Captain's Tips

Twin Engines


Sea Tow captains receive numerous calls each year from the owners of twin-engine (or twin-outboard) vessels when one of their engines fails. Concerns include the following:

  • Can I still drive the boat on one engine or will the load be too much?
  • If I keep going on one engine will I burn out the remaining engine?
  • Will I be able to steer straight?
  • My boat wasn't designed to only use one engine.
  • I won't be able to steer back into my boat slip.
  • I can't go as fast as I did before.

In most cases if one engine dies, it is perfectly fine to continue your trip using the second engine. In fact, most boaters make it back to the dock on their own with no problem and no damage to the second engine.If the boat can still make way using the second engine you are not disabled, but you may have to operate the boat in a slightly different manner. The secret is simple; education and practice. Learn about your boat and practice driving your twin-engine boat with one engine turned off, even when both are working just fine.Many boaters prefer twin-engine boats for a number of reasons. They are faster and more maneuverable, particularly in docking and other close-quarter situations. Larger boats often require twin power to move their hullforms through the water, but the No. 1 reason offshore mariners go to sea in twin-engine boats is redundancy. If one engine should fail, they know they can always get home on the other one.Get to know your twin-engine vessel intimately. What type of steering does it have cable or hydraulic, manual or powerassisted? If the latter, which engine has the power steering pump? Do any other critical systems run off your engines that could cause a problem if you drive with one disabled?When you practice with one motor switched off (starting out in safe, open water), determine what speed you need to make in order for the boat to have steerageway. Know what speed you will be able to run at most boats can do 8 to 10 knots on one engine (faster than you would be towed). Practice maneuvering around the marina and back to the dock on one engine. If that is too difficult, find an alternate place to go if you have limited maneuverability.If you find yourself in the situation where one of your twin-engines fails and you need advice, give your towing company a call. Your local towing captain can help assess the situation and will maintain communications with you as you make your trip home.Your Sea Tow captains are here to help you on the water 24/7, 365 days a year. Visit



  • Always start with a full tank of fuel and an adequate oil level. Check your fuel level by knowing your boat's fuel consumption per hour and the time you have already run. Never trust your fuel gauge.
  • Always remember to shut off your engine while fueling and run the blowers prior to restarting the engine.
  • Check your bilge level and bilge pump before leaving the dock.
  • Be sure you have a working VHF radio onboard and test it using Sea Tow's free Automated Radio Check System (

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