The Seagull outboard and its owners

June 2010

By Dodge Morgan

The British Seagull outboard motor appears to have been designed prior to the industrial revolution. Fifty years ago, it was a most simple and straightforward piece of machinery found on many dinghy transoms, but now it is a humorous curiosity to those who just happen to come across one, and a cult membership to those who have owned one in the past or do own one at present.

The motor is curiously just as easy to repair, an ongoing activity, for a mechanical dope as it is for a practicing mechanic. Operating parts are obvious in function even to the non initiated, and they are either right there in front of you or are clearly located close behind subassemblies held with very perceptible fastenings.

The original operating manual for a Seagull was clear. It demands one reads the manual first and then cautions that people can be divided into two categories – those who are born with the capacity to operate machinery and those who were not – and if you as an owner belong to the latter class, you will need to study the manual with an especially furious focus or you have made a mistake buying the motor in the first place. The manual hints that those who remain unsuccessful in Seagull operation should not complain to the factory but seek psychological help – that their problem is mental attitude and not a cantankerous engine.

The horsepower ratings on Seagulls range one and a half to three. They drive nothing fast, but do have an intrinsic ability to keep moving through wave action and weight burdens. I have transported a 12-ton schooner several miles by Seagull, a project that may start very slow, but smartly yields to persistence for steady progress.

I have owned some six of these motors over about five decades of boating, and own one of the bangers now. Most of my collection came from others who had dunked the motor in a dinghy capsize and had not the fortitude or patience for repairs. Seagulls that are immersed while running do require more serious attention: Fuel-delivery parts must be given a thorough washing in soapy fresh water, and electrical parts treated to an oven baking after the clean-water wash.

My experience with these motors has taught me how to spot a Seagull owner out of the crowd. Almost always of the male gender, he will exhibit several obvious personal and social characteristics.

His right arm will hang lower than his left, a result of carrying one of the devices almost everywhere during shore visits to thwart indiscriminating thieves and nefarious parts collectors.

He will walk with a definite shuffle and cautious style because his shoe soles will be coated with an oily slick; the engines ooze two-cycle oil.

He will speak in an extraordinarily loud, singsong voice because one can barely hear anything at dinghy distance while under way with one. The Seagull instructions do warn one to avoid controversial comments and obscene remarks during dinghy sorties. This is because you will have trouble talking over the engine noise to a companion right next to you, but those at distance will hear every one of your words clearly because of the close-by-volume concept and the acoustical reality that the sound frequencies of speech differ significantly from those of the motor (Nancy Pelosi may be the exception here).

The Seagull owner’s wife or mate will show red splotches over her face, neck and cleavage. These are caused by the knot on the action end of the starting rope, commonly whipped forward after the numerous engine wraps and pulls needed for each operating use.

The British Seagull company still exists.

As we went to press, Dodge had just returned to Maine in his trawler Osprey after spending the winter in the Bahamas.