There is nothing worse than enjoying a day on the water when you feel that sudden loss of power. Everyone on board looks at you as if it is your fault. Outboard motors are a lot more reliable than many people think. Often all it takes is a simple little trick to fix the problem and get on with the boating fun.
Hopefully you have tow insurance in case you cannot fix the problem. Before you make that dreaded radio hail for assistance, take a moment to think things through. A motor needs three basic things to operate; fuel, spark, and oxygen. In this first article we are going to see how to deal with fuel problems.
Check to see if you are getting fuel to the engine. Is the tank empty? If it is empty you can probably figure it out on your own from here. Assuming there is fuel, check to see if the primer bulb is flat. If the bulb is flat that indicates that the engine is trying to suck fuel from the tank but is not getting any. Now we are making progress.
The fuel problem is located before the motor. That is a good sign and often easy to fix. The first thing to do is remove the tank cap. If the bulb expands quickly then the problem is a venting issue. When fuel is sucked from the tank it will create a vacuum. Venting the tank allows air to replace the space of the used fuel. If the vacuum becomes too great the engine cannot suck fuel. A temporary fix can get you home without a huge tow bill. Leave the fuel cap loose as long as there no danger of water getting in the tank or losing the cap. If that will not feasible try removing the vent hose from the tank. This should allow enough air in the tank to prevent the vacuum.
If removing the fuel cap does not allow air into the bulb then the problem is with the anti siphon valve. This valve prevents fuel from continuously flowing into the motor once the engine is shut off. It is relatively easy to remove the valve which is located at the tank where the fuel line connects. Removal of this valve should allow a free flow of fuel to the motor.
If the primer bulb is not flat when you are checking for your problem then the first thing you want to look at is the fuel filter. It is always a good idea to keep a spare on the boat. If you have a spare replace the old one and check to see of the motor starts. If you do not have a spare remove the filter and see if you can blow through it. If not then you have found your problem. Try cleaning the filter the best you can until you can blow through it. If you cannot blow through it then bypass the filter and connect the fuel line directly to the motor. Drive slowly to prevent the tank from mixing particles into the fuel that may cause blockage in the fuel system.
If these tricks did not fix the problem then chances are you are better off calling in for a tow. Taking apart small moving parts at sea can be much more expensive in the long run. If the tricks did solve the problem then you have saved a considerable amount of money. The average uninsured tow costs $800 for a close to shore recovery and another $500 for a mechanic to tell you the problem. An anti-siphon valve can be picked up at any West Marine for $5 to $20.