How Do Electric Trolling Motors Work? [A Comprehensive Guide]

Electric trolling motors work by using the principle of electromagnetism. When a current passes through a wire, it generates a magnetic field. By cleverly arranging these wires and magnetic fields, we can create a force that moves the motor.

That’s the short answer. But there’s much more to explore, so here’s a quick snapshot of what this article covers.

At a glance:
1️⃣Electric trolling motors operate by converting electrical energy into mechanical force. The motor, shaft, propeller, battery, control unit, and mount are key components.

2️⃣Electric trolling motors are differentiated by their control systems (foot pedal, hand, and remote control) and mounting locations. Motor selection depends on boat size, user preference, and fishing type.

3️⃣Modern models incorporate advanced technologies like GPS navigation, app integration, and brushless motor technology for efficiency, precision, and convenience.

Voltage plays a significant role in how electric trolling motors work. This article will help you brush up on what voltage means for a trolling motor.

For now, let’s kick things off with an analogy from middle school to refresh our minds about magnetism.

Basics of Electric Trolling Motors

Electric motors work based on the principle of electromagnetism. When a current passes through a wire, it generates a magnetic field.

By cleverly arranging these wires and magnetic fields, we can create a force that moves the motor. First, I’ll use an analogy to explain how they work.

Imagine two kids on a seesaw at a playground. The permanent magnet is like a child who doesn’t move (let’s call him Sam), always sitting on one end of the seesaw.

The electromagnet is like another child (let’s call her Ellie) who can hop from one end of the seesaw to the other.

When Ellie sits on the same end as Sam, nothing happens, and they’re like two similar poles of a magnet, repelling each other.

So, Ellie hops to the other end of the seesaw, and now they can seesaw properly. This is like the opposite poles of a magnet attracting.

But Ellie gets bored sitting on one end and hops back to the same end as Sam. But, again, they’re not having fun, so she jumps back to the other end. The faster Ellie hops back and forth, the faster the seesaw moves.

In the motor, Ellie is like the electromagnet, and electricity from the battery helps her hop back and forth.

The changing position of Ellie (the electromagnet) makes the seesaw (the motor shaft) move, which in turn spins the propeller and moves the boat.

Parts Of A Trolling Motor

1️⃣ Motor

The motor is the heart of the system. It converts electrical energy into mechanical energy to propel the boat. This is typically done through the interaction of magnetic fields and winding currents to generate force in the form of rotation.

2️⃣ Shaft

The shaft is a long, slender rod that connects the motor to the propeller. The shaft length needs to be measured in relation to the depth of the water and hull of the boat.

3️⃣ Propeller

The propeller is attached to the end of the shaft. When the motor turns the shaft, the propeller spins, creating a force that pushes water backward and moves the boat forward. Propellers come in different designs, each optimized for various conditions.

4️⃣ Battery

The battery provides the electrical energy needed to power the motor. Depending on their architecture, trolling motors can run on 12, 24, or 36 volts. A higher voltage system will typically offer more thrust.

5️⃣ Control Unit

This is the interface you use to operate the motor. It often includes a throttle for controlling speed, a steering mechanism for changing direction, and sometimes a display that shows information like battery level or GPS data. The control unit may be mounted on the boat, or it may be a foot pedal for hands-free operation.

6️⃣ Mount

The mount secures the trolling motor to the boat. Various mounting options are available, such as bow mounts, transom mounts, and engine mounts, each suitable for different types of boats and uses.

Electric Motor Technology

Electric trolling motors utilize direct current (DC) electric motors powered by one or more onboard batteries.

The battery voltage requirements depend on the thrust level provided by the motor. Generally, a 12-volt system requires one battery, a 24-volt system requires two batteries, and a 36-volt system requires three.

The electric motor is designed to provide thrust in both forward and reverse directions, with variable speed controls allowing for fine adjustments.

In addition to basic propulsion, many electric trolling motors now include advanced technologies such as Lift-Assist, integrated sonar, and autopilot features that enhance the overall boating experience.

It may be helpful to have a broader understanding of electric outboard motors in the context of trolling motors.

Types of Electric Trolling Motors

There are several types of electric trolling motors available, differentiated primarily by their control systems and mounting locations:

  • Hand-controlled/stern mounted: These motors typically mount on the transom (rear) of the boat and feature a tiller handle for manual steering and speed control.
  • Foot-controlled/bow mounted: Often used on the bow (front) of the boat, foot-controlled trolling motors allow for hands-free operation through a foot pedal that controls speed and direction.
  • Remote-controlled/stern or bow mounted: Offers the most convenience and flexibility. Remote-controlled trolling motors can be operated via a wireless remote or even a chart plotter, providing boat control from any location on the boat. Some models even offer gesture steering and autopilot functions.

The choice of an electric trolling motor depends on factors such as the size of the boat, personal preferences, and the type of fishing.

In general, anglers should consider their boat’s dimensions, available battery capacity, and desired performance characteristics when selecting an electric trolling motor.

⚙️ Operation and Control Systems

Electric trolling motors use various control systems to operate effectively on the water. This section examines the different control mechanisms available, ensuring efficient and precise steering for anglers during their fishing trips.

Control TypeDescriptionPopular Models
Foot Pedal ControlAllows hands-free operation with on/off and speed adjustments. Steering is managed by pressure or tilt of the foot pedal.Minn Kota Terrova, MotorGuide X5
Hand ControlRequires manual operation, with the angler directly steering via a tiller. It’s a simple and precise control method often found on basic transom-mount motors.Minn Kota Endura C2, Newport Vessels NV-Series
Remote ControlOffers convenience with a wireless remote for speed and direction control. Perfect for those wanting to control their trolling motor from any location on the boat.Minn Kota Ulterra, MotorGuide Xi5

App Integration

Some trolling motors feature app integration capabilities, enabling users to control and monitor the motor from their smartphones or tablets.

With app integrations, anglers can easily set custom routes, monitor battery life, and access other helpful information.

Each control system offers unique benefits to anglers, leading to improvements in the overall fishing experience. 

GPS and Navigation

High-end electric trolling motors, like those with Minn Kota’s AutoPilot technology, use GPS and navigation systems to control and maintain specific boat headings precisely.

Features like i-Pilot integrate with the motor, offering automatic boat control and allowing anglers to save Spot-Lock locations, follow contour lines, and retrace routes.

GPS trolling motors enhance boat control by maximizing the time spent fishing while minimizing the time spent adjusting the boat’s position.

They also enable wireless connectivity, allowing the user to control their trolling motor through Bluetooth, smartphone apps, and other remote devices.

Brushless Motor Technology

Modern electric trolling motors feature brushless motor technology, providing greater efficiency and longer lifespans than older motor designs. 

Brushless motors are low maintenance, and they do not require brush replacement. Additionally, they are quieter, providing a more peaceful fishing environment.

Electric trolling motors with brushless technology tend to come with longer warranties, reflecting their increased durability and the manufacturers’ confidence in the motor’s longevity. 

While these high-end motors may come with a higher price tag. When matched with compatible gasoline counterparts, electric motors offer long-term reliability, efficiency, and reduced maintenance, ultimately saving you money.

🔍 Selecting the Right Trolling Motor

Choosing the suitable trolling motor for your boat is key to ensuring optimal performance and efficiency.

Now, let’s look at gear and accessories, freshwater vs. saltwater compatibility, and battery life and voltage requirements for electric trolling motors.

Gear and Accessories

Selecting the appropriate gear and accessories for your trolling motor can significantly affect its performance. Key components include the shaft length, speed control settings, and connectivity with other devices. 

The shaft length should suit your boat size, with an additional 5 inches for rough water fishing.

Speed control settings allow for greater efficiency, while some trolling motors offer features like i-Pilot, Universal Sonar, and Autopilot for advanced performance and ease of use.

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Compatibility

Do not buy a motor designed for freshwater use and expect it to last in saltwater! That should be self-explanatory, but I’ve highlighted it nonetheless.

Older models of saltwater trolling motors have sacrificial anodes to withstand harsh, salty conditions.

Modern versions have a saltwater coating which eliminates the need for the anode. This is partly due to environmental regulations.

Battery Life and Voltage Requirements

Battery power and voltage requirements play a significant role in determining the ideal trolling motor for your boat. Electric trolling motors are available in 12-volt, 24-volt, and 36-volt power systems, each differing in battery requirements. 

A 12-volt motor runs on a single 12-volt deep cycle battery; a 24-volt motor requires two batteries, and a 36-volt motor requires three. Ensuring you have the correct battery setup for your trolling motor’s voltage requirements is critical.

Consider the amount of power needed for your boat size, fishing conditions, and your budget when selecting a trolling motor. Having the correct trolling motor and trolling motor battery system in place will contribute to a more efficient and enjoyable fishing experience.

🔑 Key Takeaways

1️⃣ The core function lies in the principle of electromagnetism. The motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy, propelling the boat forward.

2️⃣ Electric trolling motors are available in different types, primarily differentiated by their control systems – foot pedal, hand, and remote control – and their mounting locations.

3️⃣ Modern electric trolling motors are not just about propulsion. They incorporate advanced technologies such as GPS navigation, app integration, and brushless motor technology, enhancing efficiency, precision, and user convenience.

Nice to e-meet you. I’m Justin, a seasoned sailing journalist and communications pro with more than 25 years of extensive industry experience. And a track record of successfully promoting teams and events on the global stage.