Thrusters can enrich your houseboat experience
By Gini and Dan McKain
They can make a novice helmsman on a houseboat look good and a good one look like a great one. The worst-case scenario? More than one houseboat marriage has gone up on the rocks of life because of their lack. And this is to say nothing about the physical damage and repair costs to the houseboat itself or the very real probability of making an absolute fool of yourself in front of your peers. We are, of course, referring to the presence and use of bow or stern thrusters onboard your houseboat.
Just what are these thrusters, what do they do and how can they save your marriage? Fair questions. Thrusters are comparatively inexpensive underwater mechanical devices attached to or placed in a tunnel through the hull that help you control the forward, reverse and lateral movements of houseboats. Their design includes single or twin propellers in tunnel devices creating a water jet that lasts for several seconds or longer in a changeable direction. It can be placed in the stern of the boat below the waterline or in the bow of the boat.
Thrusters assist you when docking or departing from your slip. They help reduce the need to jump a space that rivals the Grand Canyon from boat to dock when loading passengers or sending them on their way. Thrusters can also reduce the frazzled nerve endings of a wife when she attempts to tie the houseboat off with the wind and water coming from cross quarters. They also reduce foul language, fingerpointing and false accusations between the captain and mate or husband and significant other. They make a boat highly maneuverable without much effort, even allowing a boat to sidle up to the dock.
No matter how skillful a helmsman you are, docking and undocking a houseboat in tight quarters can be a stressful experience. Particularly when the boat acts like a giant sail in a high wind with strong currents. Thrusters can help alleviate that.
Thrusters have been used aboard very large seagoing cruise ships and commercial freighters for decades. On recreational houseboats, however, they are a somewhat more recent innovation. A thought to ponder is that thrusters not only increase the enjoyment and fun of owning and operating a houseboat, they can also significantly contribute to the resale value of it when that time arrives. Caution, it is a safe bet that once you own and operate a houseboat outfitted with thrusters, you'll never own another one without them. There are a few very important items to consider, when making the decisions regarding the installation of thrusters. These include cost and whether to purchase them as original equipment when purchasing a new houseboat or to retrofit them to an existing one.
Do you want electric or hydraulically powered thrusters? They come in both styles. Do you want bow or stern thrusters or perhaps, even both? Those options are available. Do you want single or dual props? That, too, is an option. And how do you want to control them? You have several choices here, too.
Electrically powered thrusters are less expensive than hydraulically powered models to own and operate. The main difference between the two is that the electric version is designed for short-term use with intermittent short, three to five second bursts. The hydraulic version, on the other hand, can sustain a longer, more continuous use.
As to the cost of thrusters? It is probably less costly to purchase them as original equipment on a new houseboat, since they can install them when the boat is ready at the appropriate time and be given the right amount of space for the unit and batteries or power required. It may be more expensive to take apart and retrofit sections in the finished boat to fit the tunnel/propeller, batteries and other components needed.
A few “givens” about thrusters, their installation and operations are also in order. The first of these is to consider getting some hands-on experience before making any decisions. Simply reading an article or two or watching a friend use them won’t give you the information you need. Take time to handle a houseboat that is equipped with them and make a few dockings and undockings; then do the same without them on the same type and style boat to gain a true perspective.
Barring that option, you can get the feel of their effect by loosely but securely mooring your houseboat to a dock and add lots of fenders. Then, using short bursts, engage the thruster and observe the change in a boat’s direction.
After you get familiar with this, head for some open water. Drop a highly visible float overboard with a light anchor line to the bottom. At this point, and after assuring yourself that there is no other boat traffic in the area, play a game of Ring Around the Rosey with the float using only the thruster. Do not attempt this the first time on a windy day.
The question always arises as to why you need thrusters when you already are fortunate to have a houseboat with twin engines. The answer is that a thruster provides even more positive control of your houseboat. It can give you an added “edge” when it comes to handling it in adverse boating situations.
Realize that the installation of thrusters aboard your boat is not a weekend “do it yourself” project. It is not an overly complex task, but it is one above the level of experience of the average houseboat owner. In all cases, first consider professional advice. There are specialists in sales, installation and service of the devices. Take advantage of them.
From the very beginning, consider only reputable company products. Look at their track records. Seek professional advice, study your options well and only then make your decisions. It is a fact that thrusters on your houseboat will increase both your enjoyment of boating and the use of your houseboat.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Leo Van Hemert of Vetus den Ouden and Dick Gregart of Hydranautics for their input in regards to this article.
Check out these sites for more information on the different thruster products on the market:
· Wesmar: www.wesmar.com