Boating Tips from
Trailer to Ramp

by David M. Adams

The phrase "school of hard knocks" could easily describe my boating experiences during the past 20 years.

Failure of electronic equipment and some component failures can sometimes be attributed to loose battery connections. Always check the connections first if something doesn't work. photo-Art Michaels


Recently, I had a boating day planned on the Allegheny River. With excited family members waiting at the dock, a turn of the key produced a dull click, and yet, another click. Meanwhile, off to my side, looks of dejection reflected on the water. Soon the scramble began and the search for tools was on. After a forgotten and neglected positive battery cable was tightened, we were able to continue our day of boating.

The best way to avoid a breakdown on the ramp or on the water is prevention. Using this simple checklist the day before you launch or the morning you set out can prevent an unpleasant beginning of a trip.

Check the trailer. Inspect the hitch coupling, tiedowns, tire pressure (shake the tires firmly-excessive wobble indicates a possible wheel bearing problem), and trailer lights.

Check the boat. Verify that all safety equipment is on board. Check the battery charge and connections, fuel condition and connections, and steering linkage and operation.

Prevent a common failure such as a flooded engine or a slightly off-placed kill switch by knowing the basics of fuel systems and electrical systems, as well as having an understanding of how to perform a minor repair and knowing which tools you need.

Include in your tool box the following: 6-inch long 2 by 4 section of wood, 13/16-inch spark plug socket tool, 6-inch and 8-inch needlenose pliers, regular and Phillips-head screwdrivers, hammer, propeller wrench (floating), electrical tape, spare bulbs, crescent wrench, extra primer ball and spare propeller.

Know how to handle a flooded engine. The correct way to start a flooded electric-start engine is first to disconnect the fuel line. Then move the throttle cold-start lever to wide open. Next, make sure the choke is not engaged. Finally, crank the engine for an eight-second count. Repeat this procedure two or three times. To protect the starter, allow a four-second break between attempts. Once the engine starts, immediately slow the engine and stop it. Reconnect the fuel line.

When an engine starts but stalls within minutes, the fuel system could be at fault. Although some powerful outboards are equipped with electric fuel pumps, most boaters find that on their outboards, the primer ball and line are still the most common fuel delivery system. Make sure the primer ball is hard and holding pressure. Then check the gas tank vent. With vacuum pump fuel delivery, an outboard engine will stall in minutes if it is not properly vented.

Musts for the tool box: 6-inch long 2x4 section of wood, 13/16-inch spark plug socket tool, 6-inch and 8-inch needlenose pliers, regular and Phillips-head screwdrivers, hammer, propeller wrench (floating), electrical tape, spare bulbs, crescent wrench, extra primer ball and spare propeller. photos-David M. Adams

Check the fuel filter. Most outboards have a screw-on filter at the side of the engine. Before removing it, look at the fuel bowl. If water is present, the liquid will be one of two colors. A dark color is gas and a clear color is water. In this case, replace the fuel; if not, remove the filter (avoid spillage with a rag and dispose of properly) and check for dirt.

Component failure is the main cause of electrical problems. Never attempt to jump start any boat, in particular, an outboard. Not only is it unsafe, but many of today's electronics are sensitive to any incorrect cable hookup. Never check for spark by disconnecting the plug wire. This type of diagnosis should be done only by a technician. If all the basic checks fail to start an engine, an engine component probably has failed.

Check the steering. An object catching the linkage in the splashwell causes most binding linkages. On many boats, a forgotten part called the "cable nut" might loosen. To check the steering system cable nut, look at the lower front of the motor. The steering cable runs to the bottom and a large nut holds it onto the motor. Tighten the nut and check the steering.

Your boating day won't end with power tilt and trim problems, but power tilt and trim can cause a major inconvenience if you're backing down the ramp and the propeller bangs the ramp pavement.

If the fluid pump is not running, check the fuses and battery connections. If the pump is running, check the fluid level. Even if it's just slightly low, it might not trim properly. Another important item to remember is that the ground wire at the trim pump is a major cause of trim motor failures.

Remember-a few minutes of checking can save hours of aggravation.


September/October 2001 PA Angler & Boater


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