Pros and cons of different thruster solutions

There is a vast array of boats in various shapes and sizes. Luckily, there are now bow and stern thruster solutions available for almost all types of motorboats and sailing yachts.

Traditional thrusters continue to dominate the market

Despite the availability of thruster solutions for different types of hulls, traditional tunnel thrusters still dominate the market. However, if there is limited internal space for a standard thruster, there are still several less commonly known options available. In this article, we will examine the pros and cons of thrusters for tunnel installation, retractable thrusters, and external thrusters.

Tunnel thruster

Thruster range for leisure boats

If you want the most flexible and adaptable option, a well-made and professionally installed tunnel thruster is the best choice.

However, it's crucial to ensure that your boat has enough internal volume and bow/stern access to accommodate the installation correctly. The submerged tunnel's position relative to the waterline is critical for optimal thruster performance and noise reduction.

Today's tunnel thruster options are fantastic, and if you choose a reputable manufacturer, you can choose a PRO™ system that allows you to control your thrusters with precision, similar to how you would use the gas pedal in a car, providing total close-quarters maneuverability and single-handed control.


  • Solid construction with few moving parts
  • Wide range of choices available
  • Good value for money compared to other options
  • It can help stiffen and add structural integrity to the hull
  • Troubleshooting and maintenance can be done without lifting the boat
  • Some systems come with protection against ignition and water ingress
  • No reduction in boat speed when the tunnel is correctly installed


  • Installation is complex, and professional fitting is strongly recommended
  • Requires sufficient internal space for installation
  • The tunnel must be located a minimum of ½ to 1 times its diameter beneath the waterline
  • Some noise emissions are possible unless the tunnel is optimally installed.

Retractable thruster


Retractable thrusters are becoming increasingly popular and can be placed in either the bow or stern locations of a hull. They are discreet and are particularly useful in bespoke yachts and flat-bottomed boats where the minimum draft required to install a traditional tunnel thruster is not available.

The propellers used in retractable thrusters are housed in shorter tunnels, which are more efficient and less noisy compared to traditional tunnel installations. The best retractable thrusters come with protection against running aground, and some can be controlled using proportional control.


  • Ideal for flat-bottomed sailing yachts
  • Efficient thrust due to the good depth and shorter length tunnel
  • Often low or zero noise


  • More complex construction than other types
  • Requires a larger internal footprint compared to the size of the tunnel
  • Some delay during deployment
  • More vulnerable to damage due to external protrusion

External thruster

Sleipner external thruster with cowls fitted on stern of a boat

An external thruster is a type of thruster that comes in various shapes and sizes, with the most common type being torpedo-shaped solutions mounted underneath a boat’s hull. These thrusters are perfect for boats with little internal space or for owners of smaller and less expensive crafts who might find it difficult to justify the cost of installing a ‘full-fat tunnel or retractable thruster.’

These thrusters have the propeller and electric motor enclosed in a hydrodynamic housing, which reduces drag and makes drilling small holes for the mounting shaft and internal cabling less costly and more convenient. Moreover, due to their positioning at the outermost extremities of a hull, these thrusters benefit from an increased leverage arm, which means they are able to move larger size boats by requiring nominally less power than conventional thrusters.

However, if you regularly launch and recover your boat using a trailer or store your boat ashore on a raised stack system, you will need to consider that there’s an additional appendage protruding from the lower half of your hull. Additionally, external thrusters are not recommended for planing hulls and may cause increased water resistance and associated drag.


  • Requires minimal interior space in a boat
  • Easier and faster to install and perfect for retrofit
  • Higher efficiency due to optimum positioning
  • Quiet operation in the majority of cases
  • Long run-time due to effective water cooling of the motor
  • Small footprint on the stern area surface


  • Not recommended for planning hulls
  • Some negative effects of increased water resistance and associated drag
  • Care is required when lifting the hull out, re-launching, or storing the boat ashore


Overall, with the different thruster options available today, boat owners have a wider range of choices than ever before. It's no longer necessary to follow a 'one boat, one rule' system.