What size trolling motor do I need for my boat?

The right size trolling motor can be difficult to determine because size can imply a few different parameters including motor thrust and motor shaft length. You need to factor in different variables depending on your usage of your boat to determine the best size trolling motor for your boat.

How do you use your trolling motor?

First, let’s narrow down your options by figuring out how you use your boat. They call it a trolling motor, but do you use your motor to troll, or are you mostly stationary?

Most people who fish for trout, salmon or kokanee (salmon), predominantly troll in lines or patterns. For this type of fishing, trolling, you need a motor that can move your boat throughout the day at catching speed and keep your pattern going with ease.

Other fishermen target fish like bass and walleye by moving the boat in small steps, from spot to spot very slowly. At each spot, they might cast a crankbait, or a jig and work it. Then reel it back to the boat in a casting pattern. After they have covered that spot casting, they move the boat to the next spot.

In this type of fishing your motor is more about finesse and subtle control than high power. Additionally, easy to deploy and stow might be a top feature because you will be stowing your motor

Bow or stern mount

Now that we have talked about how you use your boat, you can about the type of motor you need. Electric motors come in three main types bow-mounted, stern-mounted, and engine mounted.

Bow mounted motors pull you through the water from the front of your boat. There are a few main advantages to bow mount motors most notably control and the ability to maneuver your boat in almost any direction.

Another advantage would be the long list of high-end options, including autopilot, built-in sonar, optional foot controls, and auto-deploy (on Minn kota). There are a few notable disadvantages to a bow mount motor like the amount of deck space it takes to stow it and all of the wiring required. Additionally, something not much talked about in the industry is that bow mount motors are power-hungry.

Stern mount motors, like gas trolling motors, push your boat through the water from the back of your boat. The main advantage of this is the simplicity of operation and installation. Smaller stern mount motors clamp on to the back of your boat in minutes are simple to attach to your battery.

If you are using a smaller boat, or are fishing on a gas-free lake, a small electric motor could be your only option. The biggest disadvantage of a stern mount motor is the lack of high-end options.

Engine mount electric motors push your boat in the same way as a stern mount motor. The electric motors’ bolt to the top of your main motor’s cavitation plate (or outdrive’s cavitation plate) resulting in controlling your boat’s direction with your main steering.

The engine mount motors were originally recommended and designed for inboard/outboard type boats. There is not a good location to mount a trolling motor on the stern of these types of boats, so bolting the motors to the top of the outdrive is a great option. Also, these motors are not made in smaller sizes, which can run up the cost. Even so, you benefit in more power for the larger size of these style boats.

Check out this article on my site with more details about bow and stern mount electric motors.

Bass fisherman

Bass fishermen

I want to cover bass fishermen and motor selection. Almost every bass fisherman is going to want a bow mount electric trolling motor.

As I mentioned previously in this article, bass fishermen don’t need constant power; they need finesse. Along with finesse, they also need a motor that offers optional hands-free controls, like a foot pedal.

I still prefer saltwater motors, and electric-steer motors are the best.

Check out this article on my site about the best all-around motor for your bass boat

Freshwater or saltwater

Most motors these days are made in a fresh or saltwater version, with the saltwater version being 20 to 30% more expensive. It is important to make sure you get the right version because it can cost you if you don’t.

Saltwater motors like the Minnkota Riptide series are built for saltwater. The Riptide series is corrosion-resistant and has a large saltwater anode on the propeller shaft.

If you fish on a lake or live nowhere near a body of salt water, then this should be an easy question to answer. Also, most of the specialized bass motors, like the new Garmin Force, are only available in freshwater versions.

However, in my opinion, I would only buy a saltwater motor because saltwater or not, they are built with better parts and it is one less thing to worry about.

Water conditions

Your fishing environment can be a big factor in selecting your motor’s thrust and shaft length. If you are fishing in shallow water, you need to have a short length motor shaft or a wide range of adjustment.

In deep water, you can use a longer length motor shaft, as long as you meet the minimum depth. Most motor manufacturers recommend that your motor’s drive unit be submerged at least twelve inches.

If you are in rough water conditions, such as river traffic waves or wind waves, most manufactures recommend five additional inches of water. I have years of experience in rough bay water, and I don’t agree with five inches. I recommend nines additional inches of water at a minimum.

The reason for my recommendation is simple. As your boat bounces in the waves, your motor will pop out of the water, resulting in loss of control. Remember, you will need to be aware of objects in the water like logs or grass.

If you fish in small lakes or ponds, where the water is relatively calm most of the time, the standard twelve inches should be fine. If you decide to fish somewhere else, you may need the extra depth.

Height of your boat

Measuring the height of your boat is crucial to getting the correct length shaft for your motor.

To get a good measurement, you need to put your boat in the water, but don’t forget your gear. The amount of gear and people you have in your boat affects how high it sits in the water.

If you plan to fish in mostly shallow water, load your boat to a maximum fishing weight load including gear and people. This will push the boat to the lowest position in the water and help prevent your motor from being too deep.

When running your boat in deep water, you’ll do the exact opposite. Load your boat with the minimum fishing weight load, including gear and a person. Your boat will ride high in the water, and then you can measure the height to get the proper length of the motor shaft.

After your boat is properly loaded, take it to a calm boat ramp and put it in the water. Place a stick in your mounting location, and measure from the bottom of the stick to the water.

Motor shaft length

We have talked about factors to adjust when deciding your motor shaft length. Additionally, we have covered tips for getting a good measurement on your boat. Now it’s time to put it all together and pick a shaft length.

This is a bow mount trolling motor shaft length formula.

height x 1.5 + depth in water = shaft length

When you use this formula, height is the measurement you took from the mounting location to the water. Depth in the water is the standard twelve inches plus the allowance for water conditions.

boat height from waterminimum shaft length
16″36
22″45
28″54
34″63
40″72

One more factor that you will need to consider is how much space will your motor needs to stow. Add five inches to the length of the motor shaft and measure out your installation location to make sure your shaft is not too long.

Transom mount trolling motors are much easier to deal with. Most electric trolling motors have some form of adjustment, like a depth collar. A depth collar works out perfectly for a transom mount motor.

If you go with the longest shaft you can buy, then adjust the depth so that the power unit is just under the boat. You will get a good bite with the propeller and be able to use the control handle without stress.

You can follow this link to the Minn kota website for their shaft sizing guide.

When looking at an electric trolling motor, the shaft length is the measurement from under the control head, to the power unit (propeller housing).

Weight of your boat

When choosing the proper size electric trolling motor, one of the most important factors is the weight of your boat. The weight of your boat includes everything in your boat; your fishing gear, fuel, yourself, your buddies, and your cooler.

If you buy a new boat, it will come with a manual that tells you the dry weight of the boat. From there you can look up the dry weight of your motors and add the fuel weight.

Grab your tackle box and your fishing poles, and jump on the bathroom scale. Add that weight to the list. Next, add around 200 pounds per person for your fishing buddies.

Here is the big thing that everybody misses: you have to include the weight of your electric trolling motor and batteries. As a basic formula, I add 70 pounds for the motor and 140 pounds for the batteries. Every system is different, but this is a safe starting point.

For more information on motor and battery weights, click here to read my article.

Now that you have a total weight, you can select a minimum thrust requirement for your electric trolling motor. Keep in mind that you will also want to meet the minimum requirements for the size (or length) of your boat.

Each manufacturer recommends a bit different amount of thrust by weight, ranging from 2 to 2.5 pounds thrust per 100 pounds of total weight. If you use 2 pounds thrust per 100 pounds weight, you will have a good minimum thrust rating by weight.

This is a minimum thrust rating by weight formula.

Total weight / 50 = minimum motor thrust by weight

Total weightminimum thrust
200040
300060
400080

Length of your boat

Boat length might be the easiest topic to discuss. If you don’t know your boat length, most states register boats by length for their fee structure, so take a look at your registration.

You will need to take that length and round it up to the nearest foot, to correctly calculate your minimum motor thrust by length, and round thrust up.

This is a minimum thrust rating by length formula.

(length-10) x 6.4 + 10 = minimum motor thrust by length

boat lengthminimum thrust
1435.6 (36)
1862.2 (63)
2074
2286.8 (87)

Power consumption

Last but not least, power consumption can be a big factor when fishing with larger boats.

You should consider adding extra battery weight to your calculation if you fish long days in a large boat. I run four batteries on a 24-volt system to get through my fishing day.

Click here to read our review of Trolling Motor Batteries

Conclusion

“What size trolling motor do I need for my boat?” is a question with many variables to consider. Go through each variable and get the minimum size or thrust, then look at your options from your preferred manufacturer.

My advice to you is always to buy the next size bigger than you think you’ll need, as long as it fits on your boat. It can cost a lot to replace a motor simply because you bought one size too small.