Narrowboat Bow Thrusters
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Thu Jan 17, 2019 at 12:10pm

Narrowboat bow thrusters

A fully laden narrow boat is not the easiest of craft to manoeuvre, especially if it is windy or,your vessel is a widebeam. A bow thruster is a device built into the hull at the bow and is used for making it more manoeuvrable. It is a parking device for mooring the boat and, is not designed to be used constantly for steering the vessel.


 A Bow Thruster is an additional aid to manoeuvring a boat.  It provides a boost to make the bow/front go port/left or starboard/right without even moving the tiller and without throttling backward or forward. Please note that wind and the river current may cause the boat to drift.  In strong currents the boat may drift/move rapidly. When turning a boat using engine power and normal steering the stern/back will swing. This is not the case with a Bow Thruster.  

This is very helpful for mooring and leaving moorings.  The Bow Thruster is also very helpful  turning the boat around and when reversing as a boat is far less responsive to steering when going astern..



Fitting a bow thruster can involve some major surgery if fitted post construction. Thruster performance is determined primarily by a vessel's windage and correct thruster location. Vessel weight is not typically a major factor in thruster selection for pleasure craft, unless they routinely operate in areas where the thruster will be constantly needed to counter strong currents or winds.


Electric Or Hydraulic?

From a power standpoint, bow thruster choices come down to two options, electric and hydraulic. Electric units can be further divided into 12- or 24-volt DC types, or even the occasional AC-powered unit, although DC power is a lot more popular and our focus here. Hydraulic thrusters are a common choice for larger vessels,.

Installing a hydraulic unit while utilizing an existing centralized hydraulic power source costs less and will greatly simplify the installation. Hydraulic thrusters are quieter than electric thrusters, have greater thrust, and can operate for extended periods of time without the worry of overheating or draining battery banks. They can also provide variable-speed control with proportional control and valves. Unless you already have hydraulic systems onboard, electric units will typically be a more economical choice.

'Tunnel' Bow Thruster, require a tube or tunnel to be installed through the hull below the waterline, with the unit's prop(s) located inside. For best performance, the installation tube has to be placed as far forward as possible, yet deep enough below the waterline to generate maximum thrust and avoid sucking air, two competing requirements not always possible on boats less than 30 to 35 feet.A single prop, tunnel-mounted bow thruster is the most common. The need to cut two large holes in your bow and the installation of the tube itself add significantly to the overall costs of the project. Some narrowboat builders fabricate into the hull a bow thruster tube, but do not fit a bow thruster. This allows the purchaser/future owner to fit the thruster retrospectively if they wish without the hassle and additional cost of fitting the tube/tunnel. 

Better Control = More Fun

The ability to competently and confidently maneuver a vessel  in challenging conditions is an art form, one that doesn't come in a flash of inspiration. It takes practice. To many, myself included, nothing beats the satisfaction of using the effects of wind, current, and the knowledge of your vessel's handling characteristics into a successful docking maneuver under challenging circumstances.


That said, a bow thruster is simply another tool . One of many that boat owners use while on the water in their best efforts to get from A to B as safely and with as little fuss and stress as possible.

I don't view their use as some sort of crutch to my boat handling skills. They're like a can of pepper spray. If you've ever really needed one and had it to use it,  you're a convert for life. In the same vain, we all now have ABS and power steering on our cars and wouldn't be without them.

Happy cruising from Venetian Marina.





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