Outboard Motor Care (How to Maintain an Outboard Engine)
It’s easy to keep your outboard in tip-top shape, even if you’re not a mechanic. A little TLC and preventive boat motor maintenance facilitates safe boating and can keep your motor running well and reliable for years to come.
After Every Trip (Steps):
- After every outing, flush out the engine. This doesn’t just apply to salt water adventures, but to fresh water outings as well.
- Buy a set of “rabbit ears”: two flexible rubber seals connected with a metal clamp. Slip the apparatus onto the lower unit where the water is picked up and attach a garden hose.
- Start up the engine and let the water pump do the rest. (Practice safe boating and remember to stay clear of the prop and make sure no one tries to shift the motor into gear.)
- While you’re flushing the motor, check the water pump to make sure it has good water flow. Carefully put your finger through the stream of water. It may be warm, but it shouldn’t be hot. If the output is not strong, you may have some debris stuck in the outflow tube. Immediately shut down the engine to prevent overheating and damage.
- Insert a small piece of wire into the flow tube and work it back and forth. Start the engine again and check the output. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you may need a new water pump.
- After flushing the engine, disconnect the fuel line and allow the engine to burn all the fuel in the carburetor.
- Once you’ve finished the flushing and run the engine out of fuel, be sure to turn off the key and, if you have a battery switch, turn it off.
- Take the engine cowling off and check for fuel or water leaks. If you find leaks, consult your safe boating mechanic.
- Wipe everything down and spray with an anti-corrosive like WD 40 or Quick-lube. Be sure to lubricate all the moving parts such as the shift and throttle cables, carburetor valves, etc.
- Replace the cowling and wipe it down. Keep a canvas or plastic cover on the engine between trips.
- Always use fresh fuel. At the end of the season, boat motor maintenance should include draining your tanks and taking the fuel to the proper recycling authority.
Regular Maintenance (Tips):
- Periodically check the fuel line for cracks and worn spots.
- Make sure the fuel primer bulb is not cracked and is pliable.
- Make sure the fuel-line fittings seat properly and don’t leak.
- Check the clamps on the fuel line for rust or corrosion.
- Check the fuel tanks for damage and corrosion.
- Check the tank vent to make sure it aspirates properly.
- Check regularly for water in the fuel.
- Replace the water pump impeller every two years (annually if it is used in saltwater)
- Never, but never, run an outboard motor without supplying water to the lower unit; it only takes a couple minutes of dry running to damage the water pump.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs):
- Have at least one Coast Guard-approved device per passenger and a minimum of two on board.
- An additional throwable device is required if the vessel is more than 16 feet long.
- Explain the location and use of all PFDs to passengers and crew that may be new to the vessel.
Sound Producing Devices:
- Have a horn capable of producing a four-second blast audible for at least 1/2 mile on board.
- if you use portable air horn, have a spare can of air or an alternate device.
- Attach a whistle to each PFD.
Lights and Shapes:
- Have all navigation lights as required for your boat.
- Make sure all instrument lights are working.
- If you intend to engage in a recreational boating activity that requires a day-shape, have the required shapes.
- Have aboard a flashlight and spare batteries.
- Make flares, day signals, etc., accessible and ensure they are stored in a dry location.
- Carry signals at all times even if not required by the Coast Guard.
- Inform the crew and passengers of their location and safety rules for proper usage.
Tools and Spares:
- Carry a basic toolbox with tools appropriate for your boat.
- Carry a box of spares including fuel filter, light bulbs, head parts, through-hull plugs, etc.
Fuel and Oil:
- Top off your fuel tanks.
- If you can’t, have enough fuel to provide a reasonable margin of safety for your return.
- Check the engine oil and coolant levels.
- Carry at least one fire extinguisher and make sure it is accessible. Make sure you have at least the number required by Coast Guard rules.
- Check to be sure mounts are secure and functional before departure.
- Take the time to point out locations to passengers and crew.
- On any powered vessel or auxiliary powered sailboat, or vessels using LPG for cooking or heat, check that all interior spaces are well ventilated before departure.
- If fuel smells are detected before ventilating, check after running the blowers for several minutes before starting.
- If odor persists, shut down the engine and look for the source of the leak.
- Check to be sure bilges are reasonably dry and that pumps are not running excessively.
- Clean up any spilled oil or waste in bilges to prevent overboard discharge.
- Always check the weather forecast before boating.
- Have a radio on board to receive weather updates.
- If you have a dual charging system, make sure the selector switch in the proper position.
- Make sure the power is on to the entire vessel.
- Have aboard spare batteries for accessories such as your handheld radio, flashlight, portable navigational aid, etc.
- If the batteries are rechargeable, make sure they’re charged.
Docking and Anchoring Tips:
- Have at least one anchor set up and bent-on to your anchor line.
- Carry two or three extra dock lines in case you encounter unusual conditions dockside.
- Visually inspect the lines you use for chafe or wear.
- Carry at least two fenders on-board for docking or towing if required.
Have the ship’s papers, radio license, fishing permit, etc. on board.
Have the chart or charts for the area you intend to cruise in, regardless of your level of local knowledge.