The Engine as a Safety Device

Update - Capt Richard J Rodriguez checked in and commented on this post. A man who doesn't mince words.

WTF indeed,

Most sailboats don't require an engine. Many sailors do.

I have mention many times before how frustrating it can be talking about sailing in an engine world. To often the debate turns to safety. As if this is the trump card that proves all sailboats "need" engines. Anecdotally this idea has never seemed to bear fruit for me. Many of the cruising book that I have read talk about a major engine failure in some far away port and the hassles of getting it fixed. Many talk about tossing the bloody thing right over the side and being rid of. In my local cruising area, the San Juan Islands, on any given weekend summer day you hear a couple of vessel assist call dealing with an engine failure. Many from sailboats on beautiful, windy days.

Capt Richard J Rodriguez in his blog BitterEnd had a post from the July 4th week in 2007 that added some numbers to my anecdotal experience. Capt Rodriguez is a rescue tug operator that answers Vessel Assist call in the San Juan Islands. Here is an excerpt from his blog.
Here are the top five reasons why over 3,500 boaters have been helped by TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist this week:
  1. General engine failure: 57% of cases
  2. Battery jumps / electrical: 15% of cases
  3. Out of fuel or fuel problems: 10% of cases
  4. Soft Grounding: 10% of cases
  5. Outdrive / Overheating: 8% of cases
Now the math in this confuses me a bit as he calls these reasons the top 5 but his percentages add up to 100%. In any case this would indicated that a major source of business for Vessel Assist is engine failure or complications of the engine system.


What kind of marketing hype could possibly convince the general public that engines are a safety device in sailboats? How can a device that actually requires you to be rescued be considered a safety device?

Here is the rest of Capt Rodriguez's post
These give more reason to keep a regular engine maintenance plan similar to your car, obtain and know your current charts and never trust your gauges 100%. Did you know that an average on-the-water tow can cost up to $200/per hr? The clock starts ticking from the time the towboat leaves his port and returns home. If it takes a total of three hours, your bill is $600. If you have a soft ungrounding, it may be over $900. With a basic BoatUS Membership we will pay the first $50 which leaves you with $550+ to pay. That's why we recommend upgrading to a higher level. BoatUS offers the largest nationwide fleet with over 500 towboats and 280 ports. We will help you with anything from soft ungroundings to fuel delivery. Please visit to see what service level is best for you
Kind of an add for BoatUS towing service. But what I liked was one of the comments on this post from his blog.
I agree. Much cheaper to buy insurance than constant worrying about a 20 year old power plant. I have spent hundreds of dollars improving my motor's reliability but you never know where that deadhead will be or when you will suck up a piece of plastic in your cooling intakes! I feel alot better knowing I have a backup plan other than the coast guard or fellow boaters.
So let's see if I have this straight. A sailboat must have an engine for safety sake. But an engine can be unreliable at unexpected times. Therefore get towing insurance to cover the ass of your safety device.

I have posted this video before

But I think it should be a constant reminder of the risk of putting the safety of your boat and your lives on an engine alone.