A boat propeller is shown in this file photo.

Do Catamarans Have Bow Thrusters?

When you are trying to navigate a boat like a catamaran into or out of a tight dock slip or other space, sometimes it can seem like it is nearly impossible to navigate. It is especially true when trying to get a boat to move sideways towards either the port or starboard side. It seems crazy to drive a boat like a catamaran forward and backward to get the vessel into position. So, do catamarans have bow thrusters to help with maneuvering?

What Is A Bow Thruster?

A bow thruster is a form of propulsion, mounted in or onto the side of the hull. The purpose is to maneuver a boat from side to side. The bow thruster is typically mounted on the bow end of the ship, but may also be mounted on the stern of the craft. When mounted on the stern side of the boat, these thrusters are called a maneuvering thruster or stern thruster, rather than a bow thruster.

By Dr. Karl-Heinz Hochhaus – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Benefits Of Having Bow Thrusters

When a boat such as a catamaran has bow thrusters, it can improve maneuverability. The added ability is the best benefit of having a bow thruster on a ship. The bow thruster’s purpose is to rotate the ship, or even move the boat to port or starboard when the bow and stern thrusters are both installed.

Now, it may seem like it’s an awful amount of work or money to have a bow thruster installed. However, if this is a boat you love and intend to keep for years, then adding a considerable level of maneuverability will be completely worth it.

Disadvantages Of Having Bow Thrusters

Problems of bow thrusters are few and far between. This addition to the vessel’s propulsion system is a fantastic way to have much more excellent maneuverability to the ship. However, there are a couple of drawbacks to having bow thrusters.

There are a few ways in which these additions to the propulsion system can be detrimental. The first is that anytime you add components to a network, you make the system more complicated. And adding bow thrusters is not an exception to the rule. Secondly, not only are you modifying the hull, but you are also adding an electrical circuit and controls. Not to say this is not a fantastic addition to a boat. It is entirely worth it, from the boat owners I have spoken with about the setup. But, you do need to keep in mind that with added complexity comes added maintenance and possible breakdowns of equipment.

Jet Thrusters VS Propeller Thrusters

When we look at the bow and stern thrusters, there are a couple of common types. The first, and older style is the ordinary propeller type bow or stern thruster. This type incorporates adding a large hole to either side of either hull of the catamaran and installing a two-way prop inside of the hull itself. Installing a large, water-tight tube is required to maintain the buoyancy of the boat (otherwise, the large hole where the propeller is will sink your ship). Look at the video close to the end of this article to see what I’m talking about here.

The newer style, and much less hull invasive, is the jet thruster type of propulsion. This type uses a much smaller hole in the hull and has inlets as well. The water is sucked in through the inlet and expelled out the thruster ports using a jet pump. The jet pump is typically installed inside the hull near to the jet ports.

I really prefer the jet thruster over the propellor style thruster for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned, adding a jet thruster is much less invasive to the hull. You only need a small hole (a couple of inches or so, depending on the size of craft) for the thruster outlet port. The inlet is slightly larger, but even still, it is much less invasive than what you need to do to modify the hull for a propellor style bow thruster. Take a look at the jet thruster type here on this YouTube video I found that shows the system well and how it works.

Frequently Asked Bow Thruster Questions 

Can You Add A Bow Thruster To A Catamaran?

Yes. The only caveat to adding bow thrusters to a catamaran is that you have two hulls. Therefore, you need to add two bow thrusters. That is, in an ideal situation where you want balanced maneuverability.  

You could, I suppose, add a bow thruster to just one of the hulls. It would cause a certain level of drag on the hull where the bow thruster has been installed. Whether you are surface mounting a propeller bow thruster or you are going all-in with an in-hull installation, either way, the additional equipment will add drag. The best way to do this sort of upgrade to a catamaran is to install a bow thruster onto each hull to balance out the drag and maneuverability.

How Much Does It Cost To Install A Bow Thruster?

The cost of adding a bow thruster to a catamaran or other boat can be costly. The price depends entirely on the type and style of the thruster. For example, on larger vessels, if you intend to have the bow thruster recessed into the hull, then actual structural hull work is required. Large holes need to be drilled into the hull to add the thruster system. There will also need to be electrical components, as well as adding control functions to the helm. These boat renovations can be quite costly and can easily be more than $10,000 installed.

When installing smaller bow thrusters, or hull surface mounted bow thrusters, the cost can be significantly less.

Without installation, you can pick up a complete retractable bow thruster kit for boats up to 35’ for about $3000. That does not include installation, but if you are at all handly, it doesn’t look that hard to install. There are even kits to mount right onto your outboard motor. Now, this would be a stern thruster and not a bow thruster, but they accomplish the same goal of adding increased maneuverability to your vessel.

Do I Need A Bow Thruster?

Technically the answer to this is no; you do not need a bow thruster. However, it’s one of those things. Once you’ve experienced the operation of a craft with a bow thruster, you are not likely to want to go back to a vessel without it.

I equate this to cars. You see, I’m a bit of a rally car buff. I own an all-wheel-drive rally car that was modified for performance. I can tell you, once I drove an active real-time all-wheel-drive performance car, driving a ‘regular’ car isn’t the same. The noticeable difference in handling makes all the difference. That is if you are a driver like I am who appreciates excellent performance and even better handling.

The same can be said for boats with bow thrusters. Once you have captained a vessel with these added forms of maneuverability, you’ll wonder how on Earth you tolerated captaining a ship that didn’t have them.

How Do I Install A Bow Thruster?

I found a decent video on YouTube where they show you the whole boat renovation where a bow thruster was installed. Take a look here at how they did it.


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