Bow thrusters and back-up cameras: what do they have in common? They both reduce the possibility of hitting something you don’t want to hit, and they take much of the anxiety out of close quarters maneuvering. Most would never buy a vehicle that didn’t have the back-up camera, and likewise it is becoming almost standard now to have thrusters on boats, even as small as the mid-20-foot length.
A thruster is especially useful on boats with a single engine. Some boats even have stern thrusters. Here are a couple of photos of what a bow thruster installation looks like on new Beneteau sailboats. One type is the more common tunnel thruster, where a tube is glassed into the hull with a small electrically powered propeller inside the tube. The other type is beginning to be found on some of the larger boats, it retracts into the hull when not in use.
The retractable can be mounted further forward for more leverage in turning, and it seems to be a bit more efficient in the open water without the tube. These photos are of a Beneteau Oceanis 38.1 (tunnel) and Beneteau Oceanis 40.1 (retractable). Either is of considerable help in turning the bow of a vessel to the side when the vessel’s engine and rudder are not sufficient in moving the boat on their own. Cross current and cross wind can make it tough to dock or pull off a wall, or turn in a tight spot. A thruster is one of those things that once you have it, you’ll never want to go back.