Things that Go Bump on the Water

It’s springtime, and you’ve jumped the gun by a couple of weeks and splashed the boat. But now your outboard is being a pain in the butt, you’re two beers deep, and can’t remember what you did to winterize your boat, if that even happened. It’s no secret that outboards are high maintenance drama queens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t figure them out. Stay calm and remember that you aren’t an incompetent ape, no matter how you feel when the situation arises. Keep a clear head and start to work through your problems as the only rational human being on the water, and you’ll figure this out easily.

First, remember the KISS method: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Do you have a fully charged battery? Check it by raising and lowering the outboard. Is it moving at its normal speed? If so, then your battery isn’t the issue. Check and see if the throttle is in neutral. Make sure you’re sure about that. If you’re in neutral with a full tank, then next move on to power. Take a look at your battery. If there’s crud at the battery connections, you need to remove the cables and give the terminals a quick clean. Retighten them for good measure.

Also check the connections at the kill switch. Wiggle the lanyard and see if any water has collected in or around the switch. If you see evidence of that, you might find that the switch has shorted out. Disconnect and reconnect the wire, then see if you get any action. Still none? She could just have bad gas. Ethanol fuel has a shelf life of only about three months under ideal environmental conditions. If you haven’t run your boat since the fall, and you didn’t properly winterize her, there’s a chance your fuel has gone bad.

If the gas is good and it just doesn’t seem to be getting to the engine, you could have a blocked fuel vent. These often get closed at the end of the season (or a long trip) and we forget to reopen them. Try squeezing the primer ball: if it doesn’t get any harder as you pump it, then you could have a leak in your fuel line. This is often the case if you changed your fuel lines earlier in the year and didn’t get a good connection on one end.

Finally, check for any clogs in the filters and separators. Or she could have absolutely no gas in her whatsoever. There’s no shame in running your tank dry accidentally. It’s happened to everyone. Hasn’t it? If the outboard is functioning fine, but then has spurts where it shuts down, or misses, then you could have water in your fuel. If you can switch to another tank, do this. There are gas additives on the market that can remove water, but they often contain very strong solvents and alcohol that can damage your engine. Ask questions before you buy just anything.

If your outboard is simply acting weird, check to see if your cooling system could be the culprit. Look over your stern to see if you’re spitting out water; if not, you could have a blocked port. You can fix this by fishing some monofilament line through it and working out any crud. If your temperature gauge is having a cow but your cooling system seems to be functioning just fine, you can check to see if your thermostat is simply clogged up with grime and clogged. You can fix this with a quick cleaning. If the thermostat is shot, though, you might have to phone a friend.

If the overwhelming concern with your engine is the noise or vibration, you want to check out your prop. A small misalignment can cause a migraine in your passengers, and a ding or chip in a blade can do much worse. If you can file the prop while you’re out, try that; but before you think about removing the prop from your engine, remember that this is where things can go extremely wrong. It’s better to slowly put-put into shore rather than leave your prop at the bottom of the Bay.

Find the pros at Black Dog Propellers and ask them to take a look as soon as possible. Instead of pulling the prop off, make sure to take a quick look and see if all the engine mounts and bolts are fastened securely. You’d be amazed how loud a loose washer can make your engine rattle. Still nothing? Well, you tried your best. Time to call the pros.