Fitting an Outboard to a Centaur by Christopher Foster


I bought my Centaur in February 2020 – just before the lockdowns began. She is in Conwy Marina, North Wales and we live north of Manchester, so for a good amount of time last year it wasn’t possible to visit the boat. She was in relatively good condition but was on the hard stand and hadn’t been used for a few years. I arranged a full service of the inboard – the original Volvo – and was told it was in good condition. It wasn’t until mid-July that we could finally get into the water.

Although I’m an experienced sailor my wife hasn’t ever sailed. Conwy Marina is on the mouth of the river Conwy and access is only possible 3 hours before and after high tide. The currents in the river reach over 5 knots, with a narrow channel both in the river and then out to sea.


Our first trip out nearly ended in disaster – we headed out around a couple of hours before high water. Everything was going well as we pushed into the current flowing into the river. My wife was calm and we didn’t argue as we cast off 🙂

Just before we turned into the sea channel, the inboard cut out. The current was pushing us towards moored boats in the channel and rocks/gravel on the side of the channel. We were head to wind and there wasn’t enough time or space to raise a sail. I didn’t want to put the anchor down as it probably wouldn’t hold us in the current and would almost certainly foul on the moorings in the channel. I was envisaging becoming trapped beam to the current and being overwhelmed or damaging one of the many boats moored in the channel. As it happens my first outing in my parents’ (small cruising boat, a Seal 22) in 1981 had nearly ended similarly as the outboard failed on a windward shore in a force 6. Years of dinghy sailing experience and an outboard that started after much swearing saved us that time.

We called the marina who agreed to come to tow us back and, in the meantime, I managed to get the inboard ticking over to at least give us steerage if no ability to go across/against the current.

All ended well and, incredibly, my wife was willing to try sailing again!

After some to-ing and fro-ing, I managed to get the original engineer back and he established that the water intake was blocked (it must have been when it was serviced, but I am guessing the hose used to supply water overcame the blockage). Over another couple of months, we managed to establish that there was also a faulty thermostat (and gear lever) and by September the inboard was in theoretical working order. We took the boat to sea at the end of the month to prove everything was working ok, but we both found the experience nerve wracking. If it hadn’t been for the strong currents, it would not have been much of an issue, but I was very conscious of effectively being single-handed and not wanting to put my wife off sailing for life.


Channels and currents around North Wales and especially Anglesey mean that it is often not possible to anchor or sail out of a problem and most RNLI call outs in the area are for failed engines. A new or second hand inboard just wasn’t worth the cost, so I concluded that fitting an outboard would be the answer. I set about researching how to fit an outboard and which one would have sufficient power to push the boat against 5 knots of current. Asking on the forums proved some use, although one user was horrified at the prospect of me fitting an outboard to my boat. General advice was that I needed something like 10HP and that the transom of the Centaur is bordering on too weak to support this weight/power.

After some digging, I found an unlisted video on YouTube via an old Yachting Monthly forum post which showed a Centaur with a 6HP Tohatsu outboard being driven against a 5 knot current.

So, I had my plan: fit a lifting outboard bracket and find an ultra-long shaft Tohatsu saildrive outboard. I needed to strengthen the transom but I knew it was all doable. I asked the marina via their “Boatcare” service to organise someone to fit the bracket – although I gave up pursuing this as the engineer clearly didn’t want to do the work. I did speak to him a couple of times and was told the retaining bracket on the top bar of the aft pushpit would be sufficient with a “long shaft 3hp outboard”. There was no way the pushpit would take the strain, 3HP wouldn’t move the boat in a current and it would require something like a 5 foot shaft to reach the water, never mind preventing cavitation. The advice was not good.

In the meantime, Wales had returned to lockdown and it wasn’t possible to travel to the boat again.

By March I had found the outboard I wanted. It seemed to be the last of the model available in the country, although it transpired it was stuck on a container vessel in the mess around the blockage of the Suez. I also paid a 4% Brexit surcharge because of increased costs to import the engine. By April 2021 we were allowed back to the boat and I and a friend fitted the bracket. We cut 2 pieces of varnished marine ply – one for the exterior and one, the interior. Attached with stainless nuts and bolts and held with nylon packed nuts to prevent working loose under vibration when in use. Sealed both side with rubber sealing tape.

By May the outboard had arrived although I decided in the meantime that I wanted a little more strengthening of the transom as it did flex a little with pressure applied. With this in place we tested the outboard on a run out and it performed brilliantly, easily gave us 4 knots at half throttle and was much quieter than the inboard. It can also charge the electrics if need be. It is around 18 inches submerged with the bracket fully down and we haven’t experienced any cavitation even in a moderate sea. Touch wood so far, the bracket hasn’t allowed any water to leak through the hull. Although the bracket is lifting, the prop and end of shaft is still in the water when lifted and it will not fully tilt forward as it jams against the transom. I also found another use, by swapping to the little electric motor it’s akin to having a jet thruster on the stern but it’s a gimmick rather than genuinely useful. Having the outboard available gave us both so much more comfort and confidence and sailing has been a pleasure, rather than a nerve-wracking experience waiting for the inboard to splutter to a stop, leaving us at the mercy of strong currents and an unfavourable wind. Despite some objections some, it has greatly improved our sailing experience. It is difficult moving the outboard onto the bracket as it is so ungainly and I’m thinking of ways to make this easier. It doesn’t seem to affect the helm whether in or out. Having a moderately powerful outboard means we can use the tender in strong currents too. Since the first few times out, I have left the outboard on the pushpit and used the inboard. I know I can have the outboard fitted and started within 5 minutes. It is comforting to feel the one cylinder Volvo thumping away under the cockpit and it is, of course, much more powerful than the outboard.

This winter I plan to fit a bracket with longer reach so I can fully tilt the outboard and resolve the difficulty in moving the outboard from the bracket to the retain- ing mount on the pushpit. I don’t like having a petrol tank aboard and never store it inside or in a locker. These downsides are outweighed by the upsides.

Total cost was around £1,500 for outboard, bracket, tank etc. and it was time and money well spent for our peace of mind.