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What Is a Tiller Outboard Motor & How Does It Work?

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is a tiller outboard motor

If you’ve been looking at the different options available for your boat, you’ll come across an interesting choice in the tiller. But what is a tiller outboard motor exactly? How is it beneficial and when is it ideal to use?

In this short guide, we’ll take a look at tiller outboard motors and what they can offer. We’ll also look at the benefits of using a tiller and how it fares as an alternative boat steering system. Keep reading to learn more.

Tiller Outboard Motor

A tiller outboard motor or tiller motor is simply an outboard motor that utilizes a tiller steering system. This means that it does not use a steering wheel but a tiller to steer the boat. This is quite common in smaller outboard motors, especially those that are 15 horsepower or lower.

A tiller boat motor is often used in small motorized boats, especially those for fishing such as Jon boats and bass boats. This is due to several benefits that the use of tillers brings. Tillers are also often used in sailboats.

Before we continue, however, let’s take a closer look at the tiller to better understand how a tiller outboard motor works.

1. Tiller – How It Works

The tiller is a rod that is used to steer the boat and is an alternative to the steering wheel. In its simplest design, a tiller is connected directly to the rudder. Tilting the tiller in one direction results in the bow shifting toward an angle, resulting in the boat turning in a specific direction.

In contrast to the steering wheel, the tiller directs the boat’s rudder but the boat shifts to the opposite direction of the tiller; shifting the tiller right will change the boat’s direction to the left.

2. Tiller Handle Boat Motors – How to Operate

There are a few points to consider for controlling the tiller handle engine. First, the tiller shifts the rudder of the boat, which is usually positioned behind the propeller, but the tiller may not be directly connected to the rudder.

Second, the tiller also controls the acceleration of the boat using the tiller shaft itself through a twisting motion. One direction increases the speed while the other direction decreases it.

Finally, there are several options available on tiller motors, such as an extension handle and tension adjustment.

Benefits of Using a Tiller Steering System


As mentioned earlier, there are several benefits to using a tiller steering system that make it a good option for certain boating activities. Among those activities are fishing and sightseeing. Below are some of the biggest benefits of using a tiller steer boat motor.

1. More space on the boat

A steering wheel takes up a lot of space on the boat. This necessary space usually occupies the front or middle portion of the boat.

Tiller steering, however, takes up minimal space. Since the tiller is connected to the outboard motor, it’s almost only occupying the stern, which leaves a lot of space on the boat for fishing.

2. Easy to operate

Using a tiller to steer the boat takes time to get used to because of how the boat turns in the direction opposite of the tiller. But after getting used to it, it’s actually a more intuitive method of controlling the boat. It’s especially useful to be able to steer the boat with precision even when using only one hand.

Because of the simple operation, it’s easy to manage even when having to keep an eye on other things on the boat or when entertaining people. It’s also a good choice for pontoon boats.

3. Superior maneuverability and control

One of the biggest draws of using tiller steering is its excellent control. The control afforded by a tiller motor is unparalleled, especially for lower speeds.

It’s also easy to change speeds with only one hand. Modern tiller boats also have detailed gauges that steering wheel boats use, so keeping an eye on the engine’s performance is no longer a problem.

4. Simple mechanism and easy to repair

Even when used with an outboard motor, tillers are still very simple in design. Because of this simplicity, there are few points for malfunction. It’s also easy to identify the problem and repair it.

This simplicity makes it easy to approach troubleshooting for tiller outboard motors. This ease of maintenance, coupled with ease of operation, makes tiller motors very accessible to beginner boaters and experienced boaters alike.

Tips for Using a Tiller Outboard Motor


1. Pay attention to tiller length

It’s important to have a tiller that is long enough for you to handle properly. Some tiller motors just have short tillers, which will make it difficult to handle. For such situations, consider using a tiller handle extension.

Remember that the tiller is used for directing the boat as well as accelerating the motor. It’s important to have a firm handle on the tiller at all times.

2. Check connections frequently

As mentioned earlier, tiller boat motors are simple in design. To make the most of this simplicity, be sure to check the steering system frequently. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and problems are easy to spot.

Some things to look out for are the settings on your outboard engine and the connection of the motor to the fuel or battery.

3. Learn to operate the tiller from either side

Operating the tiller will have you seated on one side of the tiller. However, there are situations where it may be easier to operate the boat from a specific side. By learning to operate the boat from either side, you’ll be able to adjust to situations where visual accessibility is limited from one side.

It also helps to learn to change from one side to the other while operating the boat. This will allow you to react to situations more quickly.

4. Attach the safety lanyard when operating the boat

Make sure to attach the safety lanyard to yourself when operating the boat. This will trigger the engine’s kill switch in case you are thrown off the boat. Every outboard engine has this.

This serves as insurance to ensure that the boat does not get away from you and is especially useful if you’re alone on the boat, so make sure to use it regardless of how good you’ve gotten at operating your boat.


This concludes our short guide on what is a tiller outboard motor. It is an excellent alternative to the steering wheel and comes with its own set of benefits that fit well with fishing and other small boat activities.

What do you think about the tiller steering for boats? Please leave your comments below. If you know anyone wondering about tiller outboard motors as well, please share this with them.

Remember to boat safely.

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