Cruising Without An Engine…Crazy Sailboaters!

Rainbow over the Blue Heron Bridge

A few nights ago when I was paddling back to the boat I met Cowboy Bob. Bob is anchored just across the channel from us. During the course of our conversation I mentioned our engine troubles. That’s when Bob told me that he’s been cruising without an engine for more than 10 years.

He plans on heading down to the Keys soon. He’s just waiting on a north wind and an outgoing tide. That’s when he’ll pull his hook, drop a stern anchor, to turn the boat around, get his main up, and off he’ll go, all without an engine.

Do I Need An Engine?

This really got me thinking. We sailed up to West Palm, through the inlet, around Peanut Island, and to the spot we’re currently anchored without an engine. I’ve been joking for weeks that in my years aboard I’ve apparently become more of a sailor than a mechanic.

I was already planning on converting to an outboard, but how badly do I really need an engine right now? Can I get by with a much smaller engine? I’m sure if I waited for the right weather I could at least do like Bob and sail a short distance to a different anchorage with no engine.

Is It Really Practical?

sailing ship
Charter sailboat heading out in Key West

Many of the naysayers on some of the cruising boards will say an engine is a necessity. It’s dangerous and irresponsible to leave without a working reliable engine. But Lin and Larry Paredy, one of the most well known cruising couples, have cruised hundreds of thousands of miles, including 2 circumnavigations with no engine.

If you search the subject online you’ll even find posts from other cruisers who ran into major engine troubles they couldn’t afford to fix. Instead of turning back, they continued, and in some cases even cruised for years with no engine. And let’s not forget about Bob…or the hundreds of years of ocean travel, before engines.


Without an engine you really need to watch the weather more closely. You can’t just leave whenever you want. It forces you to wait for the right winds. There will also be some places you can’t go, or places that you can only enter with the right weather conditions.

As much as I love the idea of simplicity, one less thing to maintain, saving money, and not relying on fuel, I’m not sure if I’m ready. I want to have a little more flexibility to go when and where I want…even if it’s just out to a nearby reef for a dive. But that new engine may be a little smaller than originally planned.

4 Responses to Cruising Without An Engine…Crazy Sailboaters!

  1. Hi Chris,

    Just wondering what kind of weather can you go through with an engine compared to no engine? I can imagine the weather can get pretty rough out there.

    • Nicole, The main thing is with an engine you can go directly into the wind which you can’t under sail. You can also go through, inlets, inland waterways, etc. much easier and for the most part regardless of tide and wind direction.

  2. That is what I dream of to be with in my life. I love sailing and always seek an opportunity to do it when I got time for my own vacation. I did it in some island like Samed ( in Thailand ) and would love to do it again. Your website theme is excellent and also easy to read. Great job.

    • Now you’re making me jealous! The southeast U.S. may be nice, but I’d love to cruise that part of the world. Not even for the sailing, but much more so for the diving.

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