Outboard Care

I can’t think of another phrase that sounds so definitive, yet can be followed by a more tentative “Uh-oh!” As in, “Honey, you’ve been gone all day winterizing the trawler. Sit down, let me bring you some shrimp and a stiff drink. Did everything go OK?”
“Yes, dear.”
“You remembered to do the dinghy engine, too, didn’t you?”
“Yes, dear.”
At that point it’s too late to verbalize the word “Uh oh,” or any of the profanities a guy utters when he realizes he screwed up — and denies it!
“Out of sight, out of mind” is the phrase that comes to mind every time I see a dinghy. But that’s a mistake.
I often told the engine maintenance classes I taught that an engine is basically the same from brand to brand, two-stroke or four-stroke, car, boat, prop-driven plane — you name it. You winterize your trawler or your runabout so they treat you to boating the next spring. You should have dealt with the dinghy engine in the same fashion, and for the same reasons. Rarely, however, does that happen.

If you have a large dinghy, use the davits to raise the boat high enough to be able to run the engine on a flush-muff. Run the engine on stabilized fuel, then disconnect the fuel line and run the carburetor dry. Check the gear oil and change it if necessary. Lube the steering ram. That boat’s out in bad weather as well as good, and there’s nothing like loading everybody in it to head to the beach and suddenly finding yourself pointed toward England with seized steering.

If your dinghy transportation is small and you can easily remove the engine and hang it on the rail of the big boat, stick a five-gallon bucket of water under it and run it until it’s well-flushed, shut off the fuel and run the carb dry, then take the little engine below to await the spring.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of unexpected engine wakeups that ended up in my shop. Maybe one will spur you to action:

• A 2 hp two-stroke was laid to rest in the forward V of a sailboat. The powerhead was angled down. Water drained up the driveshaft, seized the bottom and center crank bearings, and seized the engine. The owner had to “lay it to rest” and replace it.

• A 4 hp four-stroke — decals all over it showed how to lay it down — was winterized and laid on the wrong side for its slumber. In the spring, the owner retrieved the engine from his big boat, installed it on his dory and panicked when he saw oil dripping from his engine. He had failed to tether himself to the main hull and found himself merrily answering the wind’s desires. He went to start the engine, but the cylinder was oil-filled and all he did was break his wrist. He bravely paddled one-handed, in a circle, until he was rescued. He and the rescuer hit the water when his good hand couldn’t hold on to the stern cleat while heading up the transom. An observer claimed it looked like a “Roadrunner” cartoon. I took the engine, drained the oil, refilled the crankcase with fresh oil and started it on the third pull.

These little workhorses are as essential as the big engines that bring you to your destination. Storing the engine improperly doesn’t compensate for an excellent winterization.