Prop School – Part 2: Terminology

Continuing from Prop School….Part 1 .   Here, I will explain basic propeller terminology and fitment.


On right-hand rotation propellers, the blades slant from lower left to upper right when looking at the blade face. A left-hand propeller, however, has the opposite slant; from lower right to upper left.

Propellers are available in both right-hand and left-hand rotation. Most single engine outboard and sterndrive powered boats use right-hand rotation propellers. A right-hand rotation propeller will spin clockwise when pushing the boat forward, while a left-hand propeller will spin counter-clockwise.

Number of Blades

Four blade props are popular for suppressing vibrations even further while improving acceleration by putting more blades in the water.

The most popular propellers used for recreational boating have three or four blades. Three-blade props are efficient and do a good job of minimizing vibration. Four blade props are popular for suppressing vibrations even further while improving acceleration by putting more blades in the water.


In “prop speak,” diameter is the distance across a circle made by the blade tips as a propeller rotates. The proper diameter is determined by the power that is delivered to it and the resulting propeller rpm.

The more a propeller is surfacing above the water, the larger the diameter needs to be.

Type of application is also a factor. The amount of propeller in the water (partially surfaced vs fully submerged) plays a role in determining diameter. The more a propeller is surfacing above the water, the larger the diameter needs to be (so what’s left under water can still push). On rare occasions, diameter may be physically limited by drive type or in close, staggered engine installations where tips can touch.

Within a specific propeller style, diameter is usually larger on slower boats and smaller on faster boats. Similarly, for engines with a lower maximum engine speed (or with more gear reduction), diameter will tend to be larger. Also, diameter typically decreases as propeller blade surface areas increase (for the same engine power and rpm). A four bladed prop replacing a three blade of the same pitch will typically be smaller in diameter.

Physical limits

The Mercury Racing M8 sterndrive fitted with our 18-inch diameter 5-blade CNC propeller.

Mercury Racing engines fitted with the Bravo One XR or Bravo Three XR drives are designed for props up to 16-inches in diameter. Bravo One XR drives fitted with the short Sport Master gearcase accepts props up to 15-1/4 inch in diameter. Sterndrive engines with surface piercing M6 or M8 sterndrives run cleaver props up to 18-inches in diameter. Our 4.6L V-8 250R and 300R FourStroke outboards as well as the 400R Verado accept props up to 16-inches in diameter.





In this example, the propeller moves forward 21-inches in one revolution.

Pitch is the distance a propeller would move in one revolution if it were moving through a soft solid, like a screw in wood. When we list an outboard four-blade Pro Max prop as a 14-1/2 X 32, we are saying it is 14-1/2 inches in diameter with 32-inches of pitch.

Pitch is measured across the face of a propeller blade. Actual pitch can vary from the pitch number stamped on the prop. Modifications made by propeller shops may alter the pitch. Undetected damage from a submerged object may result with a bent blade, altering the pitch as well.

 There are two common types of pitch; constant and progressive. Constant pitch means the blade pitch is the same – from the leading edge to trailing edge. Progressive pitch, referred to as blade camber, starts low at the leading edge and progressively increases toward the trailing edge. The pitch number, “32” in the Pro Max example, is the average pitch over the entire blade.

Pitch is like another set of gears. Since an engine needs to run within its recommended maximum rpm range, proper pitch selection achieves that rpm. The lower the pitch, the higher the engine rpm. Mercury Racing propellers are designed so that a one-inch change in pitch results in a 150 rpm change in engine speed.

A lower pitch propeller may provide greater acceleration for water sports activities, but your top speed and fuel efficiency may suffer. If you run at full throttle with a prop selected for acceleration and not top-end speed, your engine rpm may be too high, placing an undesirable stress on the engine. If you select too high of a pitch, your engine may lug at a lower rpm – which can also cause damage.  Acceleration will be slower as well. It will be reduced further with a full load of fuel and maximum capacity of people on board.

Proper pitch selection allows the engine to operate near the top of its recommended rpm range at light load (1/2 fuel tank and two people). Using this pitch selection method, the engine usually operates near the low end of the recommended engine operating range when the boat is fully loaded (full fuel tank, boating gear, full live wells, and maximum capacity). Full load engine speed is usually reduced 200 to 300 rpm. The power output of naturally aspirated engines can be affected by high heat and humidity which is another factor that can reduce engine speed by 200 to 300 rpm.

The Mercury Racing Prop Slip Calculator App is very helpful in determining the proper pitch for your application.

Smart, pressure charged engines like the supercharged 400R outboard and our turbocharged QC4 sterndrives will auto-regulate power output for heat and humidity. Adaptive Speed Control, a standard feature on our 250R and 300R outboards, is another factor to consider when dialing in your boat for maximum power and top-end speed.

In my next Prop School post, I will discuss blade rake.


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36 thoughts on “Prop School – Part 2: Terminology”

  1. Great to hear details from an expert. You think you know a lot then you read an article like this and gain a whole new understanding, most informative is the specific RPM changes with the pitch change and load variations. Thanks

  2. Thank you Scott, love your Prop School!

    You wrote that “a one-inch change in pitch results in a 150 RPM change in engine speed”, does that apply to all of the “standard” flo-torq II Mercury props for sale or does the prop design have to be after a certain year?

    1. Peter,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, in most cases, 1”change in pitch equates to an approximate 150 RPM change in engine speed. There are a few exceptions but, for the most part this general rule applies. For example, I had a customer who was discouraged with his boat performance. He had a 225 OptiMax on a center console. He was using a 21″ pitch Mirage Plus propeller. The recommended engine operating RPM is 5000-5750. His engine would barely turn 5000 RPM, especially when loaded with fuel and passengers. Upon my recommendation, he installed a 19″ pitch Mirage Plus. He gained 300 RPM. The boat has much better hole and carries the load much better.

  3. Thank you Scott for taking the time to respond to the “common” man about prop selection.
    With so many choices, it is hard to pick one.

    I used the Mercury Prop Selector to see what would be reccomended for my current project.
    We are repowering a 25′ rescue boat for a local fire dept with twin 200 hp L4 Verados that will replace their 140 hp carburated Evinrudes with 19p props.

    This is a big heavy boat ( 5200 lb hull). I am leaning towards an Enertia due to past experiance with the same motor on a Wellcraft center console. The Enertia was better than a Tempest we tried.

    1. Hi Dan,

      I’m glad you’ve experienced the Enertia and the Tempest. The other three-blade prop to think about is the Mirage Plus. The Mirage, with its large diameter, will probably offer the best control in rough seas but it won’t be as fast as the Enertia or Tempest. If you need stern lift, I would lean toward the Revolution 4 (4 blade). An estimated prop slip, given the gear ratio and the weight of your rig, tells me you need to go with 19″ pitch for the Mirage and Rev 4. You may be able to move up to a 21” pitch with the Enertia, given its smaller diameter.

      Let us know where you end up.


  4. I have a 25′ Robalo 2520 center console boat with twin carbed 200hp motors (and 1.87 ratio c-rotating 21p Mirage (not plus) props. With an average load and conditions, I see 52-54mph TOPS, but at only 5,000-5,100rpm wide open…should be a bit higher Cruise at 4,000rpm in calm conditions is around 38-42mph depending on trim. Hole shot is fair; don’t have much to compare it to. I just ordered 19p Revolution 4’s; what should I expect?

    1. Your current performance speeds are impressive with the Mirage props. What you can expect with the Revolution 4 19” pitch props is a shorter time to plane. Mid-range and top-end speeds might drop 2-3 mph because of the lower pitch.

      1. I have had the 19p Rev4’s on for a couple seasons, and they are very impressive. I’m in the 5,000-5,400rpm range with both engines and a lighter load; and with a lot of engine trim, I’m still seeing early-mid 50mph on GPS. What I really noticed was that the boat sticks like glue in tight turns and rougher water, the entire hull lifts while planing…which is of course stronger, and I can run slightly slower planing speed. Slow speed handling around the docks is improved over the Mirages, too. Fuel economy…what’s that?

  5. I have a 21 foot Key West 210 bay boat, Suzuki DF200, 6-inch Atlas jackplate. I have tried three props so far; OEM Suzuki 3x16x25 – WOT 54 MPH at 5800 RPM with blow outs while making turns. OEM Suzuki 4x15x24 WOT 53.5 MPH at 5750 RPM. Better, but not great. Rev 4 23p, WPT 53.6 MPH at 6050 RPM. Much better across the board. All props run with the same fishing load. Could you give me your opinion of the Rev4 with 1-inch increase of pitch or is 6050 RPM ok? Or maybe Bravo I FS?

    1. Gerald,

      Looks like the Rev 4 works well on your Suzuki. It’s hard to know what size prop is best for your rig without knowing your engine RPM operating range. The next pitch up for the Rev 4 is the 25″ pitch. If you were to try it, plan on dropping 300 RPM from the 6050 you achieved with the 23″ pitch Rev 4. I’m not sure if the Bravo I FS will work for you. All my experience is with Mercury Outboards.


    1. Gerald,
      Thanks for the great comment. The Bravo I FS is an amazing prop. Your right! It’s like running a whole new boat.
      Thanks again,

  6. I have a 21 cc trophy with a 225 optimax 2003 I have a black max 19 inch on it wot is 5700 rpm at 38 knots loaded for fishing 3 adults too at 3800 rpm at 25 knots I happy with that ..i had a solas 18 inch wot was 5800 and 4400 rmp was crusiing at 25 knots ..take off better but fuel economy was not good with that I put black max back on ..any suggestions on the mercury range was thinking eniatia 19 or 20 in prop or should I go for a bigger diameter prop like mirage plus or eniatia eco ???

    1. Shane,
      The ECO and Mirage are great props. Your Trophy would benefit from the Enertia; offering the best overall performance. Consider looking at the 18” or 19”; the 18” pitch will offer quicker planing but the 19” could offer 1 mph greater top speed.

  7. Hi, need some prop advice for my G3 Bay 22 DLX with Yamaha SHO 200. Boat hull has a designed in hook the last 6 feet of the center hull panel, and I can feel the lack of bow lift resulting from this.
    Stock 200 hp engine and 21p M 3 blade prop ran 59.7 mph @ 6200 rpm.
    Flashed ECU (300 hp) and worked 24p FXP 3 blade prop ran 66.9 mph @ 6000 rpm with improved lift, but boat still felt stuck to the water, probably from the hull hook.
    In all cases, the ride is rock solid with no drama.
    All speed runs are with motor all the way down on 6” hyd jack plate. PTP about 4.25”. Boat slows down if I raise the jack plate, even a little.
    I’m looking for more top end speed and thinking a 4 blade prop might give more bow lift and perhaps allow the motor to be raised up some.
    Can you provide recommendations on a 4 blade prop model and pitch I could try?

    1. Terry,

      The Bravo FS is a great bow lifting propeller with some stern lift; it typically lifts the entire boat which could minimize the hook effect offering greater top speeds. To achieve similar RPMs to your setup, consider a 25 pitch Bravo I FS.


  8. Above you state: “The pitch number, “32” in the Pro Max example, is the average pitch over the entire blade.”

    Would you further detail the specifics of how that average pitch over the entire blade(s) is calculated on any progressive pitch propeller? I realize that at any selected radius local blade angle (thus local pitch) varies from lead to trail edge.

    Is the pitch calculation a simple arithmetic average of all the measured local pitches or a geometric average of the same?

    How does Mercury measure the local pitches?

    Thank you

  9. Hello Scott,

    I’m interested to get your thoughts on a performance issue that I’m having on my 2014 Ranger 620 with a 250 Verado Pro. I am currently running a Tempest Plus 21 pitch prop that came with the boat when i purchased it a little over 1 year ago. At WOT, i see about 6150 RPM and about 54.5 MPH, seemingly regardless of the load. While more speed would be nice, I’m really more concerned about the planing issues. The boat is very slow out of the hole even lightly loaded, but I do occasionally fish on lake oahe with 4 people in the boat and when i do this, I often times need to have someone move towards the bow of the boat just to get it on plane. This is especially the case once the livewell is full (with water and fish). Can you provide any guidance on what benefits (if any) I would see with a Rev 4 or Bravo LT?


    1. Jason,

      Consider the 20 pitch Bravo I FS, it is a great performer on the Ranger 620. It sounds like you are having to trim a lot to get to 6150 rpm, causing slip. With the FS, the ride and hole shot are much improved.


      1. Nick,

        I was actually looking the Bravo I FS, as well as a 19 pitch Rev 4, but was a little nervous about dropping down to a 19 in the case of the Rev 4.

        Thank you for your response.


        1. Jason,

          On the Ranger 620, the Bravo I FS provides great lift to carry the bow, requring less trim use on top end. A 20 pitch will be ideal.
          Always happy to help,


  10. Hello Scott,

    Just wanted to get your thoughts on my set up. I have a 35zf donzi with twin mercury 250 2 stroke with 1.75 gears. Mercury states max rpm 5800. I am currently running 46 mph (GPS) @ 5800 rpms with about 2000 lbs of load plus hull weight of 7500lbs with a rev 4 21p. That puts my prop slip at 30.19 % which seems high. Before I was running bravo1 22p and running 48 mph @ 5400 rpms same load. That puts my prop slip at 25.31 % but it was very difficult to plane. I was told to pitch down to rev 4 17p or rev 4 19p to cut down my prop slip. I am a little worried to do so because i was already at my max recommended rpms. What are you thoughts. Should i just accept my current prop slip or should a pitch down ? If pitch down 17p or 19p ? Thanks

    1. Mark,

      Yes that is very high slip. How much trim are you using at wide open? How about engine height and is there a lot of weight in the front of the boat?


  11. I have a 231 mako with twin 3 liter 225 250 outboards counter rotation I have mirage plus 19s I plan on putting float on bracket k planes and a twin jackplate boat runs mid 70s currently I am wondering if a set of performance 21 22 pitch props would be good for the jack plate being I’ll have more prop out of the water

    1. Trevor,

      Run the Mirages on the updated setup an record speed and RPM. This will give us a great baseline to start with. Also, changing one thing at a time can help to isolate what helps and what doesn’t.


  12. Your XR drives are available with both 1:50 and 1:35 gear ratios. If we have a fairly light single engine big block boat capable of reaching around 80 mph at 5500 rpm, would you say that it generally is better to go for 1:50 gearing and roughly a 26p prop, or 1:35 gearing and roughly a 23p prop? (assuming around 10% slip). In what case would you choose one or the other?

    Would you say that there is a theoretical optimum propeller pitch at 40 mph? 50mph? 60mph etc that works best? Is see that you make props all the way up to 34p, that’s pretty extreme. Are there drawbacks to going so high in pitch in that the propeller becomes less effective?

    1. Fredrik,

      Great questions. Most XR applications will go with the 1.50 ratio. 26 pitch is a great place to be. Because there are limited gear ratios offered in every drive package, propeller pitch needs to cover a wide range of top speeds. Think of a 300 hp outboard with a 1.75 ratio going on a 4000 pound boat, and then a 700 pound boat. The pitch would likely change almost 15 inches. Mercury Racing builds up to 40 pitch on the CNC cleavers. They will get slightly less efficient at that tall of pitch.

      For the 40, 50, 60 mph speeds, the pitch will be determined by the gear ratio/ engine package if correctly setup. But the most popular range is 15 to 21 for these speeds.

      Drive height and top speed also play a big role in propeller selection. Certain propellers are designed specifically for surfacing applications over 85 mph while others perform best under 70.


  13. Hi Nick,
    thanks for all the answers and great lessons.
    I am running a Vengeance 13 3/4 21 on a 2000 maxum with a 5.7 penta gs 1.62 ratio.
    WOT speed is 51mph at 4600. The engine range is 4400-4800.
    Its not running bad at all but i guess there is room for improvement.

    Just getting the right rpm at top speeds seem to me like very little parameters taken into consideration.
    Shouldn’t it be of interest HOW the setup got to max rpm?

    Full throttle rpm goes up to 3800 in no time. like immediately. after 5 seconds its at 30mph and about another 6 seconds later its at top speed.

    My assumption is that the engines max torque is lower than 3800 and that it would make most sense to select prop properties that would let the engine spin up to its max torque speed and gain most speed in the range with most torque.

    Am right? and what would be your recommendation?

    Would playing with rake make any sense to increase max speed by touching the water less?


    1. Ben,

      Ideally you use gear ratio and propeller pitch to match your RPM at WOT to the RPM at which your engine is making peak horsepower. Your setup seems very well dialed in. Your are right within your power band and the prop is hooking up extremely well at 9-10% slip. The other prop that guys like in similar applications is the Enertia, but I wouldn’t change a thing.


  14. Hello.
    I have a 1992 Ranger 451V with a 1993 Mercury 150HP EFI XRi engine, I have a 6″ Detwiller jack plate, I have a 23P Tempest Plus prop, I have three adults in the boat. I am running 5100 RPM at WOT, 52-54 MPH GPS depending on my engine height and trim. I raise it until I run about 3-1/2″ below pad, trim is level. My question is should I go to a 21P Tempest Plus to get the motor in the 5500 rpm range, or go to a smaller diameter prop and add more pitch to keep the speed and gain RPM? I do not want to lose too much top speed because sometimes I have to outrun storms on the lake. Right now my hole shot is at 3500 RPM with the large vent plugs in the prop.

    1. Michael,

      I think sticking with the Tempest is the way to go, it is hooking up great for you. Going down to the 21 pitch will be a personal preference. Your hole shot and acceleration will improve but I think you will lose 1-2 mph.


      1. Thank you Nick, I did forget my ratio is 1.87:1. You don’t think the added RPM’S will keep the speed up where it is with the 21 pitch Tempest Plus? My WOT RPM should be 5600 RPM, it is 5100. I don’t want to lug the motor. I read it is hard on them.
        Many are raving about the Trophy Plus. They claim it gives a better hole shot due to 4 blades. They also say they can add more pitch because the diameter is smaller and gain top end. They say the smaller diameter allows adding more pitch due to higher WOT RPM’S, thus more propulsion forwards. Example is run a 25 pitch instead of a 23 pitch. Is this correct concerning hydro-dynamics of a propeller?

        1. Michael,

          The Trophy typically runs about the same pitch as the Tempest. I agree in some cases it will offer better top end speed, but with how well your Tempest is hooking up, I can’t see much of a gain, maybe 1.5 mph with the 23 pitch. I do not think hole shot will improve, the larger barrel of the Tempest actually helps greatly with hole shot.


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