On Capt. Kelly’s mullet boat, the motor’s in the middle

Andrea Stetson
Special to Coastal Life

It might seem odd to have a hole right in the middle of your boat.

This boat at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has an engine in the middle of the vessel.

But that is what some boaters in Southwest Florida have done to make their type of boating more efficient and successful. These boats are designed with a hole in the middle so the vessel’s engine can be mounted there instead of in the stern.

Capt. Carl Kelly drives a boat with an engine mounted in a hole in the center of the boat for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“It is a mullet boat developed for dragging a trawl,” Kelly explained. “You don’t have any trouble with a net getting caught in the propeller. “

Kelly takes scientists out on the boat to do studies near the Ten Thousand Islands. He also captains the vessel for Collier County public school students who take field trips there.

During these trips, a long net is cast behind the boat. The net drags for about five minutes picking up all sorts of small fish and other marine creatures. Then then net is hauled back into the boat so the marine life can be studied.

Kelly said the net would get caught on a traditional stern engine, so one in the center is needed.


Yet sticking an engine in the center of a boat makes the dynamics of driving very different.

“It’s totally different from a stern drive,” Kelly said. “When you first try driving a mullet boat after driving a stern boat it drives you nuts.”

Kelly captained a traditional vessel for years before driving the mullet boat.

“I’ve had a stern boat all my life,” he explained. “It’s been six months been driving this one. It’s tricky, but you get used to it. It’s hydro dynamic because the boat is different. It moves through the water different. With wind on the side the wind pushes the boat off. Docking is different.”

It is also a lot wetter. When the vessel picks up speed water splashes all over the deck and on the people on board.

“It’s like a little tunnel underneath,” he said. “When you are picking up speed the prop lifts up and you are splashing water all over.”

Jeff Schmid, Environmental Research Manager with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, drives a 24 foot mullet skiff with a 115 horsepower motor that is mounted midship.

Schmid uses this vessel during his kemps ridley studies in the 10,000 Islands and for other research.

“When we deploy the net off the stern of the boat the propeller doesn’t get wrapped up,” he explained.

Since Schmid has been driving this type of vessel for years, he is used to the way it drives.

“With the steering wheel it is basically the same if you want to turn to the right you turn the steering wheel to the right,” he said.

Schmid is also used to getting soaked during his journeys on the water.

“It’s a wet boat. There is no doubt about that,” he described. “You don’t want to wear nice shoes. Your feet are going to get wet.”


Gary Murphy, a longtime Bonita Springs boater, former owner of Back Bay Marina and father of the owner of Marina Mike’s spent years on boats with an engine in the middle.

“We used to use it to get pin fish back when I had Back Bay Marina,” Murphy explained.

He said having an engine in a hole in the middle gave him more room in the back for the traps and allowed him to go in shallower water.

“They are unique because it gives the bow lift,” Murphy described. “The back of the boat is flat. The propeller wash lifts the stern. The boat ends up running in much shallower water all the way through.”