How to Operate Twin Outboards

by Will Charpentier

Twin outboards mean quicker, tighter turns and more power. Ideally, the outboard on the port side will turn counterclockwise and the outboard on the starboard side will turn clockwise, so that they counteract each other's torque. You'll discover that, although outboard motors won't make a boat walk sideways by themselves, with a bit of effort you can make the boat move nearly sideways. You'll also discover that you can fine tune your boat's maneuvers.

Push the left, or port, throttle forward and pull the starboard, or right, throttle back, then turn your wheel to the left. You'll turn left in about a single boat length, pivoting around a point about 1/3 the way back from the front of your boat, the bow. Repeat the same maneuver, to the right.

Bring your boat to a speed of 20 knots, about 25 mph. Pull both throttles all the way to the rear. You'll stop in a little over two boat lengths. With both motors astern, you can stop from 10 knots in one boat length.

Move to the dock, with your starboard side to the dock, and stop when your stern is even with the stern of the boat docked ahead of the place you plan to park. Turn your wheel left. Push the port motor into "Reverse" and the starboard motor into "Forward" and you will pivot toward the parking place.

Put both motors into "Reverse" and you can back straight to the cleat or bollard to which you wish to tie your boat. Secure the stern line with about a foot of slack, turn your wheel to the right and move your starboard motor into "Forward" at idle speed. Your bow will drop into place and you will look like an expert boathandler.


  • These three maneuvers are based on the idea that you can influence the direction of the boat by motors alone: the side of the boat you want to move forward is the motor you push into "Forward." You can use the second motor as well, to increase the rate of turn.
  • Counterrotating propellers, where one rotates clockwise and on one rotates counterclockwise, allow you to back straight up. This means you can "stern up" at a crowded fuel dock or slip into a space you might have avoided before.
  • Twin engines offer more power than a single engine. They also offer twice the power to get out of trouble. Use them judiciously.


  • As the old sea captain said, "going fast just gets you in trouble faster." Take it easy while you figure your way around twins. (Reference 2)


  • "Chapman Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling"; E. Maloney; 1996
  • Captain Sherman White; U.S. Merchant Marine; Houston, TX

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.