Always Have a Backup Plan | Yamaha Outboards

Pro Anglers

Always Have a Backup Plan

Carry These Simple Tools For Troubleshooting Problems While On The Water

By Capt. Rick Murphy

Yamaha Pro Staff


Any time you go boating, you should always have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong or you have mechanical trouble while on the water. Start by filing a float plan or at least notifying one or two people of where you plan to fish or boat and when you expect to be back, so that if you do have a problem someone will know if you don’t return.

The thing to remember is that outboard motors are mechanical, and while they’re extremely reliable, they do suffer breakdowns and can also experience mechanical issues as a result of operator error. Quite often, these breakdowns on the water can be remedied by a simple or quick fix that will enable you to get back to port safely where a Yamaha Certified Marine Mechanic can service the outboard. But even the simplest problems can’t be solved unless you’re prepared, which is why I carry a back-up box with specific parts and tools whenever I’m on the water.

One of the most common issues with outboards is overheating, which is often the result of a blocked tell-tale, the small hole on the side or back of the engine that sprays water when the engine is running. That spray is part of the engine’s cooling system, and if the tell-tale gets blocked by dirt or grit, the engine can’t effectively cool down and may overheat. If your regulator-rectifier is water-cooled, as most are, you’ll be putting that in jeopardy of failing, too.  If the tell-tale isn’t spraying water, you may have a bad impeller or water pump, but often it’s because the nozzle to the tell-tale is blocked by dirt or caked mud. Insects are famous for trying to make a nest in the hole and blocking it with caked dirt or other organic matter, but often the water intake will pull in sand or mud that the water pressure from the Tell-Tale cannot clear.

I always keep a three-foot section of 100-pound monofilament fishing line in my back-up box for just that reason. In a pinch, you can use a piece of single strand wire to poke in the hole and clear it of debris, but I don’t like to use wire because it’s not as effective at reaming out the mud or dirt as the thicker monofilament. Single strand is so small in diameter that it usually just makes a small hole in the blockage, but it doesn’t clean it out, and there’s always the possibility that the wire will accidentally puncture the internal hose and cause more problems.

What you’ll find is that 100 pound monofilament is almost the same diameter as the tell-tale port and the internal hose, so when you push it into the hole, it clears out the entire blockage. I like to cut it at an angle with pliers so that you have a sharp, pointy end for penetrating the blockage, and a mashed, barblike end, which cleans out any mud or sand or grit when you pull the monofilament out of the tube.

I also carry a small scrub brush in my back-up kit for cleaning out the mesh screen or grate that’s over the lower unit water intake port. That area often gets clogged by vegetation or small shell particles and the brush will clean them off the screen or push them all the way through so that they are open and can pull new water into the cooling system.

There’s always a tool kit on my boat, but it’s not a full-blown set of tools because I have limited storage space. Instead, I keep a very generic set of tools that over time I’ve found I commonly need while on the water. If space isn’t a concern, I’d suggest you carry a full set of metric wrenches and ratchets.

The one thing you need in your tool kit is a set of 9-inch channel locks, which are adjustable pliers that can also lock into place if you need them to hold on to or torque on a nut or bolt. In a pinch you can use them as a pair of vice grips or a clamp to hold things together, so channel locks have a lot of uses.

You’ll also want a multi-kit screwdriver—one that is magnetized, so that you can’t accidentally drop a screw overboard or in the engine catch pan. These kits come with different sizes of Phillips, standard (flathead), star and hexagonal inserts so you have one tool that does the work of 10.

Instead of carrying a full set of wrenches or ratchets, I carry an adjustable wrench, which doesn’t discriminate over metric or standard and in an emergency will fit every size nut or bolt. It adjusts perfectly to the nut or bolt you need to remove. You may round off a corner on the bolt, but that can be replaced when you get back home.  

Needlenose pliers are another one of those task-specific tools that you seem to always need, and I like to address several needs at once by having a needlenose multi-tool instead of just a set of pliers. They can get into tight places and they usually have a set of cutters on them which are back-ups for the set of dykes that are also in the kit specifically for cutting and trimming everything from wires to hoses and tie-wraps. There’s also a set of scissors on the multi-tool for trimming and a knife in case you run over a piece of rope and have to cut it out of the lower unit.

Even before the addition of 10% Ethanol became standard in our gasoline, I’ve always had an extra Yamaha Fuel and Water Separator on the boat at all times because you can get bad fuel with water in it or particles in the bottom of the tank at the gas station that will clog the filter and keep the outboard from running. You’ll also want to have a filter wrench on board because even though the filter is hand-tightened, it can easily get over torqued or corroded into place and be difficult to get off by hand.

Keep in mind is that it’s better to be proactive with fuel issues than reactive, and you can do that by regularly adding Yamaha Ring Free Plus Fuel Additive and Yamaha Fuel Stabilizer Plus to your fuel. These products will clean out the dirt and grit that gets into your motor system, but also stabilize the gas in your fuel system. The key to not having fuel issues is to treat the fuel before issues arise, but if you do run into a problem, you need the ability to change out your Yamaha Fuel and Water Separator, so always carry a back-up.

Two items that I used to carry in my back-up kit that you might still want to consider are extra spark plugs and an extra fuel bulb. Since I’ve been running four-stroke outboards,  I’ve stopped carrying these items because I have confidence that they won’t be an issue. Spark plug issues were more often related to mixing oil and fuel by hand, so they don’t foul as often, and because I use fuel treatments in my gas tank, I don’t run into problems with my fuel bulb decaying, although they can still get punctured or leak from normal wear and tear.

If I do get a puncture in the fuel bulb or there’s ever a hose issue, I have a roll of Rescue Tape™  in my back-up kit, which is a tape that forms a chemical bond with itself and adheres when you stretch it and overlap it. It can be used for high-pressure hoses and hydraulic hoses, even if they’re covered with fluid or oil because the tape doesn’t use glue to adhere.

When I’m fishing tournaments, I’m often running my boat in unfamiliar waters, so I carry an extra prop and a complete set of attachment hardware. The prop is easy enough to change out on land, but when you do it on the water under extreme weather conditions, it’s easy to drop the Cotter pin, nut or a washer in the water, and with the extra assembly I have the part on hand to replace it.

As a back-up, I also carry a large magnet in my kit, which I can use to retrieve everything from nuts and bolts or car keys should I drop them in the water. You can find these magnets at any science or hobby store. I can tie the magnet off to my fishing rod and fish for my lost item. You can laugh, but it works and it beats diving in and feeling around with your hands and feet in muddy or deep water. 

Lastly, I carry an entire spare engine lanyard with kill switch key. A kill switch key can break or get pulled out and lost, and it’s an inexpensive item that will get you back home if you ever have that issue.

I keep all my tools in large individual zipper lock plastic bags, and then keep all those in a waterproof plastic container. The container goes in my front storage box along with all my flares, life jackets and other required safety equipment so that the entire storage area is dedicated to safety on the water. When anyone new steps on board, I show them the storage area and explain what’s inside in case we have some problem that I can’t handle alone. That way, we go into our day thinking about safety and knowing if there’s ever an issue, we can usually address it while on the water.