Can You Put a Motor on a Kayak (Complete Guide)

Kayaks are traditionally manually propelled boats that are paddled using a double-bladed paddle. But in recent years, there has been growing interest in motorizing kayaks by adding electric trolling motors or small outboard motors. The idea of a motorized kayak is appealing to many paddlers as it promises to help cover longer distances with less effort. However, adding a motor to a boat designed to be paddled brings both benefits and drawbacks that need careful consideration.

The concept of adding a motor to a kayak is not new. As early as the 1960s, kayak enthusiasts started experimenting with homemade mounts to attach small gas outboards to their boats. However early attempts faced challenges in finding a motor sufficiently lightweight and compact while still providing adequate thrust. The advent of electric trolling motors that weigh under 30 pounds opened new possibilities. With later improvements in lithium battery capacities, electric kayak motors gained popularity among fishing kayakers.

But it is not as simple as just bolting on a motor. The kayak needs modifications to support the motor and distribute weight safely. There are also laws in many states prohibiting motorized boats on paddling trails. This article Can You Put a Motor on a Kayak will provide an overview of the kinds of motors that can be used, required kayak modifications, legal restrictions, and the pros and cons of motorizing a kayak. The goal is to help paddlers make an informed decision about whether adding power makes sense for their needs and conditions.

Can You Put a Motor on a Kayak?

Kayaks are small human-powered boats propelled by double-bladed paddles and known for their agility and lightweight. In recent years, there has been growing interest among kayak enthusiasts to add electric trolling motors or small outboard motors to power their kayaks. This allows for covering longer distances with less paddling effort. But is it feasible to mount a motor on a boat designed to be paddled? What factors need consideration when motorizing a kayak?

What Size Motor Can You Put on a Kayak?

Most kayak motors range from about 30 lbs to 55 lbs of thrust. A 30 lb thrust motor is good for smaller, lighter kayaks under 100 lbs. A 55 lb thrust motor can handle heavier kayaks up to 175-200 lbs.

Look at the maximum weight capacity of your kayak. Choose a motor that provides about 10 lbs of thrust per 100 lbs of kayak weight. So a 100 lb capacity kayak would do well with a 30-40 lb thrust motor.

Consider the type of water conditions you’ll be using it in. If mainly flat water, you can get by with less thrust. If choppy water or currents, choose more power.

Make sure the motor mount will fit the width of your kayak. Many are adjustable but some kayaks may be too narrow.

Choose a shorter shaft length (15-20″) for better maneuverability on a kayak.

Go for electric or gas motors designed for saltwater use if you’re in corrosive conditions.

Always check your state laws – some restrict motor size on kayaks or don’t allow motors at all.

The most common motors used are 30-50 lb thrust electric trolling motors or small 2-5 hp gas outboards. Just make sure to match it to your kayak’s weight and intended use.

Types of Motors Used on Kayaks

Trolling Motors

Electric trolling motors are the most common type of motor used on kayaks. These small electric motors typically have power thrust ratings between 30 to 100 pounds, sufficient for propelling small craft. Trolling motors are powered by 12V or 24V batteries mounted on board.

The motor units can be mounted on the bow or stern of the kayak using specially designed mounting brackets and hardware. Trolling motors allow anglers to maneuver quietly on fishing spots without paddling. They also help offset paddling effort when covering long distances. Popular trolling motor models for kayaks include Minn Kota, Newport Vessels, and Motorguide.

Gasoline Outboard Motors

Small gasoline outboard motors under 10hp power can feasibly be mounted on specifically modified kayaks. They offer more power and torque than electric trolling motors. However, gasoline motors significantly increase the weight and complexity of the kayak. They also generate unpleasant noise that disturbs wildlife and other paddlers.

Mounting a gasoline motor requires fabricating a reinforced transom platform on the kayak to attach the engine. Controls for throttle and steering also need to be installed. Portable compact outboard models like Torqeedo, Haswing, and Suzuki are popular for powering small boats. Fuel has to be carried on board – reducing space and increasing fire hazard.

Pedal Drive Systems

Pedal-powered propulsion systems are a cleaner alternative to motorized kayaks without the noise and emissions. Kayakers use their leg power to turn pedals that drive an underwater propeller or flippers to move the boat forward. Pedal drives allow hands-free operation.

Popular pedal drive models are the Hobie Mirage Drive, Old Town Pedal Drive, and Feelfree Lure. While effective, pedal systems add considerable cost to the kayak purchase. They also preclude using the boat for paddling. Pedaling may not be feasible for those with leg mobility issues.

Other Novel Approaches

Experimental approaches like paddle wheels, underwater mini jet drives, and propellers have also been attempted to motorize kayaks. But most alternative drives have proved underpowered, inefficient, or prone to damage in real-world use. Their adoption remains limited due to multiple practical challenges.

Modifications Needed to Mount a Motor

Stability and Weight Distribution

The motor, batteries, and accessories can add over 100 lbs of weight to the rear or bow of the kayak. This can make the boat unstable and prone to tipping. To counterbalance the load, additional weights or batteries need to be positioned at the opposite end to keep the kayak level. Wider and heavier kayak models provide more inherent stability to handle a motor.

Mounting Bracket or Transom

The motor needs to be firmly fixed to the kayak’s hull to handle thrust forces and vibration. Trolling motors use mounting brackets, poles, and adjustable hardware bolted to the deck. Outboard motors require a sturdy transom platform integrated into the rear hull molding. Reinforcing knee braces may be needed to prevent the motor weight from distorting the hull shape.

Thrust Angle and Steering

The motor must be positioned such that its propeller thrust pushes directly along the kayak’s main axis for efficient forward motion. Adjustable mounting hardware allows tweaking the thrust angle. A steering system with handles or foot pedals helps direct the thrust for maneuvering.

Watertight Compartments

The electrical components like batteries, wiring, and controllers need to be enclosed in waterproof hatches or containers. Splashing water, rain, or minor leaks can damage circuits and cause fire hazards or electrocution risks. Bulkheads and foam blocks help prevent water from seeping between compartments.

Motor Controls

Throttle handles and steering controls should be located near the kayak’s seating position for easy access. Waterproof toggle switches and foot pedals allow hands-free control over the motor. Control panels and cables must be secured from getting snagged or damaged.

Power Distribution

The electric circuit connecting the motor, battery, and controls needs to be properly wired with fuses or circuit breakers for overload protection. Separate battery compartments prevent direct contact with water. High-quality marine-grade wiring and connectors are essential.

Propeller Guard

A sturdy cage must surround the propeller to prevent accidents or entanglements with weeds, ropes, or debris. The guard should still allow adequate water flow for propulsion. Safety propeller designs with blunted edges are also available.

Hull Shape Modifications

The hull contours, length, and width may need adjustment to stabilize the kayak, balance motor weight, and accommodate a transom or footwells. A longer waterline improves directional stability. The hull shape affects maneuverability – shallow V hulls track better while flat bottoms turn sharply.

Benefits of Adding a Motor

Easier Paddling

One of the biggest advantages of having a motor on a kayak is reducing the effort required for paddling over long distances. The thrust provided by the motor can help offset muscle strain and fatigue from continuous paddling. Motors assist in making headway against strong currents or headwinds which otherwise require tremendous stamina. This allows average paddlers to go farther.

Wider Range

Motors expand the range a kayak can cover by supplementing paddling power. They allow access to distant fishing hotspots, coves, and open water that would be inaccessible by paddle power alone. Having a motor allows flexibility to crisscross a large lake or traverse up and down a long river.

Trolling Capabilities

Electric trolling motors are ideal for precisely maneuvering a kayak at very slow speeds while angling or fishing. They allow kayakers to troll in a fixed location without anchoring or drifting away. Even in windy conditions, the motor maintains a position for targeted fishing.

Safety and Security

A motor provides backup propulsion to get to shore quickly in case of emergencies like storms, accidents, fatigue, or health issues. This gives security and peace of mind while paddling far from shore. The ability to overcome currents also helps avoid dangerous situations.

Enhanced Versatility

Motors essentially transform kayaks into more versatile pedal-less motorboats. Anglers can quickly move between several fishing spots on a lake early in the morning when fish are active. Motors expand options like kayak camping by providing mobility between shore and campsites.


Motors compensate for physical limitations that may prevent extensive paddling like old age, injuries, medical conditions, or disabilities. Those unable to paddle for long periods can still enjoy extended kayaking outings with motor assistance. It opens up kayaking to those who may not be able to paddle far unaided.

Excitement and Fun

Many find the sensation of powering across water without effort exhilarating. It adds excitement to kayaking and appeals to the adventurous. The ease of covering long distances rapidly can be tremendously fun. However, caution must be taken to remain within safe speed limits.

Drawbacks of Motorized Kayaks

Increased Costs

Adding a motor involves significant costs for the purchase and installation of equipment like batteries, mounting hardware, throttle controls, propeller guards, and wiring. Good quality trolling motors cost several hundred dollars. Gas outboards can cost over a thousand dollars. This investment may not make economic sense for casual paddlers.

Added Weight

The motor, batteries, and mounting equipment can add over 50-100 lbs of weight. This makes transporting and carrying the kayak to launch sites more difficult. The extra weight also reduces the available capacity for gear and passengers. Too much weight can swamp the hull.

Complex Installation

Properly installing a motor requires technical skill in mechanics, electrical systems, and boat modification for safety. DIY installations risk damage from water leaks, loose mounts, and shredded wiring. Professional installation is expensive but recommended to avoid safety hazards from poor rigging.

Limited Battery Run Time

Electric trolling motors rely on batteries with limited power capacity before recharging is needed. Realistically, most batteries provide 5-10 hours of runtime before draining. Paddling long distances may require carrying heavy spare batteries or solar charging equipment.

Stability and Balance Issues

The motor weight concentrated at one end of the kayak can make it unstable and prone to tipping. Most kayak hull designs are optimized for paddling rather than handling a motor. Careful counterbalancing is essential but not foolproof.

Many rivers prohibit motorized boats including kayaks. Most laws make no exemption for motor size. Gas motors especially may not be legal in protected natural areas. Even electric motors violate regulations on some paddling trails.

Environmental Impact

Gasoline outboards generate air and noise pollution that disturbs wildlife and people. This goes against the principles of environmental stewardship. There are also risks of fuel leaks polluting water. Emissions contribute to climate change.

Need for Specialized Handling Skills

The handling dynamics of a motorized kayak are different requiring new expertise. Turning, balancing, launching, docking, and dealing with currents/winds takes practice. Lack of skill increases the risks of accidents and injury due to capsizing or collisions.

Increased Accident Risk

The motor exposes a spinning propeller that can injure swimmers or wildlife. The risk of accidents also rises with increased speed combined with the kayak’s low profile making it less visible to bigger motorboats. Caution is essential.

Warranty Concerns

Most kayak manufacturers only warranty their hulls for paddle power and warn that motors can void the warranty due to added stress. Cutting holes to mount a transom or motor may be prohibited.

Dangers from Exposed Propellers

Spinning propeller blades pose serious risks of injuring kayakers who may accidentally contact them as well as swimmers, marine animals, or sea birds. Guards are essential but not foolproof if debris jams into unprotected propeller areas.


Increased speed and range: A motor allows you to go faster and farther without as much effort paddling. This can expand the types of waterways and distances you can explore.

Ability to cover more ground: A motorized kayak can help you cover larger bodies of water more efficiently. You can reach fishing spots quicker or explore farther upstream.

Easier transport: Many motors allow you to propel the kayak on land for easy loading/unloading. This can help get the kayak to and from the water.

Hands-free operation: With a foot-controlled motor you can steer hands-free, making it easier to fish, take photos, etc. while kayaking.


Cost: Motors, batteries, and accessories can add a significant cost to a kayak. Installation may also require professional help.

Not allowed in all areas. Many conserved natural areas prohibit motorized boats including kayaks.


Can you put a motor on a kayak? The short answer is Yes – with some modifications, kayaks can be outfitted with electric and gasoline motors. But simply being feasible does not make it universally advisable. Some pros and cons depend on your specific needs and conditions.

For casual paddling, a motor is usually unnecessary and adds needless costs and complications. But serious fishing kayakers may find the extended range and precision trolling from a motor worth the effort. Electric trolling motors provide moderate power with less noise and emissions compared to gas outboards. Pedal drives allow human-powered propulsion without a motor too.

The choice depends on assessing your needs and water conditions. Motors excel in open waters like lakes and seas. However, in crowded rivers and protected natural areas, they create risks and may be prohibited. Proper installations require technical skills. Most kayak hulls are not designed to handle a motor.

But ultimately the decision depends on individual intended use conditions and adhering to boating regulations. While motorizing kayaks enhances some capabilities, it also changes fundamental dynamics. Paddlers must weigh if the benefits justify the tradeoffs compared to keeping their kayak’s original human-powered simplicity.

FAQS For Can you Put a Motor on a Kayak

How Fast Can a Kayak Go With a Motor?

With a trolling motor, a kayak can go 6-10 mph depending on conditions. Top speeds with a trolling motor are around 5 mph. Paddle kayaks average 3 mph and pedal kayaks 4-5 mph.

How Do you Hook up a Motor to a Kayak?

Trolling motors designed for kayaks attach directly to the stern or bow. Make sure to get a motor mount or bracket specifically made to fit your kayak model. Run the power cables along the side or bottom of the kayak.

How Fast is a Trolling Motor?

Most trolling motors have a top speed of around 5 mph regardless of thrust. Higher-pound motors just have more pushing power.

How Far Can a Trolling Motor Take a Kayak?

On average, trolling motors can run continuously for 1-2 hours on a full battery charge. In ideal conditions, this equates to 5-10 miles of range. Factors like wind and current affect range.

Will Adding a Motor Affect the Stability of My Kayak?

Adding a motor to a kayak can affect its stability to some extent. It’s important to distribute the weight evenly and ensure the motor is properly mounted to maintain balance. Testing the kayak’s stability in calm waters before venturing out on more challenging conditions is recommended.

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