My Outboard Won’t Start! What to Check First
You’re all set to hit the water with family and friends, and the cooler and the skis and/or fishing rods are loaded up. But then you turn the key and … nothing!
So what do you do when your outboard doesn’t want to fire up? Before you dive headfirst into the toolbox, here’s what to check when you’re trying to diagnose an outboard that won’t start.
Troubleshooting Outboard Starting Problems Checklist
Outboard No-Start Check 1: Neutral
Check to see if the motor’s in neutral, as most outboards won’t start if the motor isn’t in the neutral position.
Outboard No-Start Check 2: Kill Switch
Check the kill switch if your outboard has one, because if it’s been pulled, the outboard won’t start.
Outboard No-Start Check 3: Battery Switch
Many boats are set up with a main battery switch to preserve battery power when the boat is not in use. If your boat has one, make sure the battery switch is set to the “on” position.
Outboard No-Start Check 4: Battery Cables
Inspect the battery cables first to make sure they’re securely connected.
Next, check for corrosion between the battery posts, the nut and the cables. If you have corrosion, disconnect the cables, clean everything with a wire brush, and use a battery terminal cleaner and protector to shield the connection from the elements.
Outboard No-Start Check 5: Battery Testing
If your motor still won’t start, check to see if the battery is good. Set a multimeter to DC volts, then connect it to the positive and negative side of the battery. You’re looking for a reading of about 12.5 volts, and anything below 12.2 volts is a half-charged battery. If it’s below 12 volts, the battery is pretty much done.
Outboard No-Start Check 6: Exhaust
If the battery is good, check the exhaust next. There may be an obstruction preventing the engine from turning over.
Outboard No-Start Check 7: Fuel Lines
Check the fuel lines for kinks that might be restricting fuel flow. Also, make sure there’s fuel in the gas tank and the tank is primed. Otherwise, the motor may turn over but not start. If you can squeeze the priming bulb easily, it means it’s not moving fuel and you may have an obstruction in the line.
Outboard No-Start Check 8: Fuel Tank Vent
Check the fuel tank vent. If it’s obstructed, it’ll stifle the flow, as fuel can’t enter the tank to replace the fuel leaving the tank.
If you still can’t find the problem with your outboard’s no-start condition, you may be at the point where you can’t iron out your problems at the dock, and your troubles may be mechanical. One of the best diagnostic tests you can do is a compression test. It’ll give you some important clues about where to look inside the engine. Watch the video below to learn how to do an outboard compression test.