Picking the Perfect Pontoon Boat Propeller

Updated on January 20, 2017
Pontoon boats, because of their high profile and vulnerability to wind, favor props that provide power and control over speed.
Pontoon boats, because of their high profile and vulnerability to wind, favor props that provide power and control over speed. | Source

Picking the Right Propeller

Choosing the best propeller for your pontoon boat is not an exact science. If you don’t have the luxury of field-testing a variety of propellers, you will probably want to stick with the manufacturer’s original propeller style. Here is a list of the factors with which you can choose the best propeller for your pontoon-style boat that will help you do what you want to do with it.

Labeling

Manufacturers label propellers by the diameter and then the pitch of the prop. These are the only standard marks provided on all propellers; other labeling is determined by the manufacturer. A “13 x 16” propeller has a 13-inch diameter and 16-inch pitch, Your engine's manual will provide you with prop recommendations for your boat. Tweaking your boat’s propeller should begin from the manufacturer’s standard recommended prop.

Materials

Aluminum propellers are the most common type used for pontoon boats. Stainless steel propellers are stronger, stiffer, and more efficient, and they may give you more satisfaction, but they do cost more. Older composite or plastic blades are useful as replacement props in an emergency, but I don't recommend them for everyday use. Now some of the newer composite props from manufacturers like Pirana have begun to show performance numbers and durability equal to or better than their metal cousins. Prices vary, but the prop's construction material is the primary factor that determines the cost of all boat propellers.

RPM’s

Check your manual and find out what the recommended RPM (rotation per minute) range of your engine is at full throttle. Usually, this is between 800 and 1000 RPM’s. When you select a prop, check first to see that the propeller operates within its rated RPMs with the throttle fully open in a straight line. If the prop makes the boat go slower or faster than this range, it isn’t right and you need to adjust one of the factors below.

Diameter

The diameter or width of the blade is a critical factor. An overly large blade can overtax a small engine and make it run slower, while a blade that's too small can cause the engine to spin too fast and damage it. The weight, size, and the normal cruising speed of your boat determines the diameter range that is ideal for your boat.

Pitch

The pitch is the angle of the blades. The number assigned to the pitch refers to the theoretical distance a specifically angled propeller will push forward through the water per rotation. A 24-pitch prop will ideally push 24 inches through the water in one revolution of the blade. In practice, slippage makes it a bit less than that. Lowering the pitch of the prop gives the boat more power and better acceleration. A higher pitch makes the boat go faster at the top end, but needs more power to run within a safe RPM operating range. If your full throttle test shows the RPMs are too high, then you need more pitch. Therefore, if your RPMs are too low at full throttle, it means you need less pitch. Experiment by trying the next larger or smaller pitch and testing again. A one inch pitch decrease will generally increase RPMs by 250 turns a minute. A one inch pitch increase will decrease RPMs by 250 RPMs.

Number of Blades

For practical purposes, three- and four-blade props can be used interchangeably with most boats. It's a matter or preference more than anything. The four-blade propeller, however, gives slightly more control at low speeds than the three-blade does at the same pitch. This is useful for steering a pontoon boat, which has a large profile. Surface winds can blow the boat around when docking or negotiating narrow spaces. A four-bladed prop helps provide you the control you need to safely dock in a breeze. You can also get the same level of control with a larger diameter three-bladed prop at lower pitch, but you’ll lose some speed on your top end.

Blade Thickness

Individual blade design determines how thick the blades are. The rule of thumb is this: the thinner the blade, the less drag and the more efficient the blade. However, if you will be traveling in water with obstructions and obstacles, you may want to choose a prop with thicker blades for added strength.

Cupping

Cupping is the curl at the trailing edge of the propeller used to give the prop a better grip on the water. Remember that if you increase or decrease the pitch of the prop you select, then you should also consider whether the cupping changes as well. More cupping increases the propeller’s grab and increases stress on the engine, reducing RPMs. Less cupping will increase RPMs.

Slip

Slip is the difference between the theoretical movement of the prop through the water at the rated pitch and the actual performance. Typical propellers have a rated slippage of 10 to 30 percent. Slip numbers will impact pitch numbers. A 24-pitch prop with a 30 percent slip rating equals an actual performance of 16.8 inches per revolution. A 22-pitch prop with only 10 percent slip numbers equals a 19.8, making the 22 pitch prop faster than the 24-pitch.

Rake

Rake is the angle by which the propeller blade leans aft from the hub. Higher rake angles help high-performance boats reduce the loss of power due to air being pulled down from the surface between the turning blades. Lower-speed boats like pontoons use a lower rake-angle blade for better bite.

Questions & Answers

  • I have a 24ft. pontoon with 115hp 2-stroke. What’s the best prop size for the best gas mileage?

    There's no way for me to answer your question about your boat. You have to spend a little time and effort to determine which propeller will perform the best for your boat.

    You need to do three things to answer this question: (1) Read the article and make notes so you understand what the guy at the boat parts place is talking about. (2) Read the part of your boat's manual which tells you about your motor's rating, the recommended propeller diameter, pitch, and slip. And (3) visit the parts store and tell the parts guy whether you are looking for more speed, more torque, more durability, or more maneuverability.

    Those four factors and what you learn from your boat's manual will help you and the parts guy determine the diameter of the prop, the pitch, and the effect of slippage of any given prop.

  • I have a 1996 Yamaha T50 pontoon series on a 20ft Bennington. What is the best pitch? And, can I use a 4 blade instead of 3?

    It depends on whether they make a 4 blade prop that fits your particular boat. Read the article above and do the steps. Decide what you want, speed or torque. If you're carrying a lot of weight or trying to pull skiers, you'll want a prop that will pull a load. If you want to buzz about at high speed choose a pitch that gets you that. The "best" pitch is the pitch that helps your boat best do what you want it to.

  • For my 18-foot pontoon with 60hp Mariner, is there a best all-around propeller?

    Pick something between high torque and high speed. It's strictly up to you as to how you want it to feel out on the water.

  • I have a 1995 Mariner 60hp with an 18-foot pontoon boat. What propeller do I want?

    You want the propeller that best does what you do most. If you pull skiers, you likely want more torque so they pop out of the water. If you're all about the speed, then go for one that gives you speed.

  • I have a 115 e-tech on a 20 ft Sylvan pontoon. What propeller do I need?

    It depends whether you're going for power or speed. Decide that first and then follow the instructions laid out in the article to determine the pitch of your prop. Your local marina guys can probably help you or the boat dealer you buy your props from. Do the tests recommended above so that you'll go in with a better understanding of what you want.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Old Dad 

      12 months ago

      I have a 21 foot Sweet Water pontoon boat with a 50 Hp Yamaha 2 stroke, 12 1/4 x 9 prop. At full throttle it operates at 4,200 rpm and about 21 mph with 2 persons aboard. Is this normal or should the rpm be higher.

    • profile image

      OldTimer 

      13 months ago

      I have a 2003 Bennington 207 SIC. Lifting strakes and larger logs with a 90 hp Merc. Very interested in the pontoon water glide experience or if anyone is willing to part with.

    • profile image

      twayneking 

      2 years ago

      Read the article as a starting point, then take what you have learned to a marina and talk about it with the technicians. They can probably take what you tell them and make recommendations as to how best to solve your problem.

    • profile image

      Keith 

      2 years ago

      Hi have a 24 ' TMC Pontoon with a 70 HP Evinrude 2 Stroke 3 Cylinder motor . I am looking for the right size prop. Does anyone have a good idea ?

    • profile image

      pondboy 

      4 years ago

      My 24 Toon we just installed a water Glide and now cant find the right prop and the glide people are not much help after its installed as it seems you just have to spend a lot on props to experience the a lot of hooey and hype about the glide. Putting it on E bay and leaving boat stock as the manufacture made it..

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 

      5 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Good hub. Most people don't understand the nuances of prop design, such as cupping, slip, and rake. Your write up was interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • twayneking profile imageAUTHOR

      twayneking 

      6 years ago from Puyallup, WA

      The starting point is the prop you've got. Test it on the water and figure out what's off. First check the max rpms for which the engine is rated in the manual. Then do the full throttle test described to see whether the full out rpms are too high or low. Too high, increase the blade diameter or increase the blade pitch. Too low? Try a smaller prop or reduce the blade pitch to increase the rpms. Talk to other owners of your boat and engine and find out what other factors impact performance with your boat and engine. Try adjusting the rake of the propellor or change the composition of the blade. It's not an exact science. There is lots of tweaking involved to get a boat to do what you want it to. - Tom

    • profile image

      eric.d 

      6 years ago

      I have a 21' pontoon that now has a 3 blade 14x11 with a 115 mercury prop doesn t seem right . I have not been out much yet and am looking for a starting point or advise for right prop

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