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Keeping Your Blades in the Water with Antique Maritime Propellers

The screw propeller is one of the most important maritime inventions since the rudder. Over the years, it has become the most common method for propelling boats in the world.

How Do Propellers Work?

The basics of boat propellers are very easy to understand, they are among the less complicated parts on a boat. As they rotate, they push water backwards, causing the boat to move forwards. One reason why they were not introduced earlier was that they required either an outboard motor, or a hole through the hull for the propeller shaft. There are three factors to consider:

  • Materials: most modern props are made of stainless steel or aluminum, though many vintage propellers were made of bronze. The advantage of vintage bronze was that it does not corrode, making it popular before stainless steel and aluminum were readily available. For modern props, aluminum is generally lighter but steel lasts longer and offers more performance.
  • Blade Count: Most boat propellers offer either three or four blades. Three blade propellers offer higher top speed due to less drag, but four blade props give more acceleration and better performance in shallow or aerated water because they always have at least half the prop in the water.
  • Pitch: Pitch refers to the angle of the blade and measures in terms of how far the blade would travel in one revolution if it were a drill. It's like the marine equivalent of a final drive ratio, the higher the pitch the lower the acceleration but higher the top speed.

What About Vintage or Antique Props?

While modern propellers are useful for modern boats, there are a few reasons why people would need to look for vintage propellers:

  • Restoration: Anyone restoring a classic boat is going to want to use classic boat parts. Getting the right parts for your vintage wooden boat may not be limited to the propeller, but it certainly includes it. Part of it is getting a faithful restoration, another is that the boat performance depends in large part on the prop, and the ideal way to ensure original performance is to use the original prop.
  • Decoration: Antique boat parts don't always end up on boats. Some people like to use them as decorations, hanging them on the wall or making them the centrepiece of a room.

Boat Restoration

When it comes to restoring a wood boat, whether it has an inboard or outboard motor, modern propellers from companies like Solas, Mercury, and Yamaha are less important than making sure you have the right one for you. The wrong prop can be detrimental on your boat's performance characteristics, putting loads on the engine that it simply wasn't designed for. Going with the right propeller for your vintage craft is an easy way to keep its handling just where you want it.