Boating Tips


Posted 1/18/2012

Helpful hints for preparing and operating your outboard boat

If this is your first outboard boat, or if it’s been a while since you’ve driven an outboard-powered boat, we strongly recommend reading the engine and boat owner’s manuals to familiarize yourself with your particular boat and outboard.

For your convenience, we’ve also assembled a brief overview of how to get your vessel ready for a day on the water. The following are generic highlights, but the owner’s manuals are the definitive reference.

Visual Exam
If the boat is on a trailer, conduct a quick walk-around inspection to make sure the propeller isn’t damaged and is securely fastened to the outboard (including the cotter pin through the prop nut). Crawl under the boat to verify the drain plug is installed and tight – we don’t want to sink at the launch ramp, before the day begins.

Give the hull a once-over, checking for deep gouges and potential structural problems.

Turn on the battery switch, trim the engine down and back up to verify you have electrical power. Examine the battery terminals – they should be clean and tight (see image below).

Confirm that you have sufficient fuel in the tank for your excursion. Calculating fuel requirements is often done by the rule of threes: one-third of a tank to get out on the water, one-third to use for boating, and the last third for the trip home.

Double-check that quick-disconnect fuel line fittings are tight; while you’re at it, sniff around for gas fumes. If you smell gas, turn off the battery switch and fix the fuel leak.

 On a Yamaha-powered boat, you can find out if there are unacceptable levels of water in the fuel by putting the shifter in neutral, and turning the key to the “on/run” position. If the water-in-fuel indicator light blinks and/or the warning horn blasts, replace the exterior water separating fuel filter with a Yamaha 10-micron fuel filter prior to your voyage, and drain any water-sensing on-engine filters (replace these filters as soon as possible).

Trim the outboard to a vertical position, remove the engine cowling, and check the oil. Four-strokes have an automotive-style dipstick; the oil should be at least in the middle of the cross-hatching or between the upper and lower lines. Use only marine four-stroke oil to top off the engine, if necessary.

Two-stroke outboards may have a small oil tank under the cowling, and a larger oil reservoir in the boat. Fill them with the manufacturer’s recommended two-stroke oil.

At the helm, turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock in both directions. The steering should move freely, without feeling stiff, sloppy loose, or sticking.

The throttle and shift controls ought to move smoothly throughout their range of motion (this test may require the engine to be running on some outboards).

Once the boat is in the water, trim the engine all the way up and as far down as water depth permits. You may hear the power trim hydraulic pump running – that’s OK – but no other suspicious noises.

Light It Up
You’ve checked the major systems, and everything appears to be in order, now it’s time to start the engine and go for a boat ride.

Confirm the battery switch is on. Snap the engine stop switch lanyard to its fitting on or near the helm, and attach the other end of the lanyard to a secure place on your arm, leg, life jacket or clothing.

Following the directions in your engine owner’s manual, start the engine, and let it idle for a few minutes to warm up.
As the engine is idling, glance back at the engine to see that there is a reasonably steady flow of water flowing out of the pilot hole near the rear of the cowling (see image above). If the flow seems weak, ease the throttle forward a bit (but not enough to put the engine in gear) – the water flow will probably improve as the RPM increases. However, if the water still dribbles with increased engine speed, or if there isn’t any water flow at all, turn the engine off, find out what’s wrong, and correct the issue.

On four-stroke outboards, watch the instruments and/or warning lights for adequate oil pressure. The low oil pressure warning light should go off a few seconds after the engine starts, and the oil pressure gauge will confirm the engine is receiving sufficient lubrication. If the warning light stays lit, a warning horn sounds, and the oil pressure gauge indicates a low reading, stop the engine immediately. The boat may have to go the shop to repair a low oil pressure problem.

Assuming the engine is at operating temperature and running well, it’s time to cast off and go yachting.

After you’ve untied from the dock, pull the control lever back to the neutral position, and firmly move the control handle until you feel the gearcase engage with the engine. Don’t be too heavy-handed, because most controls combine the throttle and shift functions into one handle – the more you move the lever, the faster the engine is going to run – a potential complication in close quarters maneuvering.

Class Dismissed
Obviously, this is not an all-encompassing treatise on preparing for a boat ride or starting an outboard engine, but this should give you a good idea about the process.

Please read your engine and boat owner’s manuals for the exact details regarding your setup. If the manuals are missing, most are available online at the manufacturers’ websites.

Boating is lot of fun – really. It’s not nearly as complicated in real life as it appears on the page.
Don’t be intimidated, go out there and embrace the boating lifestyle – no reruns or commercials, and the fresh air will do you good.