So, your outboard motor won’t start? Before you take it in to the shop, try these 5 simple fixes…
These are simple, often easy solutions but sometimes it’s hard to think clearly and remember even the most obvious fixes when you and your motor that won’t run are clogging up the boat ramp on a busy day or drifting downstream towards the rapids.
If you can get the outboard to start and you start smelling fuel or seeing it in the water, chances are the engine is flooded. A simple fix is to disconnect the gas line where it attaches to the motor and keep trying to start it. Eventually, you’ll run the extra gas out of there and you’ll hear it fire. As soon as it does, reconnect the fuel line and then go for a boat ride before you stop again.
You know the old saying about appliances when they don’t work — well, did you check and see if it was plugged in? As dumb as that sounds, most of us have done that. Same with outboard motors — I limped several miles home on my kicker motor one day with clients years ago when I thought my big motor was dead. Turned out I had somehow knocked the kill switch out. Without it, of course, the motor will never fire.
So, if the boat will crank and crank but wont turn over, check to see if the little red kill switch is attached. If it’s not, don’t tell anybody and then make it look like you are doing something really difficult under the cowling and then sneak it back on when nobody’s looking and tell them you had to adjust the Flux Capacitor.
Ever had your motor start running rough all of a sudden? It will start to sputter and sound like it’s about to die…and eventually will quit. If you are lucky, it could be the easiest fix of all — opening the fuel vent on your gas tank.
Those red portable tanks that come with most small outboards have a little vent knob (usually on the cap) that lets air in. If you forget to loosen that knob before you start boating, it will cause the motor to quit eventually.
You may even notice this starting to happen before the engine starts running poorly — the walls and top of the gas tank will start getting sucked inward.
Simply loosen the vent and you’ll be on your way! Just remember to tighten it down once you get the boat back on the trailer.
Most new and larger outboards have overheat alarms on them that will beep if the motor is getting too hot. Lower horsepower and older models don’t always have an alarm, but if you notice the motor sputtering, along with a burning smell, there’s a good chance it’s getting overheated. Hot to the touch is another obvious sign that there’s a problem.
A lot of these situations can be avoided — or at least caught in the early stages — by simply checking to see if the motor is “peeing” out the back. These engines are water cooled…water is drawn in through a screen in the lower unit and the run up through the motor to keep everything running cool. Whenever you start the engine, simply look at the motor to see if you notice a stream of water being expelled. Some models eject the water straight out the back but most I’ve owned shoot in out at an angle from just below the cowling.
If you see that she’s not spraying water, immediately shut the motor down and let it cool. Take the cowling off and look for a (usually black) hose that attaches to the exit port. Pull it off the nipple on the inside of the motor and check for debris. Sometimes all you need to do it blow into the tube. More pesky clogs may require a small wire. Also tile the motor up and see if the intake screens are blocked with weeds or a small piece of plastic.
If you can’t find the clog and the motor wont spray, use an auxiliary motor to get home if you have one. If not, make sure its cool and then run it a short distance and then let it cool off again. Repeat that as necessary until you get back to the ramp.
When you go to start your outboard and it won’t kick over — or it will just run for a few seconds and then dies — check the hardness of the squeeze ball in the fuel line. If it is soft, squeeze it several times until it gets solid. Sometimes you just don’t have enough gas in the line to get the thing to fire but pumping some more into the motor you will be up in running in no time.
There are several other little fixes that I have learned over the years but these are the most common and easy ones. Maybe in the future, I’ll do a column on some of the other troubleshooting methods for outboards.