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Outboard Problems

Outboard Problems

Every boat owner is going to experience engine problems at some point in a boating lifestyle. During a breakdown, the best tool to have is troubleshooting knowledge. Understanding the possible reason for outboard malfunction and how to fix it will avoid delays on your adventures. Before you take off, understand the basics about your outboard engine. Read on.


  • The fuel tank is empty, so fill it with the right type of fuel.
  • If the boat has been sitting around for many months or years, the fuel may be old. Empty and refill the tank.
  • Make sure the engine is in neutral and not in gear.
  • The engine kill switch might be engaged. Disengage, and try again.
  • The engine control has a kill switch clip. Make sure the clip is firmly in place. You can remove the clip and put it back to ensure it is connected before trying again.
  • Check your spark plugs with a tester. This will determine if the plugs are working and that the ignition system is in good condition.
  • With an electric outboard, make sure the battery is not dead. If so, charge it and retry.


A loss of vacuum caused by a leak in the fuel line will lead to fuel starvation. Also, this may occur when a vacuum has been created inside the fuel tank that causes the primer bulb to go flat. Loosen the vent screw and prime the bulb until it is full.

Another reason is that the kill switch may have been accidentally engaged. Disengage it, and start the engine again.


When the propeller does not turn, first check for any debris stuck in the propeller or around the shaft.

If it is clear, another reason for the propeller to stop turning is a broken shear pin. This is the cross pin on the shaft when the propeller has been removed. Remove the propeller and replace the pin.


Check that the propeller is attached tightly and that the blades are not damaged in any way. If they are, then remove and replace.

Another cause may be that the rubber isolation mounts to the hull are either worn out or loose. Try tightening and/or replace.


Outboard engines function on a constant flow of water passing through to cool the engine. When there is not enough water intake, the engine will overheat. If this occurs, turn off the engine and check the water intake to see if it is clear of any debris or foreign objects.

The other possible cause is that the water pump impellers that circulate the water through the engine are damaged and require replacement.

Your outboard should be professionally serviced once a year. Preventative maintenance and regular service will ensure a long engine life and trouble-free boating.



Information provided in this list of outboard engine trouble shooting tips is general in nature and does not constitute technical repair advice. While all reasonable care has been taken in providing this information, it should not be construed as being instructions on how to undertake repairs on your outboard engine. We strongly suggest you consult a professional mechanic about having your outboard repaired.


Editorial by Andy Kancachian