Why Won’t My Outboard Motor Start? Multiple Things To Check

When it comes to getting your boat in and out of the docks, you will definitely need your outboard motor. Sometimes after your boat has been sitting for many weeks or months, the engine may not start.

Your outboard motor will not start, if there is no fuel getting to the engine, or the electric start has no power. These are the two most common issues when an outboard motor will not start. Another common issue is the boat being in gear.

These reasons are the most common but they are not the only possibilities. This article will talk all about the possible reasons an outboard motor won’t crank. I will also talk about how to fix the issues. Let’s jump in!

Fuel Is Not Getting To The Motor – How To Fix It

Fuel not getting to the motor is one of the most common issues when the motor won’t start. It will usually sound like it’s trying to start but never will actually turn over all the way. There are a few different things that can cause this.

The first thing to check DOES IT HAVE FUEL IN THE TANK. I know this sounds dumb, but I have seen it happen before. People are like why won’t my boat start and they fail to check the fuel? Especially on a smaller outboard that is connected to a small tank or has the tank on itself. Always check the fuel before starting the engine and before exiting the dock.

You don’t want to run out of fuel in the middle of the lake or ocean.

Another reason fuel may not be getting to the moto is a kink in the fuel line. Sometimes fuel lines are not run that well and get wedged into tight places. This can cause the fuel line to become kinked and not allow fuel to flow freely.

See if you can trace the fuel line and find any kinks.

The Electric Start Has No Power!

If you have an electric start and the engine is making no sound at all when turning the key, you may have a dead battery.

The best thing to do is take a volt meter and check the battery. If it’s below 12 volts there is a problem. If it is below 12 volts, see if you can charge it or take it to a local car shop and have them test it to make sure it is still good.

If you just bought the boat I hoped you checked this before purchasing it. If not you may have to buy another battery to get going.

It is possible the battery connections have become disconnected or corroded. See if they have a good connection and try again.

Emergency Shut-off Switch

Some motors may have an emergency shut-off switch or clip. Makes sure the switch or clip is in the correct position. This is sometimes the issue because the operator used this method to shut off the engine last time and forgot to disengage it.

I recommend only using this in an emergency situation as it was intended.

Other Common Issues For An Outboard Motor Not Turning Over

  1. Bad Sparkplugs. Let’s say the fuel is good and the battery has a full charge, but it still doesn’t start. This could be because of bad sparkplugs. I recommend replacing them or having a mechanic do it if you don’t feel comfortable replacing them yourself.
  2. Exhaust is blocked. If a boat has been sitting for a while it is very possible a creature created a nest in the exhaust. Make sure it is clear of debris.
  3. Engine is in gear. Most engines today will not start if it is in gear. Make sure your shifter is in the neutral position. Then try again. It may look like it’s in neutral but just give it a little wiggle to make sure.
  4. Cold Weather. Are you possibly in a cold-weather environment? See if your motor has a choke on it. Pull the choke and then try cranking the motor. Once it starts make sure to reduce the choke.

Final Thoughts

This article has talked about the common issues when an outboard motor won’t turn over. Could you apply some of these principles to an inboard motor? YES.

Just use caution when working on a motor. It can be dangerous.

If you are just getting ready to start your boat after a long off-season, check out my other article all about getting your outboard ready for summer!

Just remember the basic concept of a motor is very similar on all models, but each model is slightly different. Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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