Thruster Man, Dick Gragert

November 2011

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. Dick Gragert hits the road on a regular basis to install these systems throughout the country. Along with over 25 years of experience in the industry, Gragert is a houseboater himself and understands how these vessels differ from other types of boats.

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, you've found your man. 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 houseboater 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-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.

You may be wondering how it's possible to install an entire thruster system in only one day or less. All HydraNautics thrusters are custom-built to fit the specific boat before taken to the dock for installation. No need for on-site fabrication saves the customer valuable time.

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. This unique 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. On the other hand, if we are talking about our competitor's thrusters which are tube style, I would recommend the bow because you would be very disappointed if you chose the stern only"

Another common question is "How big of a generator do I need?" Gragert makes his recommendations based on a number of factors, among which cost and size of the generator are big ones.

"The generator engine is the same size on the Westerbeke eight, ten, 12.5 and 15 kilowatt models. Any of these generators would be acceptable. If you are buying a new boat, a 20 kw would be recommended."

In addition to on-site installation of existing boats, HydraNautics also works directly with manufacturers to install thruster systems on new customs as well. Sharpe Houseboats is one company that uses HydraNautics exclusively. Initially, Joe Sharpe, owner of Sharpe Houseboats, approached Gragert to build thruster systems. The team has been a success ever since. "We've tried other systems and simply put, HydraNautics are the best," said Joe Sharpe.
"Actually, Dick has developed a new prop with better bite and more thrust than ever before and with the boats getting bigger, it's nice to have thruster systems that can accommodate them."


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.


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