Quick Outboard Motor Troubleshooting Tips
When your outboard fails to start or cuts out when it should be running, the problem is often simple to fix.
Here are some quick troubleshooting tips to get your outboard back up and running again.
Outboard Won’t Start
Check the kill switch
Make sure the kill cord switch is firmly in place by removing and reinserting it. If the kill switch fails, disable it by disconnecting the black/yellow striped wire coming from behind it.
Put shifter in neutral
Many outboards have a built-in safety feature that prevents them from starting unless they’re in neutral. Knock the shifter into gear, then back to neutral to be sure it’s where it needs to be.
Check for fuel in the tank
Fuel gauges aren’t always accurate, and running out of gas is a lot more common than you might think. Check that there’s fuel in the tank and fill it up if necessary.
Open the gas tank vent
If the gas tank has a vent, make sure it’s open. A closed vent prevents air from flowing into the tank and fuel from flowing out to the motor.
Inspect fuel lines
Check the fuel line from the tank to the outboard. Look for any kinks or pinch points that may be preventing the fuel from flowing through, and straighten out the fuel line.
Check for flooded motor
If there’s a palpable smell of gas, the engine is probably flooded. Wait for about 5 minutes for the excess fuel to drain and evaporate, and then try starting the outboard again.
Outboard Stalls When Put Into Gear
Clear the prop shaft
If fishing line or other debris tangles up the prop shaft, eventually it’ll cause enough resistance to kill the motor when it's put into gear. Turn off the engine, then tilt it up and remove anything that’s wrapped around the propeller and/or prop shaft.
Outboard Stalls When Idling
Check idle air control valve
If the outboard is fuel injected, its idle speed is controlled by an idle air control (IAC) valve. Replace the IAC valve with a new one.
Outboard Quits Unexpectedly While Running
Check kill switch and fuel
Check the kill switch, fuel tank and fuel line as outlined in the Outboard Won’t Start section above.
Inspect battery and fuses
Check that the battery has power and recharge or replace it if necessary. Also check the fuses and replace one if it has blown.
If you’re not far from the dock, you may be able to limp the boat back by letting the engine cool and running it for a couple of minutes at a time. Otherwise, you’ll need a tow back to the dock.
Check fuel filters
Drain any water in the fuel/water separator and replace the filter element. Replace the in-line fuel filters, because even small amounts of dirt can clog them.