Trolling motors range from simple hand-controlled models to more advanced ones, equipped with GPS, wireless controls, and integrated with fish finders.
If you’re in the market for a trolling motor, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before making your purchase.
This guide will cover the different types of trolling motors available, as well as their respective pros and cons. We’ll also touch on some of the other factors you’ll need to keep in mind, such as boat type, size and your budget.
By the end, you should have a good idea of which trolling motor is right for you.
Let’s get started.
What Is Your Boat?
The first thing you need to consider when purchasing a trolling motor is the type of your boat.
While there are a few different types of trolling motors on the market, kayak trolling motors tend to be more lightweight than those designed for larger boats. Kayaks need a trolling motor that can provide enough power to move it through the water without being too heavy or bulky to maneuver.
The exact size and weight of your kayak will play a role in determining how much power you need, as well as the type of water that you plan on using the trolling motor in. If you are only going to be using the trolling motor in calm waters, you won’t need as much power as someone who plans on using their kayak in rougher waters.
Pontoon boats tend to be wider and heavier than other types of boats.
They require substantial thrust to move through the water, especially in windy conditions or in locations with significant currents.
Trolling motors for pontoons have to be powerful enough to move the boat through the water with ease.
Center Console Boats
A center console boat is a type of boat that typically has a wide, open deck layout, with the captain’s chair or “console” in the center of the vessel.
A trolling motor for center console should be powerful enough to handle the weight and size of the boat, as well as any currents or waves you may encounter while out on the water.
As their bow tends to be higher than on other types of boats, a long shaft trolling motor is often a must.
Bow Mount or Transom Mount?
Depending on the type, trolling motors can be mounted on your boat’s bow, transom, or engine.
Bow mount trolling motors are especially useful if you fish on the foredeck of your boat. One of the advantages is that they are straightforward to operate, as you can steer the bow of your boat very precisely. They also often come with more sophisticated features and controls, such as GPS or wireless steering.
The drawback is that they are a bit more difficult to install than transom motors, as they require a horizontal surface at the front of your boat to be fixed. They also tend to be relatively expensive.
Transom mount trolling motors are very easy to install, usually less expensive, and that’s what makes them very popular among smaller boat, dinghy, and canoe owners. You attach the trolling motor to the boat’s transom using dual clamps, next to your outboard motor or instead of one, and that’s it! You’re good to go.
Engine mount trolling motors are fixed to the cavitation plate of outboard motors. You don’t have to stow or deploy them. They are remotely controlled and steer together with the outboard. The main advantage of this position is that it requires less space. Smaller boats may not have enough room to fix a trolling motor on the bow or transom.
Steering: Electric, Cable or Hand?
There are four ways you can steer a trolling motor:
These models offer more control options, such as using wireless remote and GPS positioning that help you get where you want to be and focus on fishing.
The downside of electric-steer motors is that it tends to be more expensive than cable or hand steering.
These motors are steered using a cable that is attached to the foot pedal. This type of steering is more precise and responsive than electric, as there is a direct link between your foot and the trolling motor.
Another advantage of cable-steer motors is that they are simple. With less electronics, there is less to go wrong.
The downsides – you usually won’t have GPS anchor and other advanced features.
The best of both worlds – you get the responsiveness of cable steering with the convenience of electric. You can also use GPS anchor lock and other features that are usually only available on electric models.
Examples of hybrid-steer motors include the Minn Kota Ultrex and MotorGuide Tour Pro.
These models use a tiller handle for direct control, like traditional outboards. Hand steering is the most responsive type, but it can be tiring to use for long periods of time.
Hand-steering trolling motors are much less expensive than other motor styles.
Freshwater or Saltwater Trolling Motor?
Freshwater trolling motors are designed for use in freshwater lakes and rivers. They tend to be less powerful than saltwater trolling motors, as they don’t need to be able to handle the same type of waves and currents. At the same time, they often have more options of built-in sonars, including down and side imaging.
Saltwater trolling motors are designed to be used in saltwater environments such as the ocean and estuaries. They are made of corrosion-resistant materials to withstand the harsh saltwater environment.
For example, Minn Kota and Motorguide saltwater motors are built with premium-grade alloys, coated with zinc, and painted with corrosion-resistant polyester paint. Each saltwater model comes with a sacrificial anode fixed to the prop.
If you’re planning on using your trolling motor in both saltwater and freshwater, it’s important to choose a motor that is designed for both environments. That way, you won’t have to worry about damaging your motor or warranty.
Each trolling motor description should state clearly whether you can use it in saltwater.
It is important to note that if you use a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater, it will often void your warranty.
How Much Thrust is Enough?
Thrust is the most important thing to consider when buying a trolling motor because it tells you if it is powerful enough to push your boat at the right speed. It is measured in pounds (lbs) and gives you a rough idea of the motor’s performance. If your boat is heavy, you will need more thrust to move to get it moving.
How to calculate how much thrust you need?
Boat weight is the single most important factor here. A generally agreed rule is that for every 100 lbs, you will need at least 2 lbs of thrust. For example, if your boat weighs 4000 lbs, fully loaded, you want 4000/100 * 2 lbs = 80 lbs of thrust for your trolling motor.
Water conditions, where and how you use your motor should also impact your decision. You need relatively little thrust on flat lakes, where the above-calculated minimum thrust will be just fine. If you tend to fish in areas with fast currents and significant waves, you should pick a higher thrust and more powerful trolling motor, which will perform well in adverse conditions.
For more information, check our thrust guide.
Motor Voltage: 12V, 24V or 36V?
While 12V trolling motors are usually the cheaper option, they offer less thrust than their 24V or 36V counterparts. Higher voltage systems tend to be more powerful and more efficient due to the lower current flowing through the cables at the same power output. This leads to less energy being wasted as heat.
Another thing to consider is the number of batteries. A 12V trolling motor requires just one 12V battery. For 24V and 36V systems, you will need to connect 2 or 3 batteries in series. More batteries of the same size mean more capacity and more range available.
As a rule of thumb, trolling motors with 55 lbs of thrust or less operate on 12 volts (single battery), those with 68-100 lbs of thrust run on 24 volts (two batteries), and those above 100 lbs of thrust require 36 volts in total (three batteries).
What Battery Size to Choose?
Battery capacity is measured in Ampere hours or Ah and current draw in amperes (amps). If your battery has 100Ah capacity and your motor draws 20 amps of current, then you can calculate its run time by dividing 100/20 = 5 hours.
However, this is only a theoretical number because depending on the type of battery you use, you will never want to deplete it to 0% of capacity. For example, if you have a standard lead-acid battery, you should really only use 50-70% of its Ah capacity if you want to keep it in good shape.
The current draw of your motor depends on the speed you set it to and how heavy your boat is. If you use your trolling motor at lower speeds, you will have a significantly lower current draw and much longer run time.
Weather and water conditions will also affect how long your motor will run. It is harder to push a boat against the current, choppy waters, or into the wind, which means a higher current draw and shorter run time.
Trolling Motor Lithium Batteries
If you are looking for the best possible performance and longest run time, then lithium batteries are the way to go. They are much lighter than lead-acid batteries, can be discharged to 100% without damaging them, and will give you about 2-3 times more power than traditional marine batteries.
The only downside of lithium batteries is that they cost about 2-3 times more than lead-acid batteries. But if you are serious about fishing and want the best possible performance from your trolling motor, then they are definitely worth the investment.
What Shaft Length to Choose?
Selecting the right shaft of your trolling motor is absolutely vital. The shaft must be long enough for the propeller to stay submerged at least 16″ below the water line regardless of water and weather conditions.
You don’t want the propeller to get out of water in choppy waters or/and sucking in air from above the waterline when it is not deep enough. It will cause noise, loss of power and can shorten the life of your motor.
What Features Are Important?
Here is a quick overview of the most popular features found on trolling motors today:
Variable Speed Controller
A variable-speed motor has a smooth power delivery in forward and reverse. These motors draw less power than those without them, especially at lower speeds. No energy is wasted, and you get more run time off your battery.
Autopilot allows your trolling motor to steer on its own in the set direction. It uses a compass to keep a steady heading and can be used in many ways, for example, trolling along a shoreline, a ledge, or shelf.
GPS trolling motors let you steer, control speed, lock onto fishing spots, and more just by pressing a button on the remote. It is usually available as a standard on premium models and as an option on others. Examples include Minn Kota’s i-Pilot or MotorGuide’s PinPoint GPS.
Fish Finder Integration
High-end trolling motors let you control your trolling motor’s steering and speed directly from your fish finder screen. You can spot-lock, go to your fish finder’s waypoints and even automatically follow depth contours.
Sonars and Transducers
Premium motors have built-in transducers that send images to your fish finder. They are fully integrated with the lower motor section, which means there are no additional cables or connectors involved.
All manufacturers use various designs to make stowing and deploying their motors as easy as possible. Some use a spring-loaded mechanism. Others have a stainless steel gas spring which makes lifting your motor much easier and safer.
Auto Stow and Deploy
Some trolling motors, such as the Minn Kota Ulterra, went one step further. Instead of a lift-assist mechanism, they offer a 100% automatic stow, deploy and trim system for your motor. All you need to do is to press a button on your remote or the foot pedal. Easy.
This feature protects your trolling motor in case you accidentally hit something. The breakaway mount will release the trolling motor from its bracket and let it swing up and away, thus preventing any damage to the motor or shaft.
What Are the Top Brands?
There are currently tens of companies specializing in trolling motors.
Minn Kota is often credited with inventing an electric trolling motor and has been manufacturing them since 1934! Their motor range is the most diverse, offering bow mount, transom mount, and engine mount motors with saltwater versions available.
MotorGuide is another big name with over 50 years of innovations related to trolling motors and accessories.
Lowrance and Garmin are relative newcomers to the trolling motor market. Their models are expensive but are very well designed and built. It’s not surprising as both of them have been involved in making fish finders and marine electronics for years.
Haswing is a Chinese brand that makes powerful and budget-friendly motors. They typically don’t come with sophisticated navigation and software features.
Newport Vessels specialize in hand-controlled trolling motors, which are very attractively priced.
There is a lot to consider when choosing the right trolling motor for your needs. We hope that this guide has given you a good overview of the most important factors to keep in mind.
Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask for help from experts before making your final decision.
Does more thrust mean more speed?
Not necessarily. Thrust is all about pulling power, not speed. That’s what trolling motors are designed for. You need a high thrust trolling motor to move a large boat at a reasonable speed (3-4mph) or keep it in a fixed position. However, if you want to go fast, you will have to use a much more powerful outboard or inboard engine.
Do trolling motors have reverse?
Most of them do, besides the smallest the simplest usually hand-controlled models.
Do trolling motors come with batteries?
Usually, they don’t, although some dealers can offer the whole package that includes the motor, batteries, and wiring.