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Are saildrives all they are cracked up to be?

2011 February 9

Dear Boat Doctor,
A lot of new boats have saildrives, but I still have some concerns about them, and the size of the hole in the boat used to accommodate them.

What precautionary steps and what emergency equipment would you recommend having on a boat with a saildrive? At boat shows, I keep hearing "they have been using them in Europe for years," but I'd like some real answers.

Andy Clark
Ventura, California

Dear Andy,
Any hull perforation has its risks, but the equipment in the perforation comes with benefits. I would not worry about a saildrive any more than a conventional shaft system.
Modern saildrive systems are very well engineered and the hulls they are used in are designed to support them even with the relatively large hole. The units I am familiar with have multiple seals and water intrusion alarms. If you are considering a boat where the unit has been retrofitted, I would hire a qualified surveyor to make sure it has been installed correctly and robustly.

Considering the possibility of a catastrophic failure in either a conventional or saildrive system, I would have safety gear aboard. I think the Forespar Truplug (www.forespar.com/Truplug) is a great product. A toilet bowl wax ring is a good thing to have aboard too, as the soft, sticky wax will temporarily seal up small leaks. Good old duct tape and some of the new fancy self-fusing tapes may be useful too. 

I have sailed boats both with and without saildrives, and the most dramatic problems I have seen have been with stuffing box failures. And, besides, they have been using them in Europe for years.