What Should I Do If My Outboard Isn’t Starting Right Away?


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Step-by-step troubleshooting will enable anyone identify issues.

While outboards have become increasingly complex, they continue to operate on much the exact principles as they did before the current wave of EFI/DFI and four-stroke technology.

To start and run, an outboard needs:

Ignition (properly timed)
Fuel/air mixture (in the correct proportion)

Caution: With the cover removed from the engine, there may be exposed components that could possibly harm you. Unless you are confident in what you are actually doing, leave well enough alone and ask for a tow.

Troubleshooting with most more recent outboards has actually come to be a lot more complicated because of technical advancements like kill switches, start-in-gear protection, electrical ignition and fuel injection, and computer-controlled ignition timing. However this flow chart will help you isolate the issue, so that you may be able to fix it at the dock or ramp using very little tools in a brief amount of time. If not, at the very least, you’ll be able to speak intelligently regarding the problem to a mechanic.

This is by no means a comprehensive troubleshooting manual with regard to starting problems. Purchase a factory service manual for your year/make/model engine. These are developed for technicians so the information could be hard to understand, but they can be a great aid in assisting you identify and take care of problems, if you’re mechanically inclined and have the temperament to do so.

1. Lights And Gauges

In the case that you turn the key to crank the motor and nothing takes place, keep the key in the “on” (not all the way over to start) setting and check to observe if additional components (such as lights and gauges) operate.

2. Battery Switch

In case your boat features a battery switch, make sure that it’s switched to “on” or “both.”.

3. Gear-Shift Position

In the event that you turn the key and the motor will not start but other parts are operating, check the gear shift to make sure it’s solidly in neutral, since many outboards will not actually crank with the engine in gear.

4. Emergency Shutoff

Inspect to see that the emergency shutoff switch cap remains in place. (Depending upon your setup, the motor may not even crank if the kill switch is out.).

5. Battery Cables

If your battery’s reasonably charged, check the battery cables coming from the battery to the engine. Often the positive and negative hookups loosen over time and/or become corroded.

6. Low Battery

If the starter engages and cranks slowly or not at all, your battery may be low. Inspect it using a voltmeter. A minimum of 12 volts is needed.

7. Main Fuse

Check the outboard’s primary fuse. Generally situated in a big red holder on the engine wiring harness, it’s typically a 20-amp fuse that’s easily switched out.

8. Connections

In the event that the fuse is OK, check the primary power plug which connects the engine wiring to the boat.

9. Neutral Switch

In case it still won’t crank, inspect the neutral switch. It’s typically inside the control box attached to yellow and yellow/red striped wires.

10. Starter Solenoid

In the event that you hear a clicking noise or perhaps a low whine but the starter won’t engage the flywheel when you turn the key, the starter solenoid may be bad. Some advise against this, but typically I’ll tap it lightly with a small hammer as a helper turns the key.

11. Primer Bulb

Inspect to see that fuel is actually getting to the engine. Pump the primer bulb (if equipped) and make sure it gets firm after several squeezes. If it doesn’t, look for leakages in the line, the tank or filter, the engine, and a bad valve inside the bulb.

12. Filters

Inspect filter( s) for water and sediment. One is on the engine. Another could be in line outside of the engine.

13. Fuel-Line Couplings

Check that fuel line couplings are safely seated and locked.

14. O-Rings

Examine fuel system O-rings. A torn O-ring might introduce air into fuel.

15. Electric Primer

In case the engine possesses an electric primer, you can usually remove one of the little fuel hoses that proceeds from it to the engine’s intake or carburetor, and have a helper operate the primer (typically pushing the key in) while you monitor to see if fuel squirts out. Avoid letting fuel spill.
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