Originating in the 1800s, the trolling motor is a self-contained motorized product that includes an electric or gasoline-powered engine, an affixed propeller underwater and controls for the boat captain to use. These types of motors are suitable for both saltwater and freshwater boating.

A trolling motor is not intended to be the sole or primary means of power while underway on a boat, but serves as a secondary, supplementary or backup form of propulsion through the water. When not presently needed, the trolling motor, which gets attached to the stern of the boat, is pulled up to avoid causing an unnecessary drag on speed through the water.

Owning a trolling motor is a useful extra because you never know when a boat’s engine may decide to stop working or get clogged up (without the tools available when on the water to fix it). As such, at the very least, this type of product provides peace of mind to anyone who likes to go boating but wants to have contingency plans in place to cover for unforeseen incidents that interrupt the calm waters.

The control systems for this type of motor are either hand controlled or foot controlled. With the hand controlled versions, the tiller and control system is easy to access above waist height. With the foot controlled versions, this leaves the hands free to steady oneself during rocky seas conditions.

There are a few outboard motors that are fueled by gasoline, but in most cases, electronic motors are the best option and the most popular one. Electric models use 12-volt, 24-volt or 36-volt DC engines which use deep cycle batteries often seen in marine situations. Typically, the motor is fitted inside a waterproof container that is submerged which saves space in the boat and contributes a cooling effect in cold water environments.

The propeller is attached to the prop shaft, with a hand-controlled tiller for steering in many commercial models. Speed is adjusted either via the tiller or a knob. A clamp is used to attach the trolling motor to the side of the boat.

A few high-end models have remote control systems to be able to step away from the tiller while maintaining control of the steering and speed.

Electric motors rated by pounds of thrust, while gas-powered engines get rated in horsepower. A 12-volt engine puts out 60 pounds of thrust, a 24-volt engine puts out 100 pounds of thrust, and a 36-volt engine puts out 130 pounds of thrust. Trolling motors are ideal for use in water that doesn’t have strong currents. Some motors have a slow start feature which moderates how fast the motor runs before it is fully warmed up; this feature extends the life of the engine.

Not all trolling motors are intended for use on boats with a solid hull; some trolling motors are only suitable for use with inflatable dinghies. Accordingly, the way that a trolling motor attaches to a dinghy is entirely different than with a solid hulled boat. Dinghies and other boats should have their own mounting systems which are compatible with most trolling motor systems.

A control panel comes with the majority of trolling motors on the market. The display usually has a battery indicator, a control key to escape weeds caught up in the engine, a dry optional protection feature, and controls relating to overloading the boat preventing normal operations. Engines controls allow for multiple forward speeds and several reverse speeds selectable from the tiller control in most cases.

What’s Included with The Best Trolling Motor

A trolling motor product comes mostly assembled with the engine already fitted in the waterproof container, a propeller shaft, the propeller, the apparatus to attach the device to the boat, and a control panel.

Instructions are also provided to fit, set up, and operate the trolling motor successfully regardless of previous boating experience.

What to Know Before Making a Purchase

The total volts used by the engine dictates the maximum speed that the boat can travel. Anyone who feels the need to increase the top speed in a small boat needs to purchase a more powerful trolling motor.

Other Considerations

Whether or not the model comes with a slow warm-up feature to not overexert the motor when not used for a while, it is advisable not to use too much power. Moderating the initial speeds allows the engine time to get warmed up before trying to achieve a faster rate of travel.

Best Brands

Newport Vessels started in 2008 selling inflatable boats and marine related products sold throughout the United States.

Intex Corporation makes a variety of outdoor equipment including airbeds, spas, pools, filtering equipment, and trolling motors.

Minn Kota makes secure shallow water boat anchors, battery chargers, and trolling motors.

What Consumers Say

Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:

Boat registration: In some states, most notably California, it is necessary to get a boat registered or acquire a boat license before installing a separate motor.

Size limitations: Many trolling motors are intended for small boats with only 2-3 people on board. Anyone who has a large boat or plans to transport a bigger group should look for a more powerful trolling motor.

Assembly: With some models of the trolling motor, it is necessary to attach the engine to the prop.

Usage period: A good model trolling motor from a respected brand is expected to run for several hours without interruption.

Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Saltwater often breaks down marine components over time. It is important to check the design of the trolling motor model to verify whether it is only suitable for use in fresh water. Using a freshwater trolling motor in salt water will likely invalidate its warranty and probably cause operational issues sooner rather than later.

Gears: The control system for trolling motors use gears that are easy to move through to facilitate acceleration when it is needed most.