What To Have On Board In Case Of Engine Emergency!

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Updated 2:21 PM ET, Wed July 1, 2015

Article highlights

  • You only need #14 items in your Survival Kit to solve most mechanical failures.
  • Fuel delivery problems are the most common failure that occurs.
  • Keep extras of small items that are likely to fall overboard.
I'm Bruce Maddox, my day to day role here at POP is the Manager of Sales Training and Development, but behind the scenes I am also known as the go-to guy for marine mechanical information for our new staff members and veterans alike. I have a pretty dynamic background in the marine industry from working at Boater's World selling electronics and gear, to managing a service department for a dealership on a barrier island in the Outer Banks of NC. This background means I have seen a lot of the various aspects of the boating world and POP has allowed me to utilize this blog to share some of those lessons I have learned throughout the years.

What To Have On Board In Case Of Engine Emergency!

Some Basic Information To Know


I want to start this out with some basics, namely what you need to have with you when you are utilizing your outboard powered vessel. I know there are some of you who, if the motor acts up it is an instant call to Sea Tow. However some of you who, are mechanically inclined wish you could do more to try and salvage your day but are intimidated by turning a wrench on something new. Hopefully this discussion can benefit both types of users. The one who may stop the day and call Sea Tow when an issue arises might now be able to find the diagnostic process simpler than expected and the mechanically inclined user may also have the tools they need to salvage the day.

What Are Some Common Failures That Can Happen?


The most common failure that occurs is fuel delivery. Fuel delivery problems stem from old gas, water in the gas, a malfunctioning primer bulb or other fuel system malfunction. Ethanol has really wreaked havoc on our older fuel systems in the marine industry and unfortunately if that is the culprit, it will be a call to Sea Tow and then your favorite service center. If it is not a bad fuel issue, then the first place to start is the fuel filter. Different outboards have different filter setups, but the most common is a water separating fuel filter.

What Are The Two Most Popular Water Separators?


The two most popular types of water separators are, the Racor style, which has the clear bowl, which could be glass, or plastic, and then a drain. This allows you to drain off any water into a fuel safe container to check your fuel content. The other one offers the same filtration, but has to be removed to drain the content. If these filters fill with water, they will then feed water to the engine and cause all types of running issues. Be sure to keep a filter wrench and a spare fuel filter on board, as this will help you mitigate the "water in the fuel" issue.

How A Malfunctioning Primer Bulb Can Also Cause Problems!


A malfunctioning primer bulb is also a common issue. The primer bulb primes the fuel from the fuel tank to the engine in order to start the fuel feed process. This is typically pumped a few times prior to starting the engine after storage. The bulb has a check valve which may get stuck and prevent the flow of fuel. Keeping a properly sized spare in your survival kit, along with hose clamps and a flat head screwdriver, will solve this problem.

How To Know If Your Fuel Line Is Damaged!


Last but not least, a damaged fuel line? This can happen for many different reasons, you drop your favorite filet knife on the right spot and it slices the line, or maybe there is some sun damage that you missed during your spring maintenance check and the line finally cracked through. This could end your day early, but taking the hose clamps you have already with your spare primer bulb and a brass fuel hose union will allow you to cut out the damaged piece of fuel line and make it back to the dock trouble free. Just make sure you source the proper fuel hose diameter union for your boat. Most Johnson/Evinrude motors take a 3/8 line, and Mercury Yamaha take a 5/16, but your fuel hose will have this clearly printed on it.

Anything fuel related beyond these quick fixes, is probably best to take it in to your nearest service center. You must treat all fuel related problems with respect due to safety but also the environment.

How Do You Recognize Bad Spark Plugs?


Another common problem, especially from two-stroke outboards can creep up from ignition related issues. Two-stroke outboards run a gas and oil mixture through the engine in order to fuel and lubricate internal parts. This can create a problem such as fouled spark plugs. This can happen especially with old fuel or a hard to start motor. A fouled spark plug can prevent the engines electrical system from transmitting a spark to the engine. That spark is needed to ignite the fuel and create the combustion needed for the engine to run. To solve this issue, in my survival kit I always keep a spark plug wrench and a new or serviced set of spark plugs in a dry bag. If you suspect fouled plugs, simply trim the engine up, remove the plugs, reinstall your replacement plugs hand tight, then tighten a quarter to half turn, reinstall the electrical leads, and if that was your issue you can be back running in no time. Save the plugs you removed, when you get back to the dock, clean them up in some fresh gasoline and save them for spares in your next outing. Any ignition issue beyond that would need your local service center's involvement.

What To Do If You Are Having Propeller Problems?


Lastly, a common easily addressed issue that could end your day early is with your propeller. I am a huge fan of keeping a spare prop on board, but that can get rather expensive depending on your application. If you happen to hit something and damage the prop, it's almost necessary to replace the prop or get a tow back to the dock to prevent further damage to the gear case internals by running a damage and unbalanced propeller. Other propeller related issues can come from a fouled propeller. This occurs when you run over fishing line, a fishing net, or maybe even something like a rope or a crab trap. This can quickly end your day. To keep going, a prop wrench, cotter pin, or plate (depending on engine model) and a spare nut is always in my survival kit. This will allow you to remove that prop, remove the offending line, and properly reinstall and continue your day.

What To Know Before You Call Sea Tow


Beyond these common issues, a call to Sea Tow may be in order, but having the necessary tools and parts to overcome those common issues in your "GO" bag may help keep you and your family happy while on the water.

Your Outboard Survival Kit should contain these #14 items at all times, including extras for small items which may fall overboard.

What To Have On Board In Case Of Engine Emergency!

1. All-in-One Screwdriver
2. Adjustable Wrench
3. Needle Nose Pliers
4. Filter Wrench
5. Sharp Knife
6. Side Cutting Pliers
7. Several Hose Clamps
8. Primer Bulb
9. Spare Fuel Filter
10. Brass Hose Union
11. Spark Plug Wrench/Socket
12. Replacement Spark Plugs
13. Prop Wrench
14. Prop Hardware Kit

Most any responsible boat owner will do their very best to make sure they have all their safety gear on hand in case of an emergency. However, taking the extra steps in order to try and salvage your day from mechanic failure is just as important. Start with the list above, and apply it to your specific motors needs and don't let a simple fuel delivery issue ruin your time on the water!
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