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Troubleshooting Outboard Motors

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Troubleshooting Outboard Motors AFTER they been Stored


You’ve been too busy to use your boat for a couple of seasons, and now you’re taking it out of storage to get back on the water. Your boat ran pretty well when you parked it, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble to bring it back to life. Right?  Unwrap it, give it a bath, charge the battery, top off the fuel tank, and you’re ready to resume the boating lifestyle.  In real life, things seldom work out this easy.

Hopefully, you took the time to prepare your boat and engine for long-term storage. If you did, reviving the boat/engine may not be a big deal. However, if you just put the cover on the boat and walked away, you could have your work cut out for you.

What’s Wrong With My Boat?

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You’ve done the preliminaries – charged the battery, blasted off the cobwebs and dirt, dumped fresh gas in the tank – then you settle in the helm seat, turn the key and the engine won’t start. Bummer.

The good news is that many no-start issues are reasonably easy to fix; even engines with stellar reputations can be uncooperative on rare occasions. It’s important that you keep your cool and approach the situation systematically, beginning with the basics. Always look for the simple things first; we tend to think the worst when a quick fix may resolve the issue.

No/Slow Cranking

When you turn the ignition key, if the engine won’t turn over, cranks slowly, or you hear clicking sounds coming from the outboard, check the following:

  • Is the main battery switch on?
  • Is the safety lanyard connected and in the “run” position?
  • Is the shifter in neutral? (Jiggle the shifter handle while turning the ignition key; the neutral safety switch could be acting up.)
  • Is the battery completely charged? Trim the engine up and down. If the electronic trim works, the battery should have sufficient energy to start the engine.
  • Check the fuses and replace if necessary. On an outboard, the fuses can be under the cowling or near the battery; on sterndrives or inboards, the fuses are most likely located under the dash or in the engine compartment.
  • The battery cable connections could be corroded or loose. Remove the battery terminals (negative first, then positive) and try cleaning them with a wire brush or emery cloth. Reconnect the battery (positive first, negative last) and try starting the engine again.
  • Make sure all battery connections are tight. Don’t use the wing nuts; make sure to use locking nut-type connectors that you need a wrench to tighten.
  • Have the battery load-tested or, if the battery is more than a few years old, go ahead and replace it.

Normal Cranking/No Start or Signs of Life

If an outboard motor cranks normally but fails to start, trim the engine level and try squeezing the primer bulb a few times to make sure it’s firm. You may have a “no gas” situation because the engine isn’t primed, not because you’re out of fuel.

Is there plenty of fresh gas in the boat? Since boat gas gauges are notoriously inaccurate at low volumes, if the gauge reads less than a quarter tank, you might be out of gas. Try connecting a portable tank full of fresh gas to the engine. This takes the boat’s fuel tank out of the equation, and you’re providing known good fuel to the engine.

If you have a carbureted engine, it could be flooded (you’ll probably smell gasoline). The carburetor(s) may have received too much fuel when you were pumping the throttle trying to start the outboard or if the engine has been trimmed up a long time. Let the engine sit for a while to allow the excess gas in the carbs to evaporate, then try starting the engine while holding the throttle all the way open. (Be prepared to pull the throttle back quickly when the engine starts.)

On the other hand, the engine may not be receiving enough fuel to run. Remove the cowling, and disconnect the fuel line where it meets the fuel filter/carburetor. Use shop rags to catch any fuel that may leak out. If gas flows all over the place when you remove the fuel line, there’s probably sufficient fuel reaching the engine for it to run. Conversely, if the fuel line seems rather dry inside, you have fuel delivery issues.

OK, you’ve determined that the battery is good, the engine cranks well, and there is plenty of fresh gas getting to the engine – now what?

It’s Time to Visit the Dealer

If you’ve gone through these steps and the engine still refuses to start, your outboard may have issues beyond your mechanical capabilities. You’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, so to speak. Sophisticated electronic devices and computers control most engines made in the past decade. Your local certified marine dealer has the computerized diagnostic equipment and training to revive your outboard.

You’re not throwing in the towel; you’re taking a very ill engine to a specialist – not unlike nursing a cold until you finally see the doctor to get feeling better.

 Now that you have your outboard motors running, here is a helpful list of items to keep in your boat tool kit to keep ’em running!

A special “Thanks” to the team at Yamaha Outboards for putting this together for us!

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