade surface to spread the stress load. A stainless prop will probably be less damaged in the first place and less likely to break when you’re bending it back.

7. See Tom’s the second tip in Tom’s Tips 2 (about outboards) for emergency temporary fix of rubber inserts in the past Tom’s Tips section of this site.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale