When the Outboard Won’t Start

Let me start out by saying, I’m not a big fan of outboards.  They are a cantankerous device that is designed specifically to produce stress and are the primary reason sailors cuss.  I’m convinced that since most of them are manufactured overseas that it’s a part of a backdoor conspiracy to give us all heart attacks so they can take over the country.  Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me give you few pointers to help you deal with these little “beasts”.


I took this picture after spending an hour trying to get the outboard to run on our 22′ Capri sailboat.  The boat was scheduled for a day sail with one of our students and I wanted to make sure they had an enjoyable sail.  Normally the engine will start on the first or second pull, which I can live with, but not this day.  So the first thing to check was the kill switch.  Was the lanyard plugged into the switch? Check. So I unplugged and plugged it back in just to make sure. Pulled several times to see if that was the culprit. Nope.

Second thing: the last student to take it out said they topped off the tank.  Let’s remove the tank cap and visually verify that, yes indeed it is full. However I noticed taking the cap off that the vent was closed, which is a good thing, but maybe I had already pulled a vacuum on the tank starving the engine of fuel.  Replaced cap, open vent, make sure that the external/internal fuel switch was set to internal, yanked that sucker until I’m blue in the face. Still no start.

Third thing: Gotta be the plug.  No spark = no go.  So remove the spark plug and then reattach the plug wire to the plug making sure to rest it near some metal and pull to see if there is a spark jumping from the plug to the metal. Yes, but it looked faint.  So maybe it could use a new spark plug.  Jump in car and run to West Marine, cross reference the Champion plug to an NKG and buy a spare so I can have one handy.

Back to the marina, make sure that the gap (the space on the business end of the spark plug) is correct.  Attach the plug wire and hold it next to some metal, pull the starter rope and BAM! Note to self, put the plug down, do not hold it and pull that cord.  After making sure that my arm still functioned, put the plug back in the cylinder hole and reattached the spark plug wire.  Surely that has to be it. Pull that cord until I wear a blister on my finger. Arrrggghhhh!

Fourth thing: Ok back to fuel. How about the filter?  Looks like there is fuel in it, but just to make sure let me remove the fuel line at the carburetor.  Being careful to have a rag and bottle handy to contain the fuel,  see if the fuel is flowing freely.  Well yes, it is, but there is something wrong with the liquid pouring into the bottle. It doesn’t really smell right and it’s pretty clear.  Short of tasting it, I’m pretty sure that’s water!  I wish I could invent an internal combustion engine that would run on water…. I could cruise all over and never have another worry….  Ok. Ok, back to the problem.  I’ve got to remove the tank and drain the fuel/water and put fresh fuel back in.  Once that was done, cross fingers, turn two circles in a counter clockwise direction and pull…..Voila!  Houston, we have ignition!

Moral of the story,  make sure that not only do you close the vent on the fuel tank, but that the spare fuel can has a securely fastened cap and fill plug.  Normal “breathing” of your fuel cans as they are heated and cooled can pull in moisture from the atmosphere where it condenses and settles to the bottom of the tank.

I still don’t like outboards, weedeaters or any type of lawn equipment for that matter, that ‘s why I moved onto a boat….