The British Seagull outboard motor is no longer in production,with the last of its parts-and-products inventory having been bought out by Seagull fanatic John Williams in 1996. (The company had been producing the engines for 65 years.) Yet the motors live on, and many of them remain in service of their owners around the world. Williams maintains a business, lovingly called Saving Old Seagulls, servicing Seagulls and providing parts for Seagull owners. Williams is a one-man band, except that he receives some distribution assistance from the U.K.-based Sheridan Marine, which owns the Seagull name. His company can be found online: www.saving-old-seagulls.co.uk.
When asked about the Seagull heritage, Contributing Editor Chuck Husick poured forth with the following eulogy:
“They are much too heavy, make far more noise than they should, drip enough very oily gasoline to calm an aroused sea, can be difficult to start, lack a neutral or reverse gear on all but a few of the larger models, can’t be swung around to provide reverse thrust and, unless equipped with an optional and very heavy recoil starter, enable the operator to hit anyone nearby in the face with the starter cord. Still, they are loved by those who own one.
“The Seagull is an excellent example of early Industrial Revolution engineering and design. There is nothing delicate about them. To most eyes, they are ugly to a fault. But they provide more low-speed thrust than motors twice their size. Put one on a soft-ended inflatable dinghy and watch it compress the aft tube as it moves the boat forward. If a mechanical problem arises, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers will be just about all you will need to fix it. The carburetor is simplicity itself and can be disassembled, cleaned and reassembled in about three minutes, and there are no gaskets to lose. Open up the powerhead and look at the safety-wired cap screws on the connecting rod end: looks like an aircraft engine. Want to check the lube in the lower unit on the 2-hp model? Why bother? There are no oil seals, and the box was filled at the factory with something that resembles warm tar. A bit of salt water likely makes it run better.
“The engine uses an 18-mm sparkplug, making it easy to clean the plug with whatever size knife you may have at hand. As for plug gap … whatever looks good. The specified oil-to-fuel ratio is 1:25, or is it 25:1? Does it matter? The original fuel tanks were painted steel, guaranteed to rust through in no more than two years. (Blockage of the little fuel-filter screen hidden in the tank outlet valve kept many a Seagull from running past the first year, in any case.) A fine plastic fuel tank was offered as a replacement for the original steel, but it lacks the cachet of the dark blue paint on the original.
“Let’s face it. The Seagull, at least my 2-hp Seagull, is totally obsolete, far, far too heavy, makes more noise than a modern 25-hp engine, makes me want to hide from the oil-spill inspectors and, once started, can only be stopped by putting your finger over the carburetor air intake, which both stops the engine and keeps your finger from rusting. But, I love it. Where else can you operate a piece of machinery that looks like it was designed in the early 1800s and built in a blacksmith’s shop? Last, but not least, it is known, at least in our family as the only outboard motor in the world with no moving parts.”