Service your outboard!

With most of us having our boats ready for the water or already in the water, it is important to have a reliable outboard.  There is nothing more frustrating than having the outboard engine stop just when we need it!  Rarely, it is some unpredictable reason for it to fail.  Most of the time it is because we failed to do something to the outboard.  Either have it serviced or flush it with fresh water after a long run in seawater or whatever?  If we do not maintain the engine it will let us down.  Deep down we know it and some of us put off doing the right thing, for whatever reason.  But if you are out at sea you really need to know your engine is going to keep going because you have done everything possible to ensure it does.  Not giving your outboard motor a service before using it this season is false economy.  It may cost you more just trying to cut corners and not servicing it.

Elsewhere on this blog I mentioned getting your 4 stroke engine’s oil changed.  This is another routine thing to do.  It will help your engine run better and more reliably.  Modern 4 strokes tend to be smoother when idling than the older 2 strokes, although this will not be the case if they have not been maintained properly.  Take time to pamper your engine and it will respond, by keeping going when you need it most!


4 Stroke outboard engine oil change.

4 stroke outboard engines need their oil changed. Unlike your old previous 2 stroke engines with an oil and petrol mixture, these newer 4 strokes need new oil at regular intervals. If you have a small outboard, say up to 4 horse power, then you should change the oil every 50 hours of running. For larger outboards you could go to 100 hours of running before changing the oil. If you don’t record how many hours your outboard has run, then change the oil at least once every year! New oil is needed by your outboard because the old oil degrades during engine use as it heats up and due to wear between the metals it collects metallic impurities and carbon from the combustion residue. Thats when it turns black! So change it and this will keep your outboard running longer and better efficient!


Outboard motor security

With the summer season fast approaching boaters are not the only ones benefiting from their boats! Thieves will be out and about! Recent thefts from boats with outboard motors around the Essex coast have resulted in local police issuing a special security cover to replace your existing cowling.

Outboard motor security covers are now available for owners who can use the device to replace the outboard cowling when their boat is not in use, making it less attractive to potential thieves.
“For just £11 or £12, boat owners can help prevent the theft of an item which would cost them £200 to replace.

“At the same time, an engine with a police-branded cover is of no use to a thief who would need to go to the extra effort and cost of paying for a replacement before off-loading it.”

The PVC cover, which is manufactured by Thornham-based Nelson County Marine Covers, is available in two sizes, has breather holes to combat condensation and is designed to keep the weather out even on a wet mooring.

A chord and lockable buckle strap, which can be secured with a padlock, stop it being blown away or tampered with.

Police bring their new outboard motor security covers to Brancaster Staithe. Pictured with the cover is harbour master Mervyn Nudds and PCSO Carole Leathersich, with Nicholas Healing, of Thornham-based Nelson County Marine Covers, on the water.
Picture: ALAN MILLER 09AM05219



The first outboard motor was made by Ole Evinrude, a Norwegian-American, in 1909.

Until recently, most outboard motors were two strokes.  These engines were fitted with a carburettor and the design was fairly straight forward and simple. Nowadays, with all the emphasis on reducing pollution, two strokes are considered too heavy on unburnt hydrocarbons for todays’ world.

During the mid 1990s European directives and US exhaust emission laws made manufacturers change from two to four stroke engines. All the main marine outboard engine companies have now developed new four-stroke motors.  Most of these new engines are fuel injected apart from the smaller outboards, which still use carburettors.   Some models benefit from variable camshaft timing, and multiple valves per cylinder. Mercury Verado four-strokes are unique in that they are supercharged.

Mercury outboard motors have an interesting history.  They were started by an engineer, Carl Kiekhaefer, who sold them at first, by mail order.  The outboards were so well made- they withstood extreme conditions better than any other motors – buyers soon were purchasing massive quanities.  Nowadays, Mercury also produce Mariner outboards (outside the USA).

Mercury, Tohatsu, Yamaha and Evinrude each developed computer-controlled Direct-Injected two-stroke engines. Each brand boasts a different method of DI. Fuel economy on both direct injected and four-stroke outboards has been vastly improved.

Evinrude, founded by the inventor of the outboard motor, are a major name in the marine industry.  They became connected to Johnson outboards when they were bought by Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC).  Now both are owned by Bombardier Recreational Products.  When both these major names were acquired, their technology was updated and E-Tec direct fuel injection was introduced.  They were the first to win the American EPA 2005 Clean Air Excellence Award, which recognises low emission levels from outboard engines. The EU now also recognises this as well.
Honda first produced outboards in 1964. They have been making four-stroke engines ever since.
Suzuki started making outboards in 1965 as an extention to their cars and motorcycles.


British Seagull outboards were produced from the 1930s until the 1990s.  The previously mentioned exhaust emission regulations put them out of business, as a manufacturer.  However, the company still operates as a replacement parts business.  Which is just as well, for these engines go on for ever and ever.  Even the original ones made in the 1930s are still going! They are a strange outboard motor.  The models are all named after the power in pounds per thrust that they produce.  For example, the smallest, called the ‘forty minus’ gives out just less than 40pounds of thrust.  This particular outboard – just to confuse you – is also called the ‘featherweight’.  The largest engine, the ‘silver century plus’ produces over 125 pounds of thrust. Although pretty primative looking these outboards can push a fairly heavy displacement boat of, say 25 feet long.
This gives you a brief look into the history of outboards.  A considerable amount more could be included but this gives you an overview of the main companies.


Maintaining your outboard motor, cheaply of course!

Every outboard motor needs maintenance.  As a bare minimum you should service your outboard engine at the start of the season. You can probably do this servicing yourself, but if you prefer it can be done by a marine mechanic.  Remember, there are no hard shoulders out at sea, so you will depend on the outboard to get you back in, safely.  So it is important you must service the outboard!

Once the outboard engine has had its annual service you can do some tasks throughout the season to keep it in tip top condition.  If you can get into the routine of flushing the outboard after every use with freshwater, to clean the internal water ways, it will help prevent corrosion and clogging.  An easy to use piece of kit, called a flushing kit, is used to connect to a water hose and also to the water intake of the outboard.  If you run the engine in neutral for a few minutes it will clear any salt water, sand or grit in the engine cooling system.  Also check that as you are pumping water into the engine, that water is leaving via the exhaust!  This should be a constant stream of warm, not hot, water.

If you are not getting a constant stream then the cooling channels may be blocked, slightly.  You can use some thin wire to insert into the exit pipe and try to clear it.  If that does not produce the required flow then you may need a new water pump. 

When you have finished flushing the outboard motor, disconnect the fuel pipe or switch off the fuel;  this is to allow the remaining fuel to be used by the engine. Check all round the engine with the cowling off and see if there are any fuel or water leaks. Repair if you can or take to your marine mechanic. If everything is OK then spray the whole engine with either WD40 or Quick-Lube.  Make sure all moving parts are sprayed and they move easily.  Close the fuel vent tap.

If you keep you outboard on the boat rail between trips then buy or make a cover to protect the engine from the weather.


Has your outboard gone under water?
What you should do if your outboard engine goes under the water?  As quickly as possible, wash the outboard with freshwater all over, to get rid of  any saltwater. Saltwater in the engine will corrode the internal parts very quickly.  Then empty all fuel from the tank and fuel lines etc.  Take out the spark plugs and either clean and dry or replace them.  Look over the engine to see if there has been any grit or sand ingested.  Try and remove it or get the engine serviced.  If there is no grit or sand then you can begin to turn the engine over, by hand.  Crank it slowly by hand, this allows water to be expelled.  Try cranking it at different angles, even upside down. To ensure all the water has drained out.

Once you are sure you have no water in the engine you can flush the cylinders and crankcase with pure alcohol, this will absorb any remaining water droplets in the engine.  If you wash all the parts in hot soapy water and allow them to dry or use a hair dryer then you will need to coat them with oil, to protect them from rusting.  Assemble the engine, add the fuel and turn over the engine.  Try starting it, if it fires up then allow it to run with some throttle in a container filled with freshwater to allow the engine to cool as it should.. The outboard motor is now ready for use.