This is Why Sailboats Have Engines

You enjoy your time on the open water, but do you know the reasons why sailboats have engines?Although purists deny the need for an engine on a sailboat, many sailors appreciate the security and
maneuverability of an engine in today’s crowded waters.
This is why sailboats have engines:
● Marina restrictions
● Crowded marinas
● Crowded waterways
● Calm conditions
● Rough conditions
● Inexperienced sailors
● Insurance restrictions
● Emergencies

Sailing across the water with only the power of the wind is an exhilarating experience and was once the only way to travel on a large ship. Although our ancestors navigated the ocean water without engines or electronic instruments, they lived in an underpopulated world. Their marinas didn’t have fishing boats, mega-yachts, cigarette boats, and sailboats fighting for space on the docks. Many experienced sailors can navigate a vessel through crowded channels and narrow docking areas without an engine, but some areas restrict sailboats from using the sails alone.

Docking and maneuvering with the sails in tight spaces require a high level of skill. Many marinas, coastal authorities, and insurance companies understand the problems that could arise from several
beginner sailors slamming into other boats in the marina. Generally, small sailboats don’t require engines because a marina wreck in a small boat would not cause as much damage as a large sailing

Why Do Sailboats Have Engines?

Excluding smaller vessels, using a small engine on a sailboat is a necessity in some areas. Although you can leave a private dock without using an engine, some local laws and marina guidelines prohibit sailors from navigating without a motor.

Marina Restrictions

Although the size requirement varies among marinas, most restrict sailboats that are 28 feet and above from leaving the marina without motoring. Although marina owners are concerned about safety issues,
they’re primarily focused on protecting their client’s property and avoiding lawsuits.

The restrictions are meant to protect other boats from a damaging strike by a poorly trained sailor in a large vessel. Docking a large boat with sail power takes a lot of practice, and marine owners would
rather you practice it at a private dock.

There are times, in the off-season, when a rookie sailor could attempt to dock a 78-foot sailing yacht into the marina without potentially damaging other expensive boats. However, Memorial Day weekend is usually the start of the busy season for marinas.

Crowded Marinas

People from around the country drive to coastal areas to pilot their boats at the beginning of summer, and many of the travelers haven’t used their boats in several months.

Inexperienced sailors and motorists, fishers, and veteran mariners flood the docks and slowly navigate out of the marina at the same time. Motored sailboats give even the inexperienced sailors a higher level of control in crowded waters.

Crowded Waterways

During holiday weekends and for most of the summer, waterways leading away from marinas and ports can become congested with traffic. With an engine, sailboats can navigate around crowded areas with more precision than using the sails alone.

In crowded conditions, unskilled sailors have more confidence to avoid potential collisions with other vessels when they use the engine. Once you hit open water, you can cut the engine and rely on the
wind’s power.

Calm Conditions

Calm conditions can ruin your sailing trip, and if your sailboat doesn’t have an engine, your long, relaxing day can quickly into a frustrating night. You have a few options if you can’t generate power from the

You can radio for assistance and request a tow back to port. Depending on how far away your help is, you’ll probably have to wait a while before you’re towed to a dock.

You can wait for the wind to pick up, and if it’s feasible in your vessel, you can use emergency paddles to slowly make your way until you can let out the sails. However, in large sailboats, it’s unlikely you have the crew or incredibly long paddles required to move a massive vessel.

Rough Conditions

When the wind and surf become too rough for your sailing vessel, an engine helps you travel to your destination faster. An approaching storm is not as challenging to bypass when you have a powered

Your canvas can take a lot of abuse from high winds, and if you let down the sails and power up the engine when the conditions worsen, you can motor to safety and avoid damage to the sails.

Inexperienced Sailors

Unlike using a motorboat, you need a substantial amount of training to become confident in operating a sailboat. Large sailboats require active participation by the crew, and the crew must be physically fit and knowledgeable about wind patterns, currents, and sailing techniques.

Marinas don’t require clients to provide proof of their sailing prowess. Instead, they restrict large sailboats from using the sails alone when they exit or enter the docks. If you want to dock your large sailboat in the marina, you’ll need an engine to navigate in and out.

Defying the marina restrictions is not a good idea. Most marinas will ban you for breaking the rules if they catch you sailing without the engine on more than one occasion. Marina fees are costly, and you’re
unlikely to get a refund if you refuse to use a motor.

Insurance Restrictions

Anyone can buy a 98-foot sailing yacht, but insurance companies will not issue policies to sailors unless they meet specific criteria. You can’t get insurance without a captain’s license, and most insurance
companies require owners to follow marina guidelines concerning sailboats equipped with engines.

To protect your investment, you should purchase a sailboat equipped with an engine. If you plan on adding an outboard motor to your sailing vessel, be sure to consult professional renovators before installing the engine. An engine can throw off your boat’s center of gravity if you attempt the installation without a firm understanding of marine engineering.


Most sailors, who despise their engines and only use them for marina navigation, admit that the engine is useful in the case of an emergency. When a passenger or crew member falls overboard, an engine will
enable the crew to rescue the person much faster.

If someone on your boats sustains a serious injury, you can start up the engine and quickly move to a hospital or coast guard boat.

What Types of Engines Are Available for Sailboats?

The three main types of engines available for sailboats include electric, diesel, and diesel electric.

Electric Engines

Owners of medium-sized sailboats often use electric outboard engines to travel around harbors. The most significant advantage of electric motors is their mobility. The engines aren’t permanently attached
to the sailboat and can be removed in a few minutes.

It’s true that electric motors are more environmentally friendly and do not pollute the air or water. However, since the engines lack the power of a diesel engine, most electric engines are unusable on large sailing vessels.

Batteries for the engines are inefficient, and the added weight of the lithium cells makes them impractical for large boats.

Diesel Engines

For owners of large sailing yachts, the diesel is the engine of choice. The diesel has a remarkable power to weight ratio and is extremely efficient. Sailors have the option of using an outboard or inboard diesel engine on their boats.

Although it can leak oil and emits a foul smell when you start it up, the diesel is a reliable engine that sailors have trusted for several years.

Diesel Electric

A diesel-electric engine is an electric motor powered by a diesel generator. Since the generator sits on deck instead of in the water, there isn’t a problem with leaking oil or fuel into the water.

Another advantage of the diesel-electric motor is its ability to power other functions on the boat. You can use it to run an air conditioner or kitchen appliance on your yacht, and you only need to switch it on
when you need it.

Closing Remarks

The subject of sailboats with engines ignites a furious debate among purists and engine supporters. Some sailors refuse to allow engines on their sailboats and are comfortable avoiding marinas and jurisdictions that mandate engine use.

However, engines have helped sailors navigate difficult situations, and most are glad they have engines on their sailboats. Remember, you only have to use the motor for a short time, and after that, it’s smooth sailing.

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