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bow thruster or not?


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I am just starting to look at getting another boat having previously had a 24' GRP cruiser and a 46' narrow boat (but have now been off the water for about 10 years).  I'd like to move up a size again now to about 57' but wondering if a bow thruster is a worthwhile addition to the boat at this size. I had few problems manoeuvring my old boat but feel that I have lost some competence while off the cut. I should add that I am planning to buy second hand and in the spring with the aim of long term cruising and as my wife is unable to do any 'heavy' work (locks etc) due to a back problem I will mostly be handling the boat solo.

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The only possible answer is "it depends". It's not the length of boat that matters, but rather how well it "swims". A boat that steers well (ie it goes where you point it) isn't going to need a bow thruster.

 

In a situation where I needed to get the sharp end out from the edge, I have always managed, by doing it backwards if necessary. When coming into the side, I always put the arsend close to the bank to allow the crew to step off safely.

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5 minutes ago, Bobgrif said:

I am just starting to look at getting another boat having previously had a 24' GRP cruiser and a 46' narrow boat (but have now been off the water for about 10 years).  I'd like to move up a size again now to about 57' but wondering if a bow thruster is a worthwhile addition to the boat at this size. I had few problems manoeuvring my old boat but feel that I have lost some competence while off the cut. I should add that I am planning to buy second hand and in the spring with the aim of long term cruising and as my wife is unable to do any 'heavy' work (locks etc) due to a back problem I will mostly be handling the boat solo.

I have a bow thruster, I wouldn't say its essential and I enjoy not using it. Where it is handy is if you are doing half a mile backwards past loads of moored boats. As for the bad back, let her drive the boat while you do the locks

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I have a 64' narrow boat and don't have a BT. I have never had it so don't miss it. I dont think I would only buy a boat if it had a BT, there are many other things I consider far more important, layout, overall condition etc.

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2 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

I have a bow thruster, I wouldn't say its essential and I enjoy not using it. Where it is handy is if you are doing half a mile backwards past loads of moored boats. As for the bad back, let her drive the boat while you do the locks

thanks I thought that might be the case, as for driving I'm going to try to encourage it as I think she would enjoy it after she had some familiarity but she is quite reluctant/nervous and would rarely take the tiller on the old boat

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Its just something else to have to maintain. This boat isnt long enough to need one as its only 68 feet long but on a 120 footer it may be some help? Good boat handling skills far outweigh a bowthruster. I had one on my widebeam as it had been fitted but it was never needed. Ive had them on commercial bigger stuff but would never bother on a narrowboat. Its you money though, some people even polish brass!!!

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3 minutes ago, Machpoint005 said:

The OP's situation does, however, prompt me to ask whether he should be looking for a longer boat in the first place, if there are going to be single-handing issues. 

Good point, I really would like the extra space that a longer boat provides, I am not concerned about single-handing having done this before and being quite comfortable with it.  My uncertainty was whether a BT would give me enough benefit to make reducing the number of boats to choose from worthwhile

2 minutes ago, mrsmelly said:

Its just something else to have to maintain. This boat isnt long enough to need one as its only 68 feet long but on a 120 footer it may be some help? Good boat handling skills far outweigh a bowthruster. I had one on my widebeam as it had been fitted but it was never needed. Ive had them on commercial bigger stuff but would never bother on a narrowboat. Its you money though, some people even polish brass!!!

I confess, I did polish brass vents but only once honest (when I was selling the boat to make it look better :)).  I seem to recall it took ages and didn't make that much difference!!

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27 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

I have a bow thruster, I wouldn't say its essential and I enjoy not using it. Where it is handy is if you are doing half a mile backwards past loads of moored boats. As for the bad back, let her drive the boat while you do the locks

precisely.    they are only really needed for long distance reversing.

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I'm terrible at reversing but manage most of the time and seem to have less mishaps than people who rely on the bow thruster, especially when they find they've drained the BT battery before completing their manoeuvre and then have no clue how to recover the situation.

 

One of the few places I need to wind and reverse is Cambrian Wharf. Sometimes things go really well and I seamlessly manage to wind the boat on a sixpence and reverse into one of the spaces without touching the sides, other boats or pontoon and step off, rope in hand like a pro. Other times the boat seems to curve all over the place, I miss the winding hole, have to fend off the boats and generally make a pigs ear of it.

 

I've been intending to do a boat handling course for the last 7 years, Maybe next year it'll actually happen.

 

Rob

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We have a 58' narrowboat plus BT, new in 2015. Although we have over 50 years of experience without a BT, I'm glad we have one now. Regretfully we've unable to cruise this year, but in previous summers the BT came in handy manoeuvring in windy conditions, particularly in and out of marina moorings.

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Over the years I have spent much time both with and without a bowthruster. Is one necessary? No. Is one useful? Sometimes, yes. Spending time without one certainly makes you a more proficient steerer, which is beneficial, but no matter how skilled you are there are circumstances where a manoeuvre can be made easier with one.

My preference is to have one despite being capable without it.

 

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We bought our boat in July, with BT fitted. It wasn't a deal breaker when we were looking at a boat, but the one we liked had one, and I thought it would be useful.

 

In reality we've almost never used it, and prefer to do the manouvering without it purely because it's more satisfying, especially things like reversing onto the marina berth for example. We have now deemed it a purely "get out of trouble" tool in case we really mess things up, so I'm sure it will get some use before too long !

 

Definitely wouldn't bother about fixing it if it ever broke though.

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2 hours ago, Murflynn said:

precisely.    they are only really needed for long distance reversing.

Well, they aren’t actually needed for long distance reversing, they are only needed for long distance reversing if the steerer isn’t very good at reversing and or the boat isn’t good at reversing! 

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2 hours ago, ditchcrawler said:

I have a bow thruster, I wouldn't say its essential and I enjoy not using it. Where it is handy is if you are doing half a mile backwards past loads of moored boats. 

This ^^^^

 

I once did over a mile and 5 locks backwards after being frozen in. I've had a very windy marina mooring where being driven into a very close leeshore was a hazard that meant reversing some distance amongst moored boats was a necessity. My current linear mooring is 2 hours each way from the "upstream" winding hole, so I frequently reverse a mile to or from the "downstream" one instead, although usually that doesn't involve a thruster unless it's very windy. 

 

A thruster is a blessing in those circumstances, and can be occasionally useful if negotiating some awkward turn or similar to take out much of the faff but, this being my first boat with one, I'd not have missed it. Like DC above though, I don't need to rely on it and prefer to keep it in my back pocket.

 

However, you should also be aware of the potential issue of corrosion in thruster tubes leading to flooding.  Mine's a big enough diameter to be able to black it with confidence. Many aren't and many are simply neglected.

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11 minutes ago, Sea Dog said:

However, you should also be aware of the potential issue of corrosion in thruster tubes leading to flooding.  Mine's a big enough diameter to be able to black it with confidence. Many aren't and many are simply neglected.

100%. Our boat had an almost faultless survey, right up until the time I confirmed that I was going to go ahead with the purchase as there wasn't anything to negotiate over, and I advised the yard to do the pressure washing prior to blacking. At this point they removed the tube guards to wash it out, the surveyor had a good prod around the now cleaned out BT tube and poked a chisel right through it...

 

On our boat the tube is in an entirely separate watertight compartment now fitted with it's own bilge pump as a backup, just in case.

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I've just down-sized from years of 70 footers to a 54 foot due to a worsening health issues (back, his etc). The BT on my previous boat was a godsend when mooring up in breezy conditions on the Thames in August. The new (used) boat also has a BT but would like to think that it will be a rarity to use it. But it's there and it may just allow me to boat for longer than I could without?

 

On the downside, there's no baffle to the tub sit is exposed to the rest of the bilge (Colecraft shell). The survey was inconclusive if there was indeed two pits as the surveyor felt they were a build up of blacking. I'll be having the tube blasted and any pits deeper than 2mm (plug?) welded. I'll then two-pack the tube. I'll then feel secure with regular checking and maintenance.

 

It's all a balance of how many boxes the 'right' boat ticks for you I guess. I'm approaching 65 so perhaps not as focused on 20yrs longevity as I may have been a few years ago.

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Just a personal opinion, but I wouldn't have a BT even if it was a gift; I have seen them let people down so many times (blocked, jammed, electrical problems etc). In any situation that requires manoeuvring you can either position yourself for rudder steering or for BT steering, they require the boat to be in different places &/or to be differently angled, and if your thruster lets you down at the wrong moment the position can be irrecoverable.

 

My most dangerous moment came on a motorised 80-ton 19th century Dutch Barge, one with a huge propeller that was half-way out of the water to act like a sideways paddle-wheel and guaranteed to turn the boat 45 degrees to port whenever you selected reverse. Travelling down the Thames, the owner positioned the stern in line with a lock and then pressed the BT button; the shear-pin broke and we had no BT! The bow was already pointing partly towards the weir, and to engage reverse would have swung the bow straight over it. The only option was to engage full throttle forwards, put the wheel hard over, and hope we could manage the U-turn in the limited space of the lock cut. We made it round ok (scattering GRP cruisers in all directions) and on that day I swore never to touch a BT again.

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4 hours ago, ditchcrawler said:

 

I had one on Friesland which we ran as a school, but would not let our trainees use it. They can be useful but are no excuse for not learning how to steer.

 

Tam

 

bowthruster.jpg

Edited by Tam & Di
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The bigger the biat, the more to maintain. I want smaller but with more storage and a proper gallley.: A single width diner for two people is fine.

Edited by LadyG
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1 hour ago, nicknorman said:

Well, they aren’t actually needed for long distance reversing, they are only needed for long distance reversing if the steerer isn’t very good at reversing and or the boat isn’t good at reversing! 

Well thats me then.

26 minutes ago, Tam & Di said:

I had one on Friesland which we ran as a school, but would not let our trainees use it. They can be useful but are no excuse for not learning how to steer.

 

Tam

 

bowthruster.jpg

If I remember right that was a big one

 

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4 hours ago, mrsmelly said:

Its just something else to have to maintain.

There is a lot of truth in this.

 

We have one, and 3kW (i think) Vetus unit, now 30 years old. 

 

Generally low maintenance, but needs a new set of batteries (has its own in the bow) every 10 years or so.

Broke it's drive pin (pinning prop to shaft) once which was fixed by driving the boat up a bank and then lifting the bow with a digger.

Rubber oil pipe became perished and alarmingly soft, assuming it was the right tube used, it seems well under spec'ed. Now replaced.

Was losing a lot of oil into the canal, assumed to be shaft seals, but was actually the anode and securing bolt missing, in a through hole fixing.

Therefore the gearbox was full of water, and the only thing stopping the boat sinking via a 5mm hole was said perished rubber tube.

 

If you are having one, in a new boat, I would consider having it within a cofferdam. Also mount it off centre or in a much shorter tube than ours.

 

Our boat just about steers straight in reverse, but when the batteries arnt knackered it can be used for that.

We once used it when we got stuck behind a very slow moving boat in the harecastle, so where moving slower than we could steer.

I once tried to use it to get me out of a bit of a hole mooring/winding on a river, but it wasnt man enough to had to abort plan.

 

Part of the issue is also that the charge system we have for the batteries, 50 ft from the alternator, is insufficient due to voltage drop.

 

So I have just learnt to not use it.

 

 

Daniel

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