The short answer is no. We met many boats without thrusters that did the loop just fine. There was one occasion when a boat had to be towed out of the slip because the wind was up, and it could not get off the dock.

That said, we are glad we had both bow and stern thrusters. It made getting in and out of tight slips much easier and safer. It allowed us to get into slips and into spaces on lock walls that we would otherwise not have been able to dock at. By having both bow and stern, we were able to go “Sideways” into tight spots. I can think of at least a dozen times when we used them to get into spaces that we would have had to pass up without.

They were also very handy for docking in windy conditions (there were a lot of those), and they minimized the risks involved. They were also fantastic in the Locks! When the water starts coming in, it can get hard to hold your boat against the lock wall, wind also caused us to pull away from the wall in some locks. Having thrusters lets you give yourself a quick “tap” back over to the wall, reducing the strain on your arms and improving safety. We saw several boats end up sideways in the locks due to current or wind!

Our boat came with a bow thruster built in at the factory, and we added a Side-Shift stern thruster. This is a great accessory. All of the installation is above the waterline, so it can be installed without hauling your boat in many cases. It comes with a remote and will integrate with most bow thrusters to give you a single control. They also make aftermarket bow thrusters!

Second Loop Update. We still highly recommend bow and stern thrusters. The only change on the second loop is that we replaced our Side-Shift brand thruster with a Sleipner Side-Power thruster. We wore the first Side-Shift out and replaced it. Unfortunately, the second unit was not of the same quality, and the company would not stand behind its product. I don’t recommend Side-Shift anymore.

We installed the Side-Power SX35 External Pod Thruster which was a more involved installation requiring a haul out and holes below the waterline, but it is MUCH stronger and has been very reliable.

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