Prop School – Part 6: Slip

Bob Teague uses Mercury Racing Pro Finish CNC Cleavers exclusively on his 525 EFI powered Skater 388 Super Cat Lite race boat. Photo credit: Paul Kemiel Photographics.

Response to my Prop School series has been been gratifying. It has generated a lot of good discussion (online and off) regarding  propeller design, function and application. One of the most common questions is about prop slip. It is the most misunderstood of all propeller terms.

A wing moving through air produces a pressure differential: low pressure above the wing, with high pressure below it, creates lift.

Propeller blades work like wings on an airplane. Wings carry the weight of the plane by providing lift; marine propeller blades provide thrust as they rotate through water. If an airplane wing were symmetrical (air moves across the top and bottom of the wing equally), the pressure from above and below the wing would be equal, resulting in zero lift.   The curvature of a wing reduces static pressure above the wing — the Bernoulli effect — so that the pressure below the wing is greater. The net of these two forces pushes the wing upward. With a positive angle of attack, even higher pressure below the wing creates still more lift.

Marine propeller blades need to move through water with an angle of attack to create thrust.

Similarly, marine propeller blades operating at a zero angle of attack produce nearly equal positive and negative pressures, resulting in zero thrust. Blades operating with an angle of attack create a negative (lower or pulling) pressure on one side and a positive (higher or pushing) pressure on the opposite side.  The pressure difference, like the airplane wing, causes lift at right angles to the blade surface. Lift can be divided into a thrust component in the direction of travel and a torque component in the opposite direction of prop rotation.





Prop slip is the difference between actual and theoretical travel resulting from some angle of attack.

Slip is the difference between actual and theoretical travel through the water. For example, if a 10-inch pitch prop actually advances 8-1/2 inches per revolution through water, it is said to have 15-percent slip (8-1/2 inches is 85% of 10-inches). Similar to the airplane wing, some angle of attack is needed for a propeller blade to create thrust. Our objective to achieve the most efficient angle of attack.  We do this by matching the propeller diameter and blade area to the engine horsepower and propeller shaft RPM. Too much diameter and or blade area will reduce slip, but at a consequence of lower overall efficiency and performance.

Calculating Rotational Speed, Blade Tip Speed and Slip

Our propeller engineers study props at the 7/10 radius (70% of the distance from the center of the prop hub to the blade tip). The 7/10 radius rotational speed in MPH can be calculated as follows:

And can be shown by a vector arrow.

Blade tip speed can be calculated using the following equation:

Forward speed is shown by an arrow in the direction of travel. The length of the arrows reflect speed in MPH for both the measured speed and the theoretical (no slip) forward speed.

Donzi 38ZR with Twin 525 EFIs. Photo courtesy of Donzi Powerboats.

Now let me walk you through a real-world example using  formulas to determine theotetical boat speed and slip. I’m trying to determine which props (stock 15.25″ diameter x 34″ pitch Bravo I vs. 15.625″ x 34″ Lab Finished Maximus) will run best on a 2005 Donzi 38 ZR. It is powered by twin 525 EFIs coupled to Bravo One XR drives with 1.50:1 gear ratios. Max engine RPM with the Bravo props is 5250. Max engine RPM with Lab Finished Maximus props is 5200.

Click image to expand size.

Turns out the ST Maximus 5 blade performed the best on paper and in water, offering lower slip with increased top end.
Back in the day when the Everything You Need to Know About Propellers book was published, the Internet didn’t exist and you had to actually use these cumbersome formulas or rely on the handy dandy Quicksilver Propeller Slip Calculator. Today, you can get all of your prop information with our online prop slip calculator. Try it out!

I hope you have found my Prop School blog series both educational and useful. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you.

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5 thoughts on “Prop School – Part 6: Slip”

  1. Back in the day that is how we did it. It worked well and thanks for putting the tools out there to help customers to get a better understanding of how props work. Way to go Scott!

  2. I guess I don’t understand how you can come up with a theoretical boat speed that does not depend on the pitch of the prop?

    1. Simply, it does depend on prop pitch: Theoretical speed = pitch x prop shaft rpm (with unit-of-measure conversion constant). Here’s our prop slip calculator:
      Without pitch, but with a wealth of installation history, one can estimate likely boat speed – based on power, weight, hull type, drive and prop type, and drive installation parameters.

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