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Why does your outboard boat pull hard to the right (or left) and won’t track straight?

Here are 7 tests to learn why your boat won’t track straight, either because it pulls right or left. We have also gathered solutions and tutorials for you to fix this issue.

When you are out boating, you probably want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.  One thing that can ruin the journey is a boat pulling to the right or left and not tracking straight in the water.  Let’s talk about why your outboard does that and how you can fix it!

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Basic tests

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These tests are basic checks to see if nothing has been forgotten. We start with the most basic tests first, the ones that won't really cost anything and might tell you why your boat won’t track straight.
Test 
1

Is the weight evenly distributed on your boat?

The best way to check for weight imbalance is to check if your boat sits flat on the water.
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
Even a slight weight imbalance can cause your boat to pull to the left or to the right due to the water friction being uneven between each side of your boat.
Even a slight weight imbalance can cause your boat to pull to the left or to the right due to the water friction being uneven between each side of your boat.
Need further testing
Test 
2

Is the propeller in good condition?

You would probably notice if you hit something with your boat…. But on the off chance that you didn’t: lift the engine up and check the propeller to make sure it isn’t damaged.
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
Even small dents on a propeller can cause a boat not to track straight. Any imperfection will theoretically affect the “grip” that the propeller has on water. Not fixing this issue will affect your gearbox later.
Even small dents on a propeller can cause a boat not to track straight. Any imperfection will theoretically affect the “grip” that the propeller has on water. Not fixing this issue will affect your gearbox later.
Need further testing
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Engine tests

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Your engine can also be the reason why your boat won’t track straight. For example, you need to check if it is mounted correctly along the centerline or if your engine’s skeg is in good condition.
Test 
3

Is the engine mounted on the centerline of the boat?

There are two ways to check that. First, you can measure the distance between each side of your boat to your engine. Second, many boats have a centerline marker and many engines have that as well. So, check your boat and engine manual for where these markers are and make sure they are aligned.
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
Either your engine was not installed properly or the engine mounting system is worn out. As a result, the engine is pushing water more to one side.
Either your engine was not installed properly or the engine mounting system is worn out. As a result, the engine is pushing water more to one side.
Need further testing
Test 
4

Is the engine skeg undamaged and straight?

The skeg is the “fin” part of the engine located just below the prop, it is what keeps the boat stable and going straight when moving through water. To check if your engine’s sekg is damaged, pull up your manual to find an image of your engine, or simply use Google. Then compare that image with your engine, are they the same?
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
If your skeg is bent or broken, it no longer has a symmetrical shape, therefore creating uneven pressure on each side of the skeg as water passes near it (resulting in your boat pulling to the right or left).
If your skeg is bent or broken, it no longer has a symmetrical shape, therefore creating uneven pressure on each side of the skeg as water passes near it (resulting in your boat pulling to the right or left).
Need further testing
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Torque & trim tabs tests

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These are two types of adjustable fins that help keep boats going in a straight line. Both can be adjusted fairly easily. Let's see if that is why your boat is pulling to the right or to the left.
Test 
5

Do you have a torque tab installed above the propeller?

You will need to lift your engine out of the water for this test. The torque tab is a small metal “fin” that is fixed onto the lower unit of an engine (the underwater part). It is installed on the horizontal surface right above the propeller (AKA the bottom of the anti-cavitation/anti-ventilation plate). Check Google for an image, it is pretty straightforward, if you have a torque tab, you’ll know.
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Yes

All good, next test
Now that we know you have one, we need to know if it is properly installed and aligned.
Now that we know you have one, we need to know if it is properly installed and aligned.
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
It may have fallen off or been removed by a previous owner! Either way, it’s an essential piece of keeping your boat from pulling hard to the right or left.
It may have fallen off or been removed by a previous owner! Either way, it’s an essential piece of keeping your boat from pulling hard to the right or left.
Need further testing
Test 
6

Is your torque tab adjusted correctly?

The torque tab should be angled to compensate for the torque generated by the propeller's rotation. It should be rotated towards the direction of the pull. Lift your engine above the water and check the torque tab angle. Is it straight, rotated towards the direction of the pull or against it?
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
Your boat steering pulls to the right or left because a key piece of your engine is not properly installed with the right angle.
Your boat steering pulls to the right or left because a key piece of your engine is not properly installed with the right angle.
Need further testing
Test 
7

Do you have trim tabs and are they adjusted correctly?

Trim tabs are placed on either side of a boat's engine and are independently controlled metal plates adjusted by a panel in the cabin. The tabs will compensate for engine torque, planning and a boat not tracking straight. Trim tabs can be difficult to use at first, check our resources below to adjust them properly.
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Yes

All good, next test
Need further testing
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No

All good, next test
If one of the trim tabs is set too far down for example, it will push water unevenly on each side of the hull and cause your boat not to track straight.
If one of the trim tabs is set too far down for example, it will push water unevenly on each side of the hull and cause your boat not to track straight.
Need further testing

You have not found your problem or maybe you need something else?

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Top questions about boat pulling to the right or left

What is a torque tab and where is it?

Torque tabs help to compensate for the torque created by the rotation of the propeller. This piece of metal is shaped like a fin. Is it located right above the propeller and fixed on the section of the engine called the anti-cavitation/anti-ventilation plate. The torque tab is easy to install, adjust, and will not reduce the speed of the boat.

Why my outboard pulls to the right or to the left?

This issue can have multiple causes. It could be possible that simply, the weight distribution on your boat is not even. It could also be because your propeller has a dent or an imperfection. Another reason could be that your torque tab is not adjusted properly. Finally, if you have trim tabs and they are not mounted correctly, it will cause your boat to not track straight, either to the right or to the left. To diagnose the origin of your specific issue, check this article’s tests!

What does an engine’s skeg do and where is it?

The skeg is the bottom part of the lower unit of your outboard boat motor. It is the “fin” part below the propeller. It is there to protect the propeller in case you hit something and also serves as a fin/center board that keeps your boat straight and stable when driving.

How to best distribute weight inside my boat?

The best way to distribute weight in a boat is to place that weight near the center of gravity and center of buoyancy. Where is that? For most boats, it is 60-65% aft of the bow. This way, you will get the best speed and fuel efficiency.

How to choose the size of trim tabs?

There is a rule of thumb for this according to bennetttrimtabs.com. If your boat has a max speed of 40MPH, get one inch of trim tab width, for every foot of boat length. As an example, if your boat is 22 feet long, you should have a 22 inch trim tab or wider.

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