Home-  Sailboat-  Submarines-  ROVs-  Metal Working-  Other Stuff -  About Us

Why Build a Sub
   Submarine 101
   Wet Sub
   Planing Wet Sub
   Dry Ambient Sub
   Submarine Yacht
Design Evolution
Cutting Aluminum
Building the Hull
Kort Nozzles
Battery & Chargers
Engine & Jet Drive
   Engine Tune-Up
   Hull Cooler
   Wet Manifold
   Engine Mounts
   Engine Box
   Jet Pump Valve
Helm Controls
Ballast Sled
Landing Gear
Trim Tanks
Wiring Harnes
Tow Truck
Rules of Thumb




It took the longest time to decide if I should buy trolling motors for thrusters or convert DC motors for the job, but the agonizing is over. My final choice was a 36 volt Minn Kota trolling motor that produces 101 lbs of thrust.  Below are the details about the Minn Kota as well as the other options I explored.

Minn Kota - 101 lb thrust. - My Choice

Minn Kota makes the RipTide with 101 lbs thrust, on 36 volts, that draws 46 amps at full power.  The RipTide is a salt water version, but there is nothing different about the motor so don't pay more for the model name.  Minn Kota rates the motor at 1.79HP.  In late 2007, was selling the lower unit (Part # 2316285) for $220 each, the speed controller assembly (Part #2774003) for $129.95, and the props (Part #2331160 ) for $36.95.  This is a standard pitch prop which for trolling motors is always designed for power and not speed, which is perfect for a sub.  The top speed would be around 5 mph for a typical boat.  I hope to get 3 mph.  The total price for each thruster is $388 or about $800 for both with shipping.  As a bonus I discovered after I got my motors working that they had a dual ramp reversing feature.  They means that when you instantly switch the motor from forward to reverse that the speed controller automatically modifies your command into; slow to a stop and the speed up to the selected speed in the other direction.  They prevents damage to the motor and big spikes in the amperage. 

There are a couple of things to consider when selecting a trolling motor to be used on a sub and the most important is how you plan to keep the water out. The problem is that the lip seal or o-ring that the manufacturers put around the drive shaft is not intended to work at 120 feet. 

The options include filling the motor with oil which will not compress and so it prevents the seal from leaking.  A small  flexible hose can be tapped into the motor housing and also filled with oil so that it acts as a reserve for any air trapped in the motor housing.  If the oil pressure inside the motor housing is the same as the water pressure outside then the seal will not know that it is 120 feet below the surface.  My choice is very similar, except that instead of oil, I will simply supply ambient pressure air to the inside of the motor. 

If you do compensate the motor with oil or air you will have to select a motor that does not have any electronic components inside the motor housing.  Many manufacturers are now building speed controllers inside the motor housing and these parts will not survive the pressure changes.

Others have also successfully replace the seal in the motor with a seal that is capable of withstanding the pressure at the operating depth.  Parker Seals manufactures a full line of lip seals under the name FlexiSeal.  This can be configured to work to 1000 feet.  The draw back is that you will need to machine the motor housing in order to provide the proper seat for the seal, and the deeper you go the more these seals will squeeze against the shaft and the more HP they will rob from the motor.  Parker Seals at has a inquiry form on their web site that you can fill out and submit, and they will help you select the best seal for your project.

Other Thruster Options That Were Considered

Minn Kota - T90

I already have one 12v , 42 amp max, 40 lb thrust Minkota T90 trolling motor and a new one lower unit will will cost $115 for the motor, $30 for the prop and $25 for shipping from This would be the low cost approach with an easy upgrade if needed for the batteries but these units do not include speed controllers so they would be on or off. Speed controllers could be added but the would cost $140 each. The batteries could easily be reconfigured from 12v to 36 volt but the rest of the investment would not be recoverable. In the end, considering the size and weight of the craft, I think the price of the 101 lb thrust motors is worth the price. When a rock or tree appear from out of the gloom, the extra maneuvering power will be appreciated.

MotorGuide - Great White

Another contender at 105 lbs and 48 max amps is the is MotorGuide with has been acquired by Mercury Marine but the motors are still made right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While not popular in personal submarines, they are used by Torpedo Inc, to make scuba tows. Having talked at length with Tim Hager the Product Manager at MotorGuide there is a problem in that the speed controller circuit for the Great White is located in the lower unit or the power head. That makes sense for cooling but it makes ambient compensating the Great White impossible because the capacitors and IC's on the controller board will crush under pressure as they are only thinly potted to protect them from moisture. Click here for the Great White, SW109, Schematics.

Off-The-Shelf (almost) Twin Thrusters

While chatting with Tim, the product manager at MotorGuide he suggested a product from their partner Lenco Marine called Joy Ride. You would have to put 1 ATM seals in the motors to protect the circuits because they are MotorGuides but it's a good off-the-shelf twin thruster solution. Go to and look for "Joy Ride". I think he said $2,700 for the package. The motors are mounted on trim tabs controlled from the same joystick, and if mounted upside down the down on the joystick button would pivot the motors down on a sub.

Building the Thruster from Scratch

DC Motors come in brushless permanent magnet, brushed permanent magnet, shunt wound and series wound. The best choice is brushless permanent magnet because there is no need for maintaining the brushes but they are very expensive. A good choice is brushed permanent magnet and shunt wound types. The poor choice is series wound, because of their poor efficiency at low speeds. Also, not all motors are reversible.  The you have to find a prop that will put the proper load on your motor with a good balance between speed and power.  You might even look a speed reduction gears so you can use a bigger and more efficient prop. After all that you're going to need to build a housing and then add on a speed controller.  If it all sounds like a lot of work, then you have the picture.

As a starting point I was looking at the Ohio 13065 which was recommended by 4QD. They say "This is a 1HP motor with a C56 size frame. It is one of our favorite motors for test purposes. Although 'rated' at 41 amps, 24v, we regularly use it to test Pro-120 controllers and several US customers use it with our 4QD-150 and even 4QD-200 controllers, though we suspect the -230 amps (typical max current) from the 4QD-200 is possibly pushing even this motor a bit far! However it is an extremely conservatively rated motor. If Ohio's other motors are equally conservatively rated then they are to be thoroughly recommended."
See: and I spoke to Bruce at T-Electra and he was most helpful. He explained that Ohio only builds motors to custom order. The price is good only if you are buying thousands of units, so you will have to find them used or have them build a prototype motor for you that will cost about $800 per unit.  Then you will still need a speed controller, housing, prop, and shaft seal. Again, it quickly makes the Minn Kota trolling motors look good.

Speed Control

In order to run slower, most small trolling motors simply reduce the voltage going to motor by sending it to a resistor where it becomes heat. It easy to do, but your valuable energy in the battery is wasted. A pulse width modulators (PWM) uses electronics to quickly turn the power off and on to the motors. To make the motors run slower, the power is just left off a little longer. In a good speed controller the power will be turned off and on over 20,000 times each second so the motor hardly knows what is happening. The slower you run the motor the more time the motor is actually powered off, and the power is not wasted.

Reversing a motor while it is running at full speed is hard on a motor most motors, but trolling motors unlike a motor connected to a wheel on an electric scooter does not bare the load of the vehicle and rider, but only the inertia of the motor and the forces of the water against the prop. So reversing a trolling motor can be done with a simple relay switch if needed. If you want to be very kind to the motor then you get a PWM that ramps the speed down and then back up in the other direction.

There are kind PWM units like the controller made by 4QD. Their web site, if full of helpful information about speed controllers. These controllers provides a "Dual Ramp Reversing" feature that allows the operator to switch directions at speed. The controller will decelerate the motor, switch directions, and then accelerate in the opposite direction. A 10K potentiometer (pot) is used to control the speed and this could be the same pot that controls the engine throttle. Cost is a problem, the Pro-150 outputs a maximum of 160 amps; the suggested 300% increase over the normal motor load, but it cost $350 USD each.  Much to my surprise and joy the speed controllers that came with the Minn Kota have the dual ramp reversing feature.

Wiring the Minn Kota Thrusters

(1) Minn Kota wiring diagram

(2) Parts after they arrived. The 
handle is not needed but it
comes with the speed controller.

(3) Pot and magnetic switch
connected to the controller.
Front View
(4) Thrusters mounted on either
side, just behind the cabin.

(5) Helm control box.

(6) Completed helm box.

(7) Dual Pots that were tested.

(8) Dual pots mounted in the
helm control box.

(9) Helm control wiring diagram. The bottom half is the relays and
dual pots that control the Minn Kota motors.

(10) 60 Amp automotive relays
used to power off the motors.

(11) Wires from the dual pots
and speed controllers connected
to four 4PDT relays.

(12) Helm box wired for testing.

(13) Testing on the bench.

(14) A "Watt's Up" digital DC
Ammeter, Amp Hour and Watt
Hour Meter to measure the
power used by the thrusters.

(15) The wire size to the
"Watt's Up" was upgraded and
the unit was potted in epoxy.

What I Got

(1) There is not much to the wiring as shown in the diagram.  Click here for the complete motor and wiring diagram. I originally planned to seal the electronics in a 1 ATM housing and compensate but it turns out that there are no serviceable electronic parts on the board so I ended up just encasing them in epoxy. 

(2) The parts have arrived. The handle comes with the speed controller as well as some heat shrink tubing.  There are just 2, 10 awg wires that run from the speed controller to the motor and the speed controller only needs power connected to it from the batteries.  Forward and reverse is controlled by a single 1K pot with an 300 degree rotation.  At the center point a magnet triggers a Hamlin 59020, "normally open" magnetic reed switch.  I originally thought that this switch would shut the motor off in order to make a gentle turn. But after some trial and error I discovered that this switch only only shuts the motor off when the speed setting for the pot is very close to zero.  Since the motors consistently shut off when the pot is centered without the magnetic switch I simply ended up leaving it out.

What I Needed

(4) The thrusters will be mounted on either side of the sub and connected by a drive shaft that passes from one side to the other just behind the cabin. (5) A helm control box in the cabin will allow both of the thrusters to be controlled a one unit.  (6) Only one knob on the side of the helm box controls the speed for both thrusters. To do this the single 1K pot that comes with the motors is replaced with a dual pot that both speed controllers will connect to.   One rocker switch on the bottom center of the box controls left and right turns. To turn left the thruster on the left side is simply stopped and the thruster on the right side is allowed to push the boat forward and slowly to the left.  There is a button for braking on the bottom left corner of the box.  If the sub is not turning then pressing the button will reverse both thrusters. Another knob connected to a second dual pot is on the top of the box. It controls the reverse speed that is used when the brake button is pressed.  If the sub is turning, for example to the left, then the left motor will not be running. However if the brake button is then pressed the left motor will start running at the reverse speed which will cause a tighter turn to the left.

How I Did It

(7) (8) The dual pots used to control both thrusters is simply two pots that share the same shaft. When I got to the point were I could do some testing I discovered that all dual 1K pots are not the same. The ones I found on ebay were out of sync by a much as 300 ohms.  The result is that when one thruster stopped, the other was still running.  There really good pots are available from, but I don't want to by 500 of them, so I going to try some lower priced end units from and to test my luck again.  The results are in and it reinforces that the old saying "You get what you pay for." sometimes is just a sales pitch from someone fighting globalization. Because the 90 cent, dual pots from shipped directly from Asia have less that 1% error.

With the two dual pots controlling the forward and reverse speed for both thrusters, the next step was to connect the correct pot the the correct speed controller and also cut the power to either speed controller using relay switches. 

(9) The bottom half of the helm wiring diagram is the wiring show 7 relay switches along with the 2 speed controllers and 2 dual pots.  A 100 amp relay controls all power to the thruster system.

(10) Two 60 amp relays allow power to be cut to one thruster or the other for making gentle turns.  I found the relays for $20 each on eBay.  These are SPDT automotive relays that  can handle 60 amps so the price is considerably higher that your standard 30 amp auto relay, but they will easily carry the 45 amps needed by the thrusters.

(11) A home-make relay block holds 4 Pole Double Throw (4PDT) relays. Three of the poles are used to switch the three wires used by a pot from the pot with the forward speed to the pot with the reverse speed. The 4th pole in the relay is used to enable or disable the other relays depending on the position of the break button and the left and right rocker switch in the helm box.

(12) The wire for the pots only travel about 6 feet from the helm control box to the relay block and the amperage on these is measured in milliamps so only very small 22 awg wire is needed.

You might notice a crossover connection between the left right rocker switch and one of the toggle switches on the top of the helm box.  This toggle switch allows for left and right turn request to be optionally passed along to the jet pumps' rudder.  When operating submerged the rudder will have little effect but can be positioned and then turned off so that it can be used to control trim.

(13) All of this mess was put together on the work bench where assumptions about dual pots, and how the wiring on the speed controllers was put to the test. 

On the work bench you may notice the color print outs for photos showing the wiring.  I find this to be an excellent substitute for trying to write all of those wire colors and terminal descriptions down on a diagram. Especially since the paper and pencil method is very prone to errors.

(14) The last piece to the wiring is a digital Amp hour meter that will monitor the amount of power used by the 36 volt system which includes the thrusters and the motors that control the rudder and dive plane angle. The "Watt's Up" meter also reports battery voltage, minimum voltage sags, and peak amp usage. Best yet, it cost less than $60 since they manufacture lot of them for the RC hobby market . (15)  The "Watt's Up" is rated for continuous duty at 50 amps which is more than half throttle but in the process of water proofing the unit, I removed the case and replaced 12 gauge wire with dual 10 gauge wires and left the solder connections and shunt exposed to the air.  The larger wire will act as an excellent heat sync.

Mounting the Minn Kota Thrusters

(1) Building a small dive plane
to hold the motor.

(2) Completed dive plane.

(3) Thrusters and dive planes
mounted on the sub.


(4) The shafts between the
thrusters pass horizontally
through the forward trim
compartment where they are
coupled together.

(1) (2) In order to mount the motors onto the sub I welded a small rectangular plate onto the end of a pipe and used hose clamps around the motor to secure it to the plate. I then cut and formed 1/8" aluminum sheet shroud the pipe top and bottom. This shroud will act as small dive plane, divert snags outside of the motor and hide the ugly connection. I did not use the normal threaded shaft connection point because it is behind center of gravity and it would place unnecessary load on the push-pull cable that will rotate the shaft and pitch the thrusters.

(3) The thruster shafts mount to the hull just behind the cabin wall. (4) Each shaft passes through nylon bushings, aka kitchen cutting board, that are held in place with inside a 1" long piece of pipe that is welded to the hull. A piece of PVC pipe acts as a bushing between the thruster housing and the outside surface of the hull.  This electronically isolates the thrusters from the hull so that it is not possible for the 36 volt system to short against the hull.  The shafts from each thruster are coupled together and a electrically isolated control arm is clamped to the shaft that will connect to a push-pull cable which ties it into the helm actuator box.