One of most struggling moments in boating is when you are out at sea and you cannot turn the engine on anymore.
Frustration after trying and trying grows and we all somehow panicked…
But what happens?
Why the outboard suddenly stops?
And why doesn’t turn on anymore?
Here you will find a small but smart guide to detect any simple problems which are the reason of about 90% of engine problem out at sea.
STEP 1: BE UNDER CONTROL
You know something in boating of course, so try to apply very basic rules and try to sort things out with manner.
Don’t panic, nor act in a bad behaviour.. we all have been in a distress situation, the only thing makes sense is just to keep the CONTROL.
You are now in charge of detecting the issues, people will rely on your skills and knowledge more than a nautical license, so again, remain still and go politely towards the following points.
STEP 2: WHY THE ENGINE STOPPED?
Finding the cause is the first thing to do, and sometimes is easier than you think.
In order to answer to this question we have to distinguish on HOW the engine stopped:
1) THE ENGINE REMAINED ON, WITH NO POWER, THEN SUFFOCATED
This is a very common issue 90% of the time due to FUEL STARVATION. Most probably you just finished the fuel in the tank.
Another very elementar but at the same time tricky issue, is the cap vent.
Wen refilling small outboard tanks, most of the time we close the cap AND the small screw on top of it, which is its breather.
If this vent is not open, air is not allowed in, therefore no fuel will go out, resulting in a tank squeeze.
2) THE ENGINE REMAINS ON FOR A WHILE AT LIMITED POWER
The main cause of this issue is cooling, most of the time water doesn’t circulate properly and doesn’t cool down the engine. First thing to do is to check the temperature.
The main reasons are three:
did you change it before launching? Well, that’s why, it is suggested for most of the make to change the impeller every year
Clogged lower unit
Just give a visual check, it can have a plastic bag wrapped up or fouling growing which doesn’t allow water to be pulled.
2 strokes oil
This is one important thing, 2 strokes want a specific oil to be poured in order to lubricate and cool down pistons on the run, in its absence this is an issue you will encounter
3) THE ENGINE SUDDENLY STOPPED, LIKE PULLING A HANDBRAKE
This can be a dangerous reason so be careful. Most probably something (likely a line, a rope or a piece of wood) got tangled into the propeller and stopped the engine from a very delicate part of the engine.
For very easy reason to understand… DON’T EVER TRY TO ENGAGE WHILE PEOPLE IS AT SEA BEHIND THE PROP. I know it might seem ridiculous, but I personally witnessed a very bad attempt and had to intervene before a lady lost her husband’s favorite part so… Don’t play silly in that very specific point.
Another reason is a blow up, but we don’t want to think of things we cannot sort out ourselves at sea!
STEP 3: HOW TO FIX THINGS AND START AGAIN
Now that we detected the reason, and acted a bit with common sense, after verifying all the above issues, let’s see what we can do!
THE ENGINE DOESN’T MAKE ANY NOISE
If you try to start and the engine doesn’t even try to kick in reasons are quite easy to detect because most of the time this has to do with contact and switches, electric components to be checked are:
Verify if for some reason the battery switch has been turned off, maybe a bag in the locker did it for you, maybe someone else.. you never know, just give a check, you might find corrosion to be cleared too.
Battery again, yes, a loose terminal (vibration or battery change can be the cause of loosening it) and corrosioncan cause this issue. If are not tight enough or if the terminal is corroded, if the contact is not 100% then you might have just an attempt, but not a full starting voltage
This is one of the tricky things, you are SURE 100% to be in neutral… but you are not. Even just engaging and put back in neutral, from ahead and from astern, can exclude this issue, then of course check the switch cause might be a bit corroded
Accordingly to make and age of the engine, killcord either cuts the ignition signal (so doesn’t even make a noise), either doesn’t let it start (so the starter works, but coils don’t, therefore no ignition). Verify that is triggering the switch properly.
Now that you excluded these problems, probably you either started the engine, either you need to keep reading.
THE ENGINE TRIES TO START, BUT DOESN’T FIRE
The following problems are more related to fuel starvation and happen when you have a clear and safe electrical setup, therefore once you cleared the above mentioned steps you are at the stage with an engine trying to fire and for some reason doesn’t:
Fuel tank not connected
Despite we are sure it is, it probably is not connected properly. Or (and trust me, it happens) not connected at all!
In case of multiple tank a selector or a manual switch of tanks is on place, it is the case to check which fuel tank is connected
Connectors air leak
Most of the time the connections (especially aftermarket ones) do not fit 100%, making air leaking in the system. Someone prefers to bend the pipe “in a way that works”, well, it is the case to come back, but then, change the connectors with safe ones.
The fitting must stay in a reliable position even when trying to pull, you will hear a clear CLICK when putting it on.
This pump is one of the most annoying device once not working. Sometimes it cracks right where the pipes go in, and they leak air in the system, it is a good thing to check when suffering starting malfunctions
Clogged fuel intake
Especially direct refill canisters have a good habit to accumulate dirt on the bottom which most of the time is easy to remove
Again as said, some engines give signal to the starter but not to the rest of the system
Trim too high
Few engines have a safety setup for which (if the engine is trimmed too high) tries to start but doesn’t fire, trim down until the trim moves slowly
This is a brief guide for how to sort out initial problems at sea.
Bare in mind:
- be responsible
- don’t panic
- use common sense
For anything else let a specialist check for you, but at least you have a guide to which issues you can encounter.