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Is Using the Engine ‘Cheating’?

A former CNN producer and self described cruising novice recently asked an interesting question in an online article:

“We are two years and 4,000 nautical miles into our dream of sailing around the world. For two novice sailors, it feels like quite an accomplishment — but, we have a confession: We haven’t covered that distance entirely by the power of wind alone. We have used the engine on our sailboat Boomerang a lot more than we anticipated. Despite this justification for our occasional diesel-guzzling, many times we’ve watched other boat owners sail on and off moorings and wondered if we have the right to even describe ourselves as sailors.

“Are we in some way ‘cheating’ in this time-honored means of travel?”

Kellie Pollock went on to describe the various definitions of “sailors,” and to distinguish the “rules.” Unless you’re trying to set a record, there is, of course, no hardened law against turning on your engine. Most sailors would likely consider the engine an essential part of safe cruising.

Sailing the new Latitude mothership Esprit toward China Camp (on a smoky day a few weeks ago), we recently discovered that singlehanded, sail-on-and-off anchoring is not that hard. While traveling into and out of the San Rafael Canal has, so far, always required the motor at some point, we try to sail whenever possible, even if it means going markedly slower than the motor-power would offer. (PS: There are now several Latitude motherships).

But with all of that said, we thought this was an interesting query to put to you, Latitude Nation. Are you a sailing “purist?” Do you avoid using the motor as much as possible? Do you sail into situations that would perhaps be safer with the motor on, but with your experience, you feel more than capable doing under sail?

We’d like to know. You can either comment on this story below, or email us here.


  1. Bob Mirabal 6 years ago

    Engine is for safety and when Sailing speed is below 4 knots and we have someplace to be. Sailing locally, out of LA Harbor, we always have the engine running when coming back past LA light. It’s just for safety as the commercial traffic is heavy and you never know when we will have to take evasive action.

  2. robert cleveland 6 years ago

    I’m typing from qld Australia
    I sailed out of the Berkeley yacht club in early 70’s
    Was a member of first America’s Cup using a multihull in 1988
    I try and usually sail off and on the mooring and anchor every time I don’t have luxury over here with a Marina Slip
    Yes I sail in difficult and very difficult situations when I have a motor although small petrol engine on my 720 Farrier trimaran
    I do it as practice and a challenge in case I’m ever using the motor and it quits etc.
    I started sailing 1964, have 100 Ton USCG Sailing endorsed license, USL Master Class 5 license,and Ocean YachtMaster license.
    Sailing is not using your Engine read ColRegs, just my opinion
    Robbie Cleveland
    S/V Kialani
    Qld Australia

  3. Shelly 6 years ago

    I think being able to sail up to a mooring, long dock and most importantly in or out of a slip is something ALL sailors should learn and practice on a regular basis. You never know when your engine will fail and having these skills under your belt is something we all should be capable of doing single handed or assisted. You can start your engine in case you need to bail out of your attempt.

  4. svApsaras 6 years ago

    We “sailed” about 8000 miles from Seattle to Alaska and then down and through the Panama Canal albeit with the engine running about half the time. We turned it on when the speed dropped into the 5’s – especially if we were timing an overnight crossing. In the almost 2-years we were out, we went through about 1000 gallons of fuel for propulsion, electrical and heating/cooling. Cheap investment to enjoy the destinations fully, IMHO.

  5. Chris C 6 years ago

    The good news is that there aren’t really any rules outside of official events. Even commercial/Navy POWER vessel crews are considered sailors. Personally, I’ve preferred sailing over motoring whenever possible. I find I have more personal satisfaction and enjoyment doing things such as anchoring while under sail only. For world sailors, there’s no such thing as cheating. Often the satisfaction comes in the travel more than from the means of travel. Some will look down their noses at those who turn the key more often— oh well. The question for each of us is, What satisfies Me the most?

  6. John Tebbetts 6 years ago

    I enjoy sailing and rarely use the engine. But I have a small, handy, 33′ sloop. The engine is 12 HP and I carry 20 gals of fuel. I frequently sail on and off the hook, moorings, and the dock. With limited HP and a small folding prop I believe Ichi Ban handles better under sail than under power in most circumstances. This is a bit unusual these days, most cruising boats have a lot more HP relatively speaking. On my most recent passage (Fiji-New Zealand) I burned less than 1/3 of a gallon of diesel. This was not unusual. I’ve owned and cruised a number of boats that did not have engines. I used to be a purist, but no longer consider myself to be one. I use my engine when it suits me. Engines are convenient, and at times having and using one can greatly improve safety. This is especially true reducing exposure time in inhospitable waters. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using an engine to your heart’s content. That said, it’s nice knowing that you can manage your boat under sail if necessary. I urge beginners to learn in small boats and experiment under sail (carefully) with larger boats for this reason.
    John Tebbetts
    Ichi Ban
    Russell, New Zealand

  7. Carliane Johnson 6 years ago

    Two novice sailors who are two years and 4,000 nautical miles into their dream of sailing around the world should not be feeling stressed about what others think when they are under motor 😉 That said, sailing on and off a mooring or coming into a dock under sail are all great skills to learn.

  8. Private Sailor 6 years ago

    Congrats on a great trip – they shouldn’t worry about anything.

    My own experience?

    1) Sailing is very relaxing, if you can get rid of deadlines to be somewhere, floating for a bit can be nice.

    2) Motoring is fine. Try sailing away from a mooring. It’s fun to think it out in advance. Your first time you might have engine on in neutral or when their are few boats around. The next time you sail off – never turning the engine on – wonderful. That’s where I’d start. I used to sail in and out of my slip in marina – I loved the satisfaction, but NOT NEEDED (and boat was only 27′).

    3) Avoid arriving or departing to an anchorage at night if at all possible unless you’ve been there many times before. I never enjoyed a night time arrival. And wear a life jacket on deck when sailing especially if it is blowing. I know it seems lame, but your comfort level = increased happiness. I see lots of people being macho there and don’t get it, especially when sailing solo. I did some boat delivery work – I always had my jacket on on deck.

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