Catching Up With Dick Gragert

Why they call him the Thruster Man

July 2015 Feature Brady L. Kay

There is a familiar echo vibrating from the Lake Cumberland docks in central Kentucky that you can count on hearing every year at the On Water National Houseboat Expo. That sound is HydraNautics owner Dick Gragert demonstrating the thrust of his powerful thrusters. Gragert loves showing off the power that is available to houseboat owners who wish they would have gone with a bigger thruster or for those who simply regret not getting any type of thruster and think it’s too late.

While tied to the dock with a little extra slack in the mooring line, Gragert whips the bow of his houseboat back and forth throughout the three-day show as he demonstrates his bolt-on thrusters. The quick motion always grabs attendee’s attention, as curiosity draws them in for a closer look.

One of the primary benefits of selecting HydraNautics thrusters over other thruster systems is the ability to retrofit stern thrusters on site—within a day's time—without having to pull your houseboat out of the water. Gragert, who is best known in the industry as the Thruster Man, hits the road on a regular basis to install these systems throughout the country. Along with nearly 30 years of experience in the industry, Gragert is a houseboater himself and understands how these vessels differ from other types of boats.

While the demonstration at the annual houseboat show at State Dock always draws a crowd, the Houseboat magazine staff wanted to see how the thrusters perform in a real docking situation with a little bit of a cross wind.

Going For A Spin

Following the June Expo, the Houseboat staff took a ride with Gragert and his wife Jane on their Sharpe houseboat. Even though there was a steady breeze, the Thruster Man was a little disappointed that he wasn’t seeing whitecaps on this day as he had been looking forward to this cruise and really wanted to show what his thrusters were capable of on even those windy days when no houseboat should really be out.

While out in the middle of the lake with the State Dock Marina still clearly in sight, Gragert started the demo ride by showing how quickly his 84-foot houseboat can spin a tight 360-degree circle using his thrusters. Those observing from the docks surely must have got a little amusement out of seeing a boat this size spinning circles like a 16-year-old who just got his driver’s license. At one point his wife Jane gave her husband that look that let him know she’d had enough of this merry-go-round ride.

Straight Line

As we made our way to the Gragert’s home marina, the breeze picked up a little but still not enough in the Thruster Man’s eyes. From the comfort of his helm seat, Gragert gently pulled his boat into the slip with zero hesitation and without a single issue. Our cruise only further proved that every houseboat needs a thruster system and docking in any condition doesn’t have to be a scary experience.

Why HydraNautics

If you've purchased a used boat or launched a custom model without these handy docking aids and find that you're now in the market for thrusters, HydraNautics is worthy of a closer look. Gragert understands all too well that retrofitting thrusters can create a host of logistical issues—the biggest one probably being cost. At an installation, this thruster expert will stick around to ensure you're fully satisfied with your new thruster system before heading out.

“We offer a performance guarantee,” explains Gragert. “We won't leave the dock until the houseboat owner has tested his system and is satisfied with it.” 
When HydraNautics first came on the scene, it was a new design. Hydraulic-driven thrusters weren't the standard. Most systems were electric and could only handle shorter bursts before overheating. Throughout the years, HydraNautics has evolved its technology to effectively utilize generator power to run thruster systems. Other types of hydraulic systems run a load on the generator constantly. This full-time load draws power anytime it's running—even when you're anchored out in a cove or underway. In some systems as much as 3kw of power may be wasted, which is roughly 25 percent of the power if you're running a 12kw generator.
HydraNautics' clutch-driven system solves this problem and simultaneously offers other benefits. Aside from being able to sustain longer bursts, HydraNautics' belt-driven clutch system only pulls power from the generator while the thruster is in use. This clutch drive eliminates a constant load on the generator and not only saves energy but fuel and wear and tear on your systems as well.

Power Is Key

Gragert strongly recommends his stern thrusters to houseboat owners looking to add a thruster system. That's because his product is unique from other systems. HydraNautics' stern thruster is a tubeless thruster and offers more strength and leverage than the typical stern thruster. The design is so powerful that it actually enables the boat to turn while running at full speed.

When asked which type of the thruster is best, Gragert is very specific about clarifying his recommendation.

“Having both HydraNautics bow and stern thrusters is the ultimate setup for being able to comfortably maneuver and dock your houseboat in difficult conditions. But as great as our bow thruster is, if I was forced to choose one or the other, I wouldn't want to be without the stern because of the way it reacts and does things for you the other brands simply can't do,” said Gragert. “On the other hand, if we are talking about our competitor's thrusters which are a tube style, I would recommend the bow because you would be very disappointed if you chose the stern only.”

Before Or After

In addition to on-site installation of existing boats, HydraNautics also works directly with manufacturers to install thruster systems on new customs as well. Even the best captain can get into serious trouble trying to navigate a houseboat on a windy day. Because of its shallow draft and height, a houseboat behaves differently than other types of vessels—it's just like a sail when the wind kicks up. And Mother Nature isn't kind when your expensive boat is headed straight for the dock or another vessel.

Because Gragert has always been a houseboater, he understands the industry and the needs of houseboaters better than anyone else. This Kentucky-based owner realizes that saving energy, gas and wear and tear are important elements of building the ideal houseboat system. (859-885-5545/

To check out a video of these thrusters in action, click here

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