Features February 1, 1999 Issue

Offshore Log: A Simple Outboard Lifting Crane

For two years, we struggled to get our 8-hp. Yamaha outboard from its storage location on the stern rail to the transom of our dinghy without dropping the whole thing in the water. Because of Calypso’s high freeboard and tall rail, the stowed outboard is just over 6' off the water—an awkward overhead lift for the person in the dinghy, and a long drop for the person on deck.

In flat water, we managed pretty well, but in choppy Caribbean anchorages, our efforts were comical to those watching, dangerously awkward for us.

In Venezuela, we finally found a fabricator who could turn into reality the simple lifting crane we designed. We hold no copyright on this design—it is made up of a hybrid of features from other cranes—so feel free to crib any of these ideas.

The ideal material for this crane would be schedule 10 thick-wall seamless type 316 stainless tubing. Unfortunately, in order to get two pipe sizes which fit inside each other well, we were limited in Venezuela to type 304 stainless schedule 40 pipe—much heavier and stronger than necessary to lift even a 15-hp. outboard. All-up weight, less lifting tackle, is almost exactly 20 lbs.

When the pipe arrived from Caracas, we were dismayed to find that schedule 40 pipe comes with a mill finish, rather than a polished finish. Two days of labor and $25 worth of sandpaper were required to turn the mill finish into a reasonable semblance of a polished finish. Fortunately, this type of labor is cheap in Venezuela—$25 per day.

It took another 10 hours for the fabricator to bend the crane pipe, fabricate a mounting base and upper support plate, fabricate a lifting eye, and weld on a diagonal brace and bearing bushing.

I did all the designing, measuring and fitting, including taking off the compound bevels for the base and reinforcing arm—the hardest part of the design.

Installation was the easy part, taking only an hour or so.

A Davis Motor Caddy, available at virtually any chandlery for about $20, is used as a lifting sling for the outboard. It will handle outboards up to about 15-hp.

For now, we are using a four-part vang tackle from our deck hardware supply bag for a lifting tackle. A much lighter four-part tackle would easily do the job, since this one has a working load of over 900 lbs.!

Here’s what it cost:

Stainless tubing $100
Sandpaper $25
Labor-polishing $50
Labor-fabricating $200
Total, less tackle $375

This crane works well, if we do say so ourselves. Maryann can lift the outboard and get it onto the rail by herself, with me guiding it from below. If we were back in the US, one of the off-the-shelf cranes Practical Sailor has evaluated in the last two years would do the job at least as well. When you’re cruising, you make do with what you can find.

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