Don't Under Power!

Does your houseboat have enough gitty-up-and-go?

January 2011 Feature

A great deal has been written about over-powered vessels, but not much has been said about what happens when your houseboat hasn't got enough throttle to tango. In this article we'll try to address the subject of too little power and the effect this has upon the operation of your houseboat. (The ramifications of a poor decision in the boat-buying process will be quite evident).

Every owner/operator of a boat is an individual, and there are as many different styles of operation as there are boats in use. Every person requires a different amount of power to be in control of his or her own destiny when they sit behind the wheel. What happens if there is not enough?

Let us begin with control. "Windage" is the amount of area that a vessel presents to the winds.  The houseboat has a great deal of it. To boot, it often has a minimal keel. This causes it to "sail" in a crosswind and if the crosswind is severe, the tendency to sail is extreme.

It is impossible to hold an under-powered houseboat in a crosswind. It will simply go as the wild goose goes, down the track of the wayward wind. You must have sufficient power to hold and steer in a crosswind.

All marine engines-inboard, outboard, or stern drive-have restricted throttle operation when operating gears in reverse. Thus the engine for the boat must have disproportionately larger amounts of power in forward gear than it does in reverse, if the reverse system is to stop the boat when needed.    

Needless to say, inadequate power is a dangerous companion, under the proper circumstances-no matter what kind of boat you're buying.

Steerage is very important to the operator of the houseboat, but this is a separate issue from the first two cautions. An under-powered vessel is not generally responsive to the commands from the bridge. The lag between operator movement and vessel response, commonly called "response time" can be a real problem with older boats (and sometimes with older houseboaters!). With the steady increase of traffic on the waters of our nation, the response time is an important attribute of any vessel. Any boat-even your houseboat-should be spry if the need arises.

You are not running a tow service with your houseboat, but it is both nice and nautical to help others on the water. If your boat is under-powered, however, you may find yourself with a very poor choice. Abandon another vessel in distress or endanger your own vessel because you are so badly under-powered that you cannot safely render assistance.

How much is enough? Work with your manufacturer to come up with a satisfactory answer. Get onto a similar-sized boat with standard power and see how it holds up. If the owner is willing (and it should tell you volumes if he isn't), go on a windy day and try to control that boat with the engine you are going to buy. Do not be told that "You are doing great" when you feel that you may run aground or into a dock at any moment! 

When you feel in control of the vessel, it has enough power. When you feel that any needed maneuver, particularly docking or steering the houseboat, is beyond your control, you are almost certainly under-powered.

Are you buying a "package deal?"  Is this really all that you can afford? Okay, that's fine, but never, ever, forget that you have an under-powered vessel. Always allow extra distance to stop, turn, and maneuver.

Spend an extra bit of time learning to accommodate your style of operation to the demands of a boat that cannot respond as you would like it to. An under-powered vessel is probably more dangerous than an overpowered vessel. The overpowered vessel has a throttle, which you can use to feed judicious amounts of power to the boat, as needed.

The under-powered vessel is a slave to the uncontrollable situations that arise from time to time and to which it is unable to respond.

Do the right thing. Find a safe, ample amount of power for your next boat purchase.




American Honda Motor Corp.


Caterpillar Inc.


Crusader Engines


Cummins MerCruiser


Detroit Diesel


Evinrude Outboards

Flagship Marine Engines

John Deere


Konrad Marine


Mack Boring & Co.


Mercury Marine


Nissan Marine


Peninsular Engines Inc.


Pleasurecraft Marine Engines


Steyr Motors North America


Suzuki Marine Division




Volvo Penta

Yamaha Marine


Yanmar Diesel


Volkswagen Marine

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