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The outboard motors I've seen have the handle positioned on the lefthand side of the engine. The operator would sit on the right side of the boat/motor and use their left hand to steer and throttle the engine.

Why are outboard motor handles located on the lefthand side?

I've experimented with mounting a transom-mounted electric trolling motor on the right side of the boat for right-handed use. As a righthanded person, I found that much more comfortable. So I wonder why there aren't gas outboard motors that could work similarly -- with the handle on the righthand side.


My boat is a very narrow 12-foot aluminum boat. There isn't enough space to operate a normal lefthanded outboard motor with my right hand. It would be too cramped.

And I can't mount a gas outboard off to the right side of the transom, since the transom is only reinforced in the middle.

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  • Wouldn't it be so you can still use your dominant hand for all the other things involved in maneuvering boats? Jun 27, 2023 at 22:20
  • @GregHewgill As a novice, what are some examples?
    – User1974
    Jun 27, 2023 at 22:25
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    What prevents you from sitting on port ("left side") and using your right hand?
    – Manziel
    Jun 28, 2023 at 5:51
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    @JayFor surely that depends which way you're going? When I did a bit of dinghy sailing many years ago, of course I had to sit on the windward side. Sometimes that meant the tiller in the left hand, main sheet in the right, sometimes the other way round
    – Chris H
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:39
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    @Chris H Oh yeah, now I think of it you're right. 40 years of being unable to tell my left from my right strikes again :-D
    – JayFor
    Jun 28, 2023 at 7:21

2 Answers 2

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Actually, you don't need to sit on the right side of the motor. If you sit in the center of the seat, directly in front of the motor, the tiller will be positioned right were your left hand can conveniently reach it. This aspect is part of the design, which dates back to the old days when boats were small and it was necessary to sit in the center of the seat to maintain proper trim.

But why didn't they put the tiller on the opposite side?

The first reason has to do with starting the motor. Most people are right handed and need to use their right hand to pull the starter cord. When you twist partway around in your seat to pull the cord with your right hand, you are positioned to operate the throttle or choke control as needed with your left hand. If the tiller were on the right side instead of the left, it would be very awkward to operate it with your free hand during start-up. But this design goes back to long before there was even a twist grip on the tiller, so why did they not put the tiller on the right back in those days? Think about rotating your position to face forward after you have pulled the starter rope. At that moment it is much easier to grab the tiller as you make that change in body position if the tiller is on your left. This would be much more awkward to do if the tiller were on the right.

The second reason is that there is hardly any manual dexterity needed to operate the twist grip once the motor is operating, and the same is true for steering control. Therefore, it makes sense to keep your right hand available for any other random task that a right-handed person would rather do with their dominant hand. Most commonly, this would be holding your fishing rod! No right-handed person would want to hold their fishing rod in the wrong hand just so they could do something as simple as controlling their outboard motor.

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    A picture would be very helpful here... Oct 29, 2023 at 15:55
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They aren't designed for left hand use. They are pretty much agnostic in this respect. You can use either hand as needed.

I almost always use my right hand on the throttle/tiller of an outboard motor, while sitting on the left side.

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  • Thanks. I think that might only work when the boat is fairly large. My 12-foot aluminum boat is very narrow. There isn't really enough room to use my right hand on the throttle/tiller of the outboard motor, while sitting on the left side. It'd be too cramped reaching back like that.
    – User1974
    Jun 30, 2023 at 14:18

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