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If you’re looking to silently sneak around the skinny water, effortlessly jog over a shipwreck, or slowly troll light tackle, then you’re looking for a saltwater trolling motor. They’ve become common—practically standard—on small inshore boats, and now trolling motors are available for large offshore fishing boats.
A trolling motor is a small electric motor used to maneuver the boat while fishing. Unlike the large gas motor, a trolling motor is quieter and more maneuverable. The latest generation of saltwater trolling motors are connected to GPS to accurately position the boat and anchor it in a specific spot. If you want to take advantage of this technology, here are my picks for the best saltwater trolling motors.
- Best Overall: Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra
- Best for Kayaks: Motorguide Xi3 Saltwater
- Best for Large Boats: Minn Kota Riptide Terrova
- Best for the Money: Newport Vessels NV Series
- Best with GPS: Rhodan HD GPS Anchor
Best Overall: Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra
Why It Made The Cut
All the bells and whistles in a proven saltwater trolling motor, the Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra is the best overall saltwater trolling motor.
- Power: 24 or 36 volts
- Shaft: 54, 60, or 72 inches
- Thrust: 80 or 112 pounds
- Easy to use remote
- Extended battery life
- GPS Control
- Longer shaft not available
With push-button remote control for nearly all the trolling motor’s functions, Minn Kota’s Riptide Ulterra is truly hands-free. The key to the system is the i-Pilot remote with large buttons and an easy-to-read screen monitoring the motor’s functions. Not only can I control the direction and program the motor, but the Ulterra offers auto deploy and stow. I pull up to the fishing spot, hit a button on the remote, and the trolling motor automatically drops into the water. Then, without leaving the helm, I can push another button, and the motor lifts up and folds securely. Using the large, easy-to-read remote, I can also trim the motor up and down to match the water depth and fishing conditions.
In shallow, weed-choked water, I lift the prop higher in the water. When the waves and current kick up, I drop the propeller deeper for more power and control. It also features i-Pilot, which allows me to control the direction, program speed, and route and virtually anchor the boat. The i-Pilot is perfect for programming a course for trolling or to repeat a drift. The most popular function, Spot-Lock, allows me to stop the boat and hold position over a piece of structure or in the perfect position for casting a lure or fishing a bait.
Best for Kayaks: Motorguide Xi3 Saltwater
Why It Made The Cut
A 36-inch shaft, 55 pounds of thrust, and remote control with GPS makes the Motorguide Xi3 a great option for kayaks.
- Power: 12 volts
- Shaft: 36 inches
- Thrust: 55 pounds
- Remote control
- Compact design
- Not available for transom mount
The Motorguide Xi3 is a great choice for kayak anglers looking to motorize their fishing kayak. The 36-inch shaft is the perfect size for a small boat, and 55 pounds of thrust moves the kayak faster than you can pedal or paddle. The big draw for the Xi3 is the remote control. Mount the motor on the bow and wirelessly control direction and speed. The Xi3 has many of the premium features of larger trolling motors, such as GPS control, virtual anchor, programmable routes, and autopilot.
Installation is easy, many kayaks are pre-rigged with threaded inserts in the bow and stern to install a standard trolling motor base. Simply bolt on the Xi3 base, plug into a 12-volt, deep-cycle marine battery, and you’re ready to go. The Xi3 has a large lever to make it easy to stow and deploy, even from the kayak seat. I can use the Xi3 with any of the best kayak fish finders to combine my transducer and trolling motor. To monitor motor functions and battery power, the Xi3 has an LED display, so I never run out of juice. Not only is the Xi3 perfect for maneuvering the kayak while I’m fishing, I use the motor to power to and from the fishing grounds. Having the power of an electric trolling motor makes me more confident and expands the horizons for my fishing kayak.
Best for Large Boats: Minn Kota Riptide Terrova
Why It Made The Cut
Go big with Minn Kota Riptide Terranova’s advanced features and an 87-inch shaft with 112 pounds of thrust.
- Power: 36 volts
- Shaft: 87 inches
- Thrust: 112 pounds
- Extra long shaft
- High power
- Maximum thrust
- Manual deploy and stow
Everyone wants the convenience and control of the best trolling motors, even anglers in large sportfishing boats. To meet the need, Minn Kota’s Riptide Terrova is available with an 87-inch shaft and 112 pounds of thrust. That’s sufficient size and power for a boat over 25-feet long. Using a trolling motor on an offshore boat, I can hold the boat on structure, slow troll down a weedline, or repeat a programmed drift. The Terrova even serves as autopilot to take me back to a saved position. I gain further control of the motor’s features and functions from the fish finder screen, my smartphone, or with the handheld remote with a color touchscreen. On a big boat, I need to control the trolling motor from the helm and the cockpit. Using the Terrova’s integrated control, I can use the remote or my fish finder to run the motor. For offshore and inshore anglers looking for ultimate boat control, the Riptide Terrova offers the most advanced trolling motor features with a long shaft and high-power propulsion system.
Best for the Money: Newport Vessels NV Series
Why It Made The Cut
An electric motor for small boats, the Newport Vessels NV Series has basic features at an affordable price.
- Power: 12 volt or 24 volt
- Shaft: 30 or 36 inch
- Thrust: 33, 46, 55, 62, 86 pounds
- Transom mount
- Adjustable shaft length
- Eight speeds
- Basic features
- Not available in bow mount
Anglers powering a small skiff, jon boat, flat transom canoe or kayak need a transom mount trolling motor with a tiller drive. Newport Vessels NV trolling motor provides reliable power at a great price. Available with a 30 or 36-inch shaft and power from 33 to 86 pounds, there is an NV model to fit any small watercraft. The NV has five forward speeds and three reverse speeds with smooth transitions between settings. To monitor battery life, an LED display keeps track of the remaining power. The Newport Vessels NV is simple and inexpensive, but it is also durable with corrosion-resistant components and sturdy construction. Electric motors are lighter and safer than a small gas outboard, and the Newport Vessels NV is also less expensive and easier to operate.
Best with GPS: Rhodan HD GPS Anchor
Why It Made The Cut
The most accurate satellite positioning available makes Rhodan HD GPS Anchor our pick for the best saltwater trolling motor with GPS.
- Power 12, 24, or 36 volts
- Shaft: 36 to 84 inches
- Thrust: 55, 80, or 120 pounds
- High Definition GPS
- Available in black and white
- Efficient circuitry
- Only available in three models
The most accurate GPS available puts the Rhodan HD GPS Anchor within three feet of programmed coordinates. That means the GPS Anchor holds the boat in a specific position and follows programmed routes, and returns to an exact point. When I’m fishing a shipwreck or reef, and I mark fish on the fish finder, I want a saltwater trolling motor that returns the boat to the same spot time after time. The HD GPS Anchor operates like a traditional trolling motor, or it can be programmed to run in conjunction with the main motor in heavy seas and current. The HD GPS Anchor is easy to operate with a water-resistant, floating fob. Rhodan offers one model in three power levels, so they focus their engineering expertise on making the HD GPS Anchor one of the best saltwater trolling motors with GPS.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Saltwater Trolling Motor
The first time I saw a trolling motor on a large center console boat, I was fishing a wreck 10 miles off Virginia Beach. As I was drifting across the wreck in my 20-foot center console, another boat pulled up and deployed a trolling motor. While I busily engaged my motor in forward and reverse to hold my boat over the wreck, the guy with the trolling motor pushed a button on a remote control, dropped his bait to the bottom, unwrapped a sandwich, and started eating. A trolling motor’s convenience and versatility are huge assets in almost all aspects of inshore and offshore fishing, but designing and building an electric motor for a marine environment is a huge challenge.
Saltwater trolling motors are stronger and tougher than freshwater trolling motors. To pull a large boat through rough water and strong current, an electric motor for saltwater needs up to 100 pounds of thrust. Thrust is the measurement of foot-pounds of force produced by the propeller. To determine the amount of thrust, consider the boat’s weight and dimensions. The rule of thumb is five pounds of thrust for every 200 pounds of boat weight.
A trolling motor shaft connects the head to the propeller. Big boats require a longer shaft to reach the water. Saltwater trolling motors are available with a shaft length up to 100 inches. To determine the best shaft length, measure the distance from the mounting surface to the boat’s waterline. Then, add the number of inches recommended by the trolling motor manufacturer to keep the propeller below the surface.
To power a heavy-duty trolling motor, you’ll need as much as 36 volts of electricity. That’s three of the best trolling motor batteries linked together. Before buying a trolling motor for saltwater, consider where you will store the batteries and how you will rig the wires.
Mixing metal and saltwater with electricity is a recipe for corrosion. To combat the elements, a saltwater trolling motor uses sacrificial anodes and waterproof connections. For a trolling motor to survive on the open sea, the shaft, head, and propeller must be capable of bouncing around in rough water without breaking or failing.
Saltwater trolling motors are stronger, bigger, and tougher to meet the challenges of a marine environment. To choose the best saltwater trolling motor for your boat, consider the thrust, size, and construction to match your needs.
Q: Where do I mount a saltwater trolling motor on my boat?
Most saltwater boats aren’t designed for a trolling motor, so the first question is: where do I mount a saltwater trolling motor? There are three options for mounting a saltwater trolling motor. Smaller boats, skiffs, canoes, and kayaks can use a trolling motor mounted to the transom. Transom mount motors, such as the Newport Vessels NV in this review, are attached to the transom with a couple of c-clamps. Control direction, speed, and steering with a tiller. Transom-mounted trolling motors are best for traveling to and from the fishing grounds in a small boat or paddle craft.
Larger boats with an outboard motor use a bow-mounted trolling motor. The trolling motor base mounts to the bow deck, and the propeller hangs into the water. When you are using the main motor, stow the trolling motor. To maneuver around the fishing area and hold the boat in place, drop the motor’s propellor into the water. Bow mount trolling motors use a foot pedal or remote fob to control direction, speed, and motor functions. A trolling motor mounted on the bow is best for accurately positioning the boat in the fishing area, power drifting, slow trolling, and holding the boat in place.
Q: What is the best battery for a saltwater trolling motor?
Once you choose an electric trolling motor, you need to ask what is the best battery for a saltwater trolling motor. A more powerful trolling motor requires more battery power. Smaller motors with 55 pounds of thrust use a single 12-volt battery while a larger trolling motor with 100 foot-pounds of thrust needs 36 volts to run all day. Calculate the battery’s amp hours using the formula for the trolling motor’s power draw divided by the number of hours you plan to use the battery on a typical trip.
Trolling motors require deep-cycle marine batteries to run all day long. These batteries are available in lead-acid, flooded, absorbed glass mat and lithium base materials. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Lithium iron are lightest with the best performance and the highest price tag. Lead acid batteries are less expensive, but they don’t last as long or recharge as efficiently. Performance, convenience, and reliability increase as the price increases.
Then, you’ll have to add a charging system and power bank to manage the batteries. After each trip, plug in the charger to top off the battery power.
With the weight and bulk of adding a trolling motor and multiple batteries to the boat, I recommend using the lightest, most powerful batteries with the simplest and most efficient power management system.
Q: How much does the best saltwater trolling motor cost?
As the price of the trolling motor, batteries, charger, wires, cables, and installation start to add up, you’ll ask how much does the best saltwater trolling motor cost. The saltwater trolling motors in this review range in price from $179 to $3449. The wide price range reflects a wide range of features and performance. For less than $200, you can add a tiller-controlled trolling motor with a 30-inch shaft and 36 pounds of thrust. At the upper end of the price range, you get a 120-thrust-pound motor with an 87-inch shaft. The expensive motor adds remote control, electronics integration, GPS connection, optimized power draw, and a long list of other features. If you are powering a small craft in sheltered waters, a simple trolling motor is easy to use and own. To add a full-size, full-featured electric motor to a large, offshore fishing boat, expect to pay top dollar for the best saltwater trolling motor.
Saltwater trolling motors have come a long way in the past decade, and the Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra is the result of years of testing and improvement. Offering every feature and function available, including GPS connection, remote control, fish finder integration, and advanced power metering in a robust, corrosion resistant, reinforced, and sealed package. Minn Kota’s large, intuitive remote has a LCD screen to monitor the trolling motor’s functions. My favorite feature is the auto stow and deploy; I don’t have to leave the helm to drop or retrieve the trolling motor. Trolling motors are all about convenience and versatility, and the Riptide Ulterra has all the bells and whistles making it my top pick among the best saltwater trolling motors.
Thrust, power consumption, and shaft length are important, but a trolling motor is worthless if it doesn’t work. I first looked at the toughest construction and best materials. Riding on the bow or transom of a saltwater fishing boat, the trolling motor has to stand up to spray, rain, waves, and rough use. Once the trolling motor is in the water, I expect easy, reliable operation. Without looking at the remote, I can control the direction, speed, and functions. Speaking of functions, saltwater trolling motors make fishing easier with programmable routes, autopilot, and virtual anchor. Finally, a saltwater trolling motor must be versatile to slow troll, hover over structure, power drift and repeat a course to keep the boat on the fish.