Tab Talk

Posted: February 1, 2014

By: Zuzana Prochazka

I have an 18-foot bowrider with a 130 hp Yamaha two-stroke on the back. When I load people on, it takes a while to sort out seating, and then as we take off and plane, I must stop again and move people to balance the boat. Do you think tabs would work for this, or is it purely to plane easier? And which is better, self-adjustable or manual tabs?
In general, trim tabs make a large difference in how boats ride. They improve fuel efficiency, correct for load distribution, minimize squatting, improve forward visibility during holeshot and even reduce pounding over waves. When sizing trim tabs, a rule of thumb is 1 inch for every 1 foot of boat length. Don’t under-buy when considering trim tabs.

Bennett and Lenco are the main manufacturers of hydraulic and electric tabs, which can run approximately $400 per pair. For half that price, you can get SmartTabs by Nauticus of California, which are called self-adjusting tabs. They use nitrogen gas actuators that provide lift at the stern and work like shock absorbers. They require no through-transom wires or plumbing, and they are easy to install. However, they cannot be adjusted while underway to compensate for changing weight distribution when someone aboard moves.

Any adjustments are done with the boat on the trailer. They work best on smaller, faster boats (say, less than 24 feet) and can react faster than the helmsman can adjust them.

Electric and hydraulic tabs are more complex both to install and operate. Electric versions are newer technology that won’t leak hydraulic fluid, will react quickly and operate independently. Hydraulic tabs are less expensive to install and rarely suffer from corrosion like electric tab systems. Both systems allow for driver control underway and are usually used on larger boats and yachts.

Finally, old-school technology includes fixed tabs that can only be adjusted with the boat out of the water.

Regardless of the technology, tabs have a dramatic effect on small vessels, especially when coming up on plane when the maximum bow angle at holeshot can exceed 15 degrees and the driver’s visibility is reduced — and, therefore, so is safety.

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