Resuscitate an Outboard

Once in every boater’s life it’s likely to happen. It happened to me a year ago when I watched our dinghy’s 8 hp outboard motor disappear below the water’s surface. My heart pumped wildly as I panicked and had visions of spending hundreds of dollars on repairs or, even worse, purchasing a new outboard. In reality, a disaster it was not. Resuscitating a drowning outboard motor, whether it’s a two- or four-stroke, from a dunking in fresh or salt water isn’t as difficult as most people might believe.

Small outboards, 15 hp and less in size, are the most likely candidates to find the seafloor. They are portable, often stored on the mothership until needed and then manhandled to be installed on the dinghy. Regardless how the motor ends up in the drink, quick action is imperative.

If the outboard goes into salt water, the first step is to hose it off with fresh water, at a minimum, to remove all the salt. Even better than fresh water is a product called Salt-Away (saltaway, an acidic solution that comes with a small injector system that is attached to a garden hose. The mild acidic water solution will remove salt and other minerals.

Next, drain the carburetor or vapor separator in fuel-injected engines. Pull the spark plugs, drain the cylinders and spray an entire can of fogging oil in the cylinders, rotating the crankshaft to save the pistons’ chambers. Install a new set of spark plugs, change the oil and filter on a four-stroke, add fresh gas and get the engine started. On a two-stroke outboard, run a rich gas/oil mix such as that used during break-in, which will add additional lubrication. The richer mix will smoke and foul your plugs, but your objective is to save the engine, not preserve relatively inexpensive spark plugs. The objective is to get the engine up to operating temperature to bake out any moisture. For the first few minutes, connect the Salt-Away injection system to the engine’s cooling muffs, to remove any salt and minerals in the cooling system. Run the outboard for an extended period of a couple hours.

Now start working on the other parts of the outboard. If the engine has a starter motor, it’s crucial to remove it and take it apart for cleaning — and rebuild as necessary. Clean and apply dielectric grease to electrical connections. The main wiring harness may need to be replaced in time.

There are a few manual lubrication points on outboards, usually in the controls, steering linkage and tilt hinges. Check your user manual for details and use the recommended lubricant. Finally, wax the engine cover and lower unit to protect it and keep it looking new.

But what about the boater who finds himself on the remote northern coast of Canada or down the Baja peninsula and is not able to work on it immediately? The first thing is to rinse the motor with as much fresh water as possible. At this point, the air is your motor’s number-one enemy, so fill the engine cylinders with oil or diesel fuel and rub down the outside with oil, so nothing is directly exposed. Any oil, even cooking oil, is better than no oil at all; you just don’t want dry metal parts to rust. Then wrap the motor in trash bags and stow it until it can be worked on.

I’m happy to report that my two-stroke outboard is running strong a year later.


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