Don’t forget the basics of ownership

I don’t think I will ever forget one day when my dad and I were working behind the parts counter at our dealership, Big M Marine. A customer walked up to the counter, and after the usual greeting, he regaled us with a tale of his recent fishing trip to Venice.

For those of you who don’t know, Venice is about a 90-minute drive south of New Orleans.

This customer got up at 3 a.m., and hooked up his boat to drive to Venice for a day of fishing fun. He had heard several reports about the abundant catches in the area, and was looking forward to a great day.

Brother-in-law met him at the house, and they headed out. They stopped along the way for the usual donuts and coffee. A little farther down the road, they stopped at the bait shop for some fresh shrimp.

When they finally arrived at the launch in Venice, they went through the usual routine of removing the tie-down straps, loosening the winch rope and putting the plug in the boat. When it was their turn, they backed down and launched the boat.

Once the truck and trailer were safely parked, they jumped in the boat, and tried to start the outboard. They cranked and cranked and cranked, but the engine wouldn’t even sputter. They cranked so much that they finally ran the battery down to the point that the starter would no longer turn the engine over.

This didn’t discourage them in the least — they simply removed the battery from the truck, and installed it in the boat. Again, they cranked until that battery was almost dead.

In complete frustration, our customer removed the key from the ignition switch, and angrily threw it halfway across the marina. Naturally, he didn’t have a float on the key, and there were no spare keys in the boat. It was time to give up.

They installed the battery back in the truck, and got someone to give them a jump start so they could back the trailer down and retrieve their boat with that no-good, so-and-so motor.

While they were tying the boat down on the trailer, brother-in-law looked at the engine, and with a few choice words, told our customer that they had forgotten to plug the fuel line into the engine. By this time, they had no key, and they were too embarrassed to admit their error to anyone around the launch, so they simply climbed back into the truck and headed home.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that can turn a great day on the water into a huge disappointment.

Outboard motors need just a few basic things in order to run. No. 1 is fuel. As in the case of this customer, simply making sure the fuel line was properly attached to the engine would have made his day a lot more enjoyable.

Other fuel-related problems such as a sticking choke or a choke that does not work can also cause starting problems. A good friend has an engine he purchased second-hand about two years ago. He was told by the original owner that the choke didn’t work. He never bothered to have the choke checked. He would simply walk to the back of the boat and pull the manual choke knob out while someone else would start the engine.

Recently, he asked me to check out the choke and repair it if possible.

I removed the engine cover, and found the wire to the electric choke was disconnected. I plugged it back in, and the choke worked properly. Once again, a simple basic check could have made using this engine much easier.

The next basic item that your outboard requires is spark. Your engine must be able to create a spark at the plugs in order to ignite the fuel and air mixture that has flowed into the engine combustion chamber.

I don’t think I can count the number of times I have heard a customer tell me they think their engine has a fuel problem only to have me discover a problem with the ignition system. Some of these ignition problems are as simple as a safety kill switch that is turned off.

The kill switch is perhaps the best safety device ever invented for your outboard motor. No boater should ever operate a boat without the kill switch hooked up and attached to his body. If the operator is ever thrown from the driver’s seat, the kill switch will immediately turn the ignition off, and the boat will stop. This is especially important if the driver is thrown overboard.

Unfortunately, many boaters look upon the kill switch as unnecessary, and disable the switch by removing the lanyard. Sometimes in an effort to disable the kill switch, they actually turn off the engine’s ignition system, and the engine will not start.

Even the good boat captains who always wear their kill-switch lanyards may sometimes forget the lanyards are attached to them. They get to their usual fishing spot, turn off the engine and grab their fishing poles without disconnecting the lanyard. The kill switch is turned off, and when the boater attempts to restart the engine, nothing happens. Always check your kill switch before cranking your engine.

Another very basic check is your trailer tires. I had a trailer in my shop last week that the customer thought had a bearing failure on one of the hubs. When we jacked up the trailer to check the hubs, we found that the lug nuts were loose. One of the lug studs had actually broken off, and the other four were loose enough to allow the tire to wobble when traveling down the road. It would not have been very long before the other lug studs broke and the tire would have fallen off the trailer. That could have led to a very serious accident.

Trailer lug nuts should be checked for tightness on a regular basis, and while you are doing that, why not also check the tire air pressure. A blowout because of low air pressure can be equally dangerous.

Take good care of your boat, motor and trailer, and don’t forget the basics.

If you have a question about your rig, you can e-mail me at