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Bite Back: Testing the Piranha Propeller

By Brady L. Kay / Photos by Lynn Kay

There is one noise that no boater wants to hear while cruising across the lake. That sound is, "Pa–dumppt," which roughly translated means you need a new propeller now and possibly a new drive after hitting a stump or some other large object below the water's surface.

There really isn't a safe time of the year when it comes to avoiding objects that can break or bend your propeller. In the spring when the water is up you tend to see more debris floating in you lake such as logs or other large items. And ion the late summer months the water levels tend to drop, which exposes new problems that weren't on your mind earlier in the season.

For awhile, boaters clinched their insurance policies like a fat man clings to his buy–one–get–free pass, because that's about all you could do. But there is a propeller manufacturer in California that knows a better way. Piranha Propellers in San Luis Obispo has been making composite props for over 15 years. But what makes these props unique is that you can replace individual blades for just a fraction of the cost of a new prop.

Being a niche publication that focuses primarily on pontoon and deck boats, we tend to get a lot of phone calls from people that have exciting new products. These calls usually involve the phrase, "This is going to change our industry." So when products appear to be too good to believe, we insist that we test it ourselves. When we contacted the people behind the Piranha Propeller, they simply just asked when and where. Their confident response was our first indication that this might really be an industry changing product.

Last summer, PDB magazine held a test on Lake Nacimiento in Paso Robles in central California to put this line of Piranha props through a rigorous course. WE tested for propeller performance and reparability. Working for this magazine gives us a lot of different and unique opportunities, but we've never had the opportunity to purposely destroy propellers. We had more fun than Martha Stewart at the Pillsbury factory on a work–release. Who knew breaking props could be so much fun?

DURABILITY

For the damage test we used a 19–foot Ranger boat with a 230hp V8 MerCruiser I/O engine. True, the Ranger isn't a pontoon or a deck boat, but we just couldn't stomach the thought of busting up one of our own.

On Our first fun we passed over a submerged log where we lost two blades off the four–blade propeller. It's an unusual feeling to run over something in a boat in hope of breaking the prop. I don't think company owner, Brad Stahl intended to break the blades so early in the test, but he just smiled.

"I was hoping to just nick the blade a little the first time, but it looks like the log wasn't deep enough,: said Stahl.

You could tell that he took great pleasure in breaking his props. He pulled over close to the shore and got out his floating prop wrench and in no time he was showing us the damage. Replacing the two broken blades was as easy and as effortless as a Shaquille O'Neal dunk. The broken pieces tapped out quickly and the new ones went right back in, Any Indianapolis 500 pit crew member would be impressed. Within minutes we were back on the water and looking for something else to hit.

After the damage test had concluded, we had a collection of broken propellers that would rival a mechanic's pile at a rental boat business. With some of these rental places you'd swear the people were running them in the parking lot. We decided to move on to the performance testing. Ironically the Ranger boat hit a rock on its way to the pontoon performance test and broke another propeller.

"I wanted to show you a real life test," jokes Shane Hunt, who assisted with our test. The rock was an unplanned delay, but it just further proved that even the most cautious boaters can break a prop.

PERFORMANCE

The durability test showed how easily a propeller could be replaced, but if the performance doesn't compare to other props then it really is only good in an emergency situation. But Piranha's performance claim is what intrigued us to hold this test in the first place. The California–based manufacturer stands behind its props and guarantees that its composite version will out–perform any aluminum one. So for fun we took it to the next level and compared it to a stainless steel propeller

WE compared all the props against a 14 by 15 stainless steel propeller that was already on the Sweetwater 24SC pontoon boat. This boat was owned by Richard Steck and he had volunteered the use of his boat for the test. But when all was said and done, the Piranha composite propeller was just as effective as the stainless. The top speed numbers surprised everyone, except for Stahl who knew what his propeller was capable of. Stahl has a degree in aerodynamics and he built his first prototype back in 1989. In less than four years, Piranha was manufacturing a full line.

"I took the same technology that is involved with prop planes and applied it to boats," said the licensed pilot. "It took about a year of testing and making slight changes like making the hub more user friendly. But our goal is still to make aluminum propellers obsolete."

The VERTON material used for the composite prop is non–corroding an the price for a Piranha propeller varies depending on the size and number of blades, but it's priced competitively compare to other props on the market.

But the biggest advantage that the Piranha has is the replacement cost. For around $20 a blade you can quickly repair our damaged prop right on the spot with no special tools or trips to the shop. This option is a whole lot better than buying a new propeller, With Piranha, this really could be the last propeller that you ever need to purchase.