Each year, as the fall boat shows—and the deals that come with them—appear on the horizon, we pore over the numerous products we’ve reviewed in the previous 12 months to select the cream of the crop for our Editor’s Choice awards. We hope the list will help readers better navigate any boat-show or end-of-season shopping. This year, we picked from the Best Choice products evaluated in the September 2010 through August 2011 issues. The 2011 GOTY roster includes an electric outboard, some stout bullet blocks, electric marine toilets, bilge pumps, chafe gear, and marine maintenance products like bottom paint.
Winterizing an inboard engine installation means a lot more than filling the cooling system with antifreeze and stuffing a rag in the exhaust outlet. It means taking care of the exhaust system, the fuel system, the engine controls, and other components of the drive train, such as the shaft and prop. If you want to do these things yourself none of them is difficult, only time consuming plan on a long day of work, or perhaps a leisurely weekend.
This month’s Gear Graveyard called to mind the famous scene in the movie The Graduate when actor Dustin Hoffman is pulled aside at a dinner party and offered a word of advice: "I just want to say one word to you son . . . just one word . . . plastics." There are a myriad of polymer combinations that make up the vast realm we call plastics, so to speak of them in a general sense can be misleading. Some plastics, like the glass-fiber reinforced acetal copolymers used in a variety of marine hardware are extremely strong.
When it comes to the development of electric drive systems large and small, there’s a double-headed challenge. The first is the propulsion system itself, a combination of electric motor and drive train that efficiently turns watts into speed through the water. The second part is the acquisition of power to run the motor. Electric propulsion, in our opinion, is a good fit for daysailors and marina-to-marina cruisers, so we tested a few options available to recreational boaters looking for an electric outboard: the Torqeedo T-801, which we previously reviewed; the new Torqeedo T-1003, a beefier iteration of the T-801; and the Electric Paddle, a less-expensive option.
Yamaha recently updated two of its portable outboard engines, the F-series four-horsepower outboard and 6-horsepower engine. We reviewed the original F4 and F6 in 2003. Both updated designs use an 8.5-cubic-inch engine block and both weigh 60 pounds, which marks a weight loss for the F6 but an increase for the F4. Both also have improved stowage capacity and demonstrated solid performance. The report compares the new outboards to the 55-pound Suzuki DF4, the top contender in Practical Sailors 2003 Outboard Engine test.
As we did with the Torqeedo electric outboard and Minn Kota trolling motor in past tests, Practical Sailor put the Solid Nav Traveler to work in sea trials on a Cape Dory Typhoon to determine whether it was a viable replacement for a small boats gas-powered outboard. The four-horsepower Traveler electric motor is marketed by Solid Nav and manufactured by Suzhou Parsun Power Machine Co., Chinas largest outboard exporter. Using a brushless 48-volt DC motor made by Mars Electrical Co. of Milwaukee, Wis., the Traveler combines a familiar drive train and an innovative solid magnet electric motor. At first glance, it looks like a small conventional outboard. Available in both long-shaft (20 inches) and short-shaft (15 inches) models, the Traveler is a gasoline outboard alternative best suited for a pocket cruiser (like a Cal 25) or similarly sized weekend cruiser where electric propulsion is desired. However, its required battery entourage limits its portability and affordability, and charging needs limit its practical use on smaller boats.
Practical Sailor last tested four-stroke, 9.9-horsepower outboards in the June 2007 issue, with the Mercury 9.9 coming out the clear winner. These engines are well-sized for large, rigid dinghies or as auxiliary power for smaller keelboats, but their weight can be an issue. This report compares the Suzuki 9.9-outboard and the Yamaha 9.9 to the Mercury. Both the Suzuki and the Yamaha are carbureted, water-cooled engines. On-the-water engine performance tests found the Suzuki to be the loudest and the heaviest 9.9 we tested. The Yamaha is more compact, but at 91 pounds, it is no lightweight.
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The experience of the owners of the 14-year-old, six-man, valise-stored Avon liferaft pictured here reminds us of the importance of following the manufacturers inspection schedule. With air leaking from the seams and through the fabric itself, the raft is a graphic example of how even a professionally serviced liferaft that remains dry in its hard canister can deteriorate to the point of becoming worthless.