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How Does A Boat Propeller Work?
Jan 22, 2018

A boat propeller works by pushing water, which propels the boat in the opposite direction. More precisely, it transforms rotational energy into thrust; thus, the turning propeller increases the water pressure to its rear, and moves into the area of reduced pressure in front of the propeller, taking the boat with it. The forces involved are consistent with Newton’s third law — for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. That is, when the boat propeller pushes the water backward, it propels the boat forward.

Before the development of powered engines, marine propulsion was limited to wind power and manual rowing or paddling. Rowing and paddling generally uses blades to drag a boat through the water, but one use of a blade, called sculling, acts most like a propeller because the sculler pushes the water to the rear of the boat. A sculler stands in the rear of a small boat and, using a single oar, will sweep it through the water in an arc more or less perpendicular to the boat’s direction of travel, with each sweep of the arc twisting the oar so that the blade is at an angle of 30 to 60 degrees to the direction of travel.

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