Outboard motor woes are about as common amongst sailors as scars, nicks and cuts on their hands. We all have a story from way-back-when that starts off the exact same way: “My outboard flooded, started, and then gave out right after we arrived in (insert terribly remote location here), and we were completely S.O.L.”
Gasoline can be fingered as the culprit in nearly all of the above stories, be it with the fuel mixing, the carburetor, the choke or any other gas-related hardware. Gasoline may get the job done, but gas engines can get gunky and are dependent on a very specific set of maintenance guidelines.
This is why we were so excited when we got to test outboard dinghy motors. Getting one that works well consistently could eliminate one of the peskiest problems sailors frequently have.
The motor that we tested that outperformed the rest is the Lehr Propane Outboard Motor.
When most people see propane, they either think of their backyard barbecue or Hank from King of The Hill. This is exactly what Lehr founder and CEO Bernardo Herzer aimed to change when he came out with his line of propane outboards. He is a certified ship captain and his company has made a number of lawn mowers, go-karts, mo-peds, portable generators and more, all powered by propane.
The four-stroke engines operate off the same propane tanks used for camping stoves, but they are also easily adapted to operate from the 20-gallon propane tanks commonly used in the grill on your vessel. The propane motors are lighter than gas motors, mostly because of their lack of carburetors and other gas-related components. Lehr propane outboards cost about the same as gas motors, but edge out their gas competitors in fuel efficiency. Propane is also leaps and bounds ahead of gasoline in terms of negative environmental impact.
Lehr’s propane motors run more efficiently than gas motors, and there is no need to mix fuel in order to get the motor to work properly. Because propane is gaseous at room temperature, it is lighter than gasoline, and there is no need to vaporize the fuel within the engine as in gas motors. This, in turn, leads to the motor not needing a warm-up or break in… ever. The propane is already primed to burn when it enters the fuel line, and our research couldn’t find a single person complaining of starting problems with the motor.
It took us three pulls to start it the first time around, but after that, it consistently started on the first cord pull, which is almost unheard of in dinghy engines.
In fact, among Amazon and Cabella’s reviews, not a single person rated the Lehr Propane Outboard under five stars. The most common commendations of the Lehr from reviewers are its ease and readiness to start. More than a few reviewers note that it is easy enough for the wives and daughters in their life to start the motor without strain.
Tom Lochaas of About.com Sailing raves about the Lehr Propane motor in his review of the engine:
I’ve had no regrets since I began using the Lehr outboard – and would recommend it without hesitation. Since the propane bottles are used by many boat grills and stoves, they are readily available in many waterside and marina stores. You’d likely need to plan ahead if cruising long distances in unknown waters, but for the typical user of a 5 HP outboard, this is not an issue. And it feels good, especially as a sailor who runs the engine as little as possible, to do as little damage to the environment as possible.
Let’s now check out the other two engines we tested. You can see a side-by-side comparison of the engines here.
The Lehr propane’s closest competition is the trusty gasoline outboard motor. Each sailor may have his preferred brand of outboard, but we had heard only good things about Honda’s 5hp, so we tested it out in our outboard research.
Gasoline outboard motors are all strikingly similar in design and construction. The biggest advantage of owning a gas motor is its power. A gas motor is going to be the best engine to push your dinhy through chop, breakers and strong currents. Its maximum RPM is 1,000 revolutions more than the Lehr, but this also decreases efficiency in the gas motor.
Gas motors may be the least expensive out of propane and electric, but their fuel cost is the highest, and gas prices are not set to dip any time soon. The Honda’s displacement is also the largest that we tested, making it the least portable and heaviest of our options.
After searching for another production propane outboard, we were unable to find any other propane alternatives for the Lehr outboard. It is truly in a class of its own.
Another interesting option we tested out is the Torqeedo Cruise electric motor. These motors weigh about half as much as the propane engines, making them the most portable and easiest to install. Obviously, there are no starting issues with the electric motor, because there is no liquid or gaseous fuel to burn. If environmental impact is at the top of your list when considering outboard motors, this is the perfect motor for you.
Environmental efficiency, though, is not nearly comparable to output efficiency, which the Torqeedo lacks desperately. Maximum output from a Torqeedo motor is only 1,300 RPM, compared to Lehr’s 4500. In addition, the electric motor is wildly expensive at $3300 when gas and propane engines are sold for about half that price. The Torqeedo seems to be heading in the right direction with decreasing fossil fuel emissions, but the price and output are not comparable enough to its competitors to vie for a top spot.
The Lehr Propane Outboard earns our pick as the all-around best outboard dinghy motor. By using propane, common gasoline problems such as mixing and filtering fuel, sparkplug fouling and engine flooding, and harmful emissions are a thing of the past.
With readily available and clean-burning propane in a sealed system, Lehr’s engine is the easiest to start of any of the combustion motors we’ve seen, and it requires significantly less maintenance than gasoline engines. Electric alternatives are out there for the person who is relentlessly committed to protecting the environment, but their exorbitant price and limited range makes them impractical to recommend in the present day.
Propane’s one downfall is the difficulty of checking the fullness of fuel tanks, but that is easily avoided by bringing an extra propane bottle, or by getting a fiberglass tank where you can see its capacity more easily.
Lehr Propane outboards use a patented propane vaporization system to keep the entire fuel line sealed, and eliminate the need for a carburetor and messy engine additives.
Jim Hendricks from BoatingMag also prefers Lehr Propane motors over gasoline and electric models after testing them out for the magazine. He says: “First, on cold starts, they fired up with one pull of the manual rope start… There was virtually no warm-up needed. Even when cold, the outboards refused to bog under hard acceleration.”
In conclusion, the Lehr Propane Outboard motors are the best out of any outboard dinghy motor. Propane is an ideal fuel that is easy to obtain and store indefinitely, and Lehr is at the forefront of propane motor innovation. Their company stands above all the rest of the outboard market as no one else makes a propane-powered engine.
If you are looking to ease the stress of wrestling with a gunky and dirty gasoline outboard, look no further than the Lehr Propane Outboard motor.