About Cutlass Bearings

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Nothing to Do with Pirates

Cutless Bearings

How did “cutless” bearings—the brass and rubber sleeves that keep shafts spinning smoothly, once made by B. F. Goodrich—become “cutlass” bearings? After all, a cutlass is meant to cut things—like marauding pirates, for example—while cutless bearings are designed specifically not to. (Old-time brass bearings, without modern rubber inserts, could wear or cut propshafts. Bearings with rubber were therefore cutless.)

Personally, I think the cutlass/cutless controversy results from a long-ago typo by a hard-pressed boating writer, one who hadn’t spent his childhood hanging around boatyards. When I was misspending my youth at the New England yard where my mom ran the office, and the crew didn’t mind a kid getting underfoot, there was always a stack of boxed B. F. Goodrich Cutless Bearings behind the counter in the stock room. (Today, they’d be Johnson Cutless Bearings, sold by Duramax Marine.) And since there were plenty of cutlasses in the museum in the next town, I knew the difference between a naval weapon and a water-lubricated sleeve bearing. 

But maybe our nameless boating writer, pursued by a deadline and banging frantically on his Underwood in the New York office of one of the many great old boating magazines, absentmindedly turned “cutless” into “cutlass.” And then another boating writer, a rookie who didn’t yet know a cutless bearing from a stockless anchor, copied him, and it went on and on from there.

Now you know—they’re “cutless” bearings, and probably ought to be Cutless, if you mean the Johnson brand. But hold on a minute: The Johnson Cutless logo includes a cutlass (If you can’t beat ’em, join’ em?) so maybe “cutlass” is really OK? All this is making me so confused, my eyes are starting to water. Please pass the Kleenex. Or kleenex—whichever’s handy.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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