GEAR TEST

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Putting a 2.5 hp propane out­board through its paces

For a long time I re­ally liked my old To­hatsu 3.5 out­board, smelly lit­tle two-stroke that it was, for its will­ing power and easy start­ing. Then it started to not want to start. Then, once started, it would run fine just long enough to get me a de­cent dis­tance from the boat, where­upon it would conk out. No amount of in­vec­tive or cord-pulling would get it run­ning again un­til it felt like start­ing, which some­times was never. I’m here to tell you that rowing an in­flat­able up­stream and into a head­wind gets very old very quickly.

The out­board ser­vice guy pointed an ac­cus­ing fin­ger at me for leav­ing fuel to age in the tank—in this age of ethanol blends there is noth­ing worse for a car­bu­re­tor’s ten­der in­ner parts—and he was partly right. Ex­cept when cruis­ing over a week­end, we hardly used the out­board. Although I knew to turn the fuel off and let the mo­tor run the carb dry, some­times that didn’t hap­pen. It was time to look for al­ter­na­tives that weren’t sub­ject to the ethanol plague.

I’d been cu­ri­ous about the Lehr range of propane-pow­ered out­boards, and early last year I took the leap. Ex­cept for its fuel sup­ply, the Lehr 2.5hp model is your typ­i­cal four-stroke kicker; at 37lb it’s nearly 10lb heav­ier than the old To­hatsu and has al­most the same cylinder ca­pac­ity, at 73cc. Its fuel sup­ply comes from ei­ther a 1lb propane can­is­ter of the type avail­able just about any­where, or from a big­ger tank—a hose to con­nect to one is in­cluded.

I used the lit­tle Lehr ex­ten­sively last sum­mer, al­most daily for sev­eral weeks, on an 8ft in­flat­able. It never started first pull, usu­ally sec­ond or third, but al­ways be­fore I started to curse. A small propane tank lasted any­where from one to two hours, de­pend­ing on how much of a hurry I was in. Here’s the thing; while you can look in the tank of a gas-pow­ered out­board and guessti­mate how much run time you have left, you can’t do that with the small propane cylin­ders, so I took to car­ry­ing a full one with me any­time I used the dinghy. I wound up chang­ing cylin­ders sev­eral times in the

dark of night, a fid­dly process that soon be­comes sec­ond na­ture.

It would have been more sen­si­ble (and much cheaper) to use a large propane tank, but I had no room to store an 11lb or 20lb com­pos­ite tank. I’ve just pur­chased a steel 5lb tank, which I’ll have to coat with epoxy paint in an ef­fort to stave off rust. This should give me plenty of run time, but I ex­pect the rust fac­tor will be a nui­sance. I also bought an adap­tor to let me fill the small cylin­ders from the ship’s propane tank.

In terms of power, I guess it’s no dif­fer­ent from any other small kicker out there. You don’t buy a 2.5hp out­board for wind-in-the-hair thrills. In ret­ro­spect, I should have gone for the next size up, the 5hp, which has more grunt to help you fight an out­go­ing tide, but I wanted light weight—the 5hp is 10lb heav­ier.

In terms of re­li­a­bil­ity, so far so good. It hasn’t missed a beat. One thing that I in­tended to ad­dress over last win­ter—but of course didn’t—is that the dead-man switch died early in the sea­son, but I can stop the mo­tor by tun­ing the throt­tle all the way down; I just have to re­mem­ber not to fall out of the dink with the mo­tor run­ning. With the re­mote tank hooked up, you can also turn off the gas at the tank. If I re­mem­ber I’ll have the switch re­placed un­der the three-year war­ranty over the up­com­ing win­ter.

All in all, I’ve been happy with this lit­tle mo­tor; it seems to have about the same amount of power as any of its com­peti­tors, i.e. about as much as you’d ex­pect from a small kicker, and win­ter­iz­ing con­sists merely of fir­ing it up in a bucket of fresh­wa­ter mixed with an­tifreeze. Af­ter a nine-month layup, it started on the fifth pull.— Peter Nielsen Lehr, golehr.com

The propane can­is­ters will get you up to two hours of run time

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