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.
And just think: that stuff gets all over everything…Your rods, your lures, your boat, your reels, your clothes — and you!
If left unattended, all that slimy mess will turn rancid and cover everything you have with fish-repelling stink. Unsightly and unappealing to finned critters! So, it is imperative to thoroughly wash all your gear before you put it away.
Unfortunately there’s no one magic bullet that you can use to clean everything but I have found a handful of products that get the job done very nicely. Here are some suggestions to “de-stinkify” your fishing stuff:
Rods & Reels
My gear really gets hammered during salmon and steelhead seasons…when I’m using a lot of eggs.
Well, the easy answer is: STAY OFF THE WATER! According to Boatsafe.com, the voltages involved in lightning are so high that even materials that would typically be considered non-conductive become conductors (including the human body…YIKES). The voltages are so massive that if they start to travel through a boat’s structure — say through its mast (or a graphite fishing rod!) — then meet with high resistance (for instance, the hull skin) the current discharge, in its attempt to reach ground, may simply blow a hole in the non-conductive barrier.
So, if you show up like we did this morning to electrical activity, wait the storm out before launching. But, what’s the story if you are caught by weather out on the water?
On the Water
The National Weather Service says that the vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with NO cabin. If you are out in a small open boat and cannot get back to land and safety, drop anchor and get as low as possible. Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels are relatively safe. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces and stay off the radio unless it is an emergency!
There’s no surefire way to avoid a lightning strike on the water, but you can have your boat equipped with a lightning protection system that can minimize damage from a hit. Also, Boatingmag.com says you can do things like Lower all antennas, Bimini tops, fishing rods outriggers and downriggers. Disconnect all power, antenna and interconnection cables to the electronics and electrical gear. Do not touch two metal surfaces at the same time (engine controls, a railing, helm, etc.) or you may become a convenient conducting path yourself. Also, wearing rubber-soled shoes can help. These legal protections should be in place if you work on a boat, and if you are injured due to them not being provided then you should seek advice from an attorney such as lamber goodnow to see if you have a case, as your safety in such conditions is paramount.
Again, the bottom line is to stay well clear of the water when an electrical storm kicks up — or immediately head for shore when you see a storm developing. Learn how to read the signs too: Electrical storms typically feature dark skies, growing cumulonimbus clouds that look like anvils and sudden wind. But just because you have blue sky overhead doesn’t mean you’re in the clear!
Here’s a quick video of what we say this morning at the boat launch, to go with the above photo. Thanks to B.D. for the vid…
Forget push-up bras, keg cans, iPods and 52-inch flat screens…for my money, outboard jets have to be one of the best inventions of all time. I mean, anything that allows me to blaze 30 mph through 2-inch shallows is definitely on the short list of cool stuff to own.
But on the other hand, there are days when I want unbolt my outboard and use it as an anchor. Talk about an inefficient way to propel one’s self upriver! Outboard jets are about 30 percent less efficient than their prop-driven cousins…and that’s when the stinking thing is brand spankin’ new. After some good use, the output goes down even more.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to help make your outboard jet run like new again.