LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Everybody wants a unique, customized boat. Owners invest thousands into upholstery, sound and navigation systems, custom paint jobs, and other accessories to perfect their dream machines. And there’s no doubt: those boats look good. But according to some in the marine industry, the best parts of a boat are beneath the waterline.

The history of the propeller can be traced back to 220 B.C., when Archimedes demonstrated a rotating screw could be used to lift water. In the late 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci sketched a helicopter that he envisioned would fly by using a screw-like blade. And in 1776, David Bushnell deployed the first-ever combat submarine, called the Turtle, to attack British ships in the Revolutionary war. The Turtle moved through the water utilizing a screw propeller.

Props have come a long way since the Turtle, however, and entire industries have formed around the part of a boat that makes it go.

George Peter is the founder of Cool Breeze Marine/The Prop Specialists in Osage Beach, and he says nearly all of the propeller work commissioned at the Lake of the Ozarks ultimately comes through his shop.

“We’re the only certified propeller shop on the Lake,” he explained. His job consists of “high-tech blacksmithing”—fixing propellers that suffer from all sorts of abuse provided by the Lake of the Ozarks. Peter says he’s seen it all.

“I can tell the Lake level by the work that’s coming in,” he mused. “Whether it’s log damage or rock damage.”

Peter went to college to be a marine mechanic, with hopes of opening his own marina and boat repair facility. But he says he was continually bombarded with questions about propellers and their relation to boating performance, and he saw the niche.

“Not long after I got into [propellers], it took over,” he explained. “It found me, I didn’t find it.”

Prop Trends

Dan Suchocki is the Propulsion Specialist (“It’s a fancy name for master mechanic,” he laughed) at P.D.Q. Marine Services. He says almost all of his prop work goes to Cool Breeze, and he praises the professionalism and quick service turnaround Peter provides.

Suchocki has his eye on Lake boating trends, having started P.D.Q. at the beginning of the Great Recession—in 2008, when nearly all boaters were focused on repairing the boats they had, rather than buying a new one. That apprehension to purchase has waned, he says, and boaters seem to be gravitating towards the “extreme high-end” watercraft, or the more budget-friendly ones.

Peter notes, “People are heading back toward family boating: skiing, wake-boarding.” That observation is based on the propellers that come through his shop and his analysis of what boats they’re coming from. He has another interesting observation: “Engines seem to be getting smaller.” While Cool Breeze has seen little change in the number of high-performance propellers coming through the shop, Peter says pontoons with fuel-efficient, four-stroke engines seem to be on the rise.

Those perceptions are based on the important nuances that make a certain propeller perfect for one boat, and awful for another. Pontoons, for example, tend to lose their “hook” or “bite” on the water. So manufacturers have made propellers especially for those boats that feature heavier cups and a flatter pitch. But, as racers like Brad Rowland and Jim and Carolyn Dorris have exhibited, pontoons are no longer “putterers”… some boaters are demanding their pontoon offer increased performance. And that combination requires a performance propeller.

Suchocki says with so many different combinations of boaters and boats, prescribing the right propeller can be difficult. He says it’s up to the marine specialist to analyze the boater’s habits and the boat he or she will be driving, before the perfect propeller can be matched to that boat.

Prop Performance

“Family boating” may be on the rise, but performance boating is still a vibrant industry, according to John Pfahl. His innovation connects performance propellers with motor that makes it go.

The owner of The Bravo Shop, Pfahl services Mercury Bravo outdrives—beefing them up and prolonging their lifespan. Outdrives connect the propeller to the motor: “Basically, it’s the transmission,” Pfahl explained. Mercury Bravo outdrives come stock on many boats, and their top model, the XR, is rated for boats sporting up to 600 HP. With The Bravo Shop’s modifications, Pfahl will warranty that outdrive for boats up to 750 HP. But for boaters desiring high performance, The Bravo Shop has its own creation: The BMAX.

Featuring heavier gears and a unique internal cooling system, the BMAX is warrantied for boats up to 850 HP… but Pfahl says he’s sold it for boats sporting twice that much.

A lifelong gearhead, Pfahl says demand for his BMAX outdrives and Bravo modifications keeps him, at least temporarily, from kicking back and enjoying the leisurely “Lake life.” Experienced marine mechanics don’t grow on trees; and customers keep calling The Bravo Shop needing a gearhead’s solution. In fact, Pfahl says his BMAX outdrives have sold out for the year. Performance boating is indeed alive and well.

Propeller Preservation Tips

Whether a performance boat or a pontoon, none are immune to accidents. But whether a boater hits a log, a rock, or their own boat lift (which happens quite frequently), Peter says the biggest cause of damaged propellers is impatience.

“They have ‘x’-amount of hours to enjoy themselves, and every minute counts,” he said of boaters who back out of their docks in a hurry and wind up at the mechanic’s shop with a damaged prop.

He also said some boaters are not familiar with the Lake-area terrain, not realizing that the Lake has many banks that gradually slope. He advises boaters observe the lay of the land around the bank. If it is flat, then the bank likely has a gradual slope.

Routine maintenance is another crucial preventative measure that Suchocki and Peter both point to. That includes simple owner-inspections. “It’s important to actually look at your propeller from time to time,” Peter noted, saying boat owners should look for rough edges and small nicks. Without repair, those can turn into a hairline crack, resulting in the whole blade being slung off the boat.

Suchocki says boaters should also keep a good dose of common sense. “If you have a warning horn going off, stop driving it… if you haven’t had anything serviced in a while, get it in before it breaks,” he urged. Boaters who push their boats especially hard should increase the frequency of their maintenance.

A Long Way

Boating has indeed come a long way since the Turtle. And as innovative mechanics continue bumping into problems and finding solutions, the underwater revolution will continue moving full speed ahead.

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