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 runtime, 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. Lehr, golehr.com