Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Should We Own An Outboard Motor?

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

I went to a free semiar this morning at Marathon Boat Yard.  The subject was outboard motor maintenance.    After listening to that, my conclusion is that we should not own one.   The short reason is that we don't use it enough, to justify the maintenance that I should put into it.

For the first 5 years that we cruised, we had no outboard.  Only occasionaly did we miss it.  Once in a while I realized that we could explore places by dinghy with a motor that would be too far away to row.  (By the way, I believe that the previous owner of Tarwathie never had a motor either.)

Since then, we had three motors.  First a Mercury 2-stroke.  I had a hard time keeping that running.  And the starting pull rope was too tought for Libby.  She couldn't start it.   Then carrying a motor not started make rowing even harder for her.  We got into the difficulty of removing the motor for Libby to use the dinghy and putting the motor back for dick to use the dinghy.

Next, we bought a brand new Honda 2HP engine when cruising with Nick in Maine.  Libby couln't start that one either.   Twice that engine got submerged in the water.  The motor survived the dunkings fine, but the centrifugul clutch was destroyed.  It was too expensive to fix, so I threw it in the trash.

Two or three years ago we bought a new Yamaha 2HP engine.  I bought it in anticipation of a visit by Jen because I thought it would make it easier for her while she was here.  We selected the Yamaha because the strength needed to pull the starter rope was less than other brands.  Libby can start it.

Since then, I've had trouble keeping it running.   Last year we paid Alex (the local handyman who can fix anything) three times to clean the carberator.  Before leaving Marathon after the last cleaning it quit again.   Since then, it has not been used once.

At the seminar, I heard our instructor Tommy say, "If you leave the outboard sitting 6 months or more without use, it won't run until the carb is cleaned.  No preventative measures will help that."  

So, I could pay to get the motor running today, but in a couple of months we'll leave Marathon and the motor will sit unused until next winter.

I face the prospect of spending nearly one hour of maintenance per hour of use with a gasoline motor.  

We like rowing.  Rowing helps keep us in shape.  Libby in particular needs the upper-body and back strength training, and rowing is the ideal exercise.

On the rare occasions when rowing is unsuitable, perhaps an electric trolling motor would suit us better.


  1. I've got a runabout I use to shoot racing photos. Every time I use it, I disconnect the fuel at the engine and let it run dry before pulling it up on the trailer. In six years, I've never had the carb cleaned. It starts easy, every time. I'm sure you'd experience the same thing if you had an outboard and were able to do that. I realize that most of those smaller outboards have onboard tanks. Are there some made today with a petcock between the tank and carb? My old 2 hp seagull has that.

    btw, I stopped carrying the seagull on the big boat, because it leaked oil everywhere. So, I haven't had an outboard on the dinghy in 15 years.

    Bottom line is, rowing has probably kept you more fit and able to continue cruising. My question would be, whether I would continue to get appropriate exercise to substitute for the lost rowing time? If so, then hell yeah. An outboard that you can run the carb dry when you are done using it, would be ideal. I have a friend who has a Nissan 2 hp on his racing sailboat. I believe he has a petcock and runs it dry every use, too.

    Just be sure you use ethanol free gas. One time, I ran the boat for an hour with ethanol in the gas. The result of that was a $600 bill at the mechanic. I also stabilize the gas with Stabil Ethanol treatment, even though I'm buying "ethanol free" gas.


  2. Outboards are the spawn of the devil. I say that while having one as my primary engine aboard my Cape Dory 25. Fortunately we have decent breezes around here and I only have to use the little monster to get on and off the dock.

    I'm really enjoying your site which I was fortunate enough to find through a link from the Westsail board.

  3. Thanks for the helpful comments.

    I always have used ethonol-free gasoline, and I always used the fuel shutoff to stop the engine, but there were two things I learned at the seminar.

    1) As many as 1/3 of the stations selling ethonol-free gasoline really do have ethonol. The instructor does a test-tube test and found as much at 5% in supposedly ethonol free. He said that even 1-2% ehonol is almost as bad as 10%.

    2) Through the 90s, outboard carberators had straws that went to the bottom of the bowl, so if you run them dry it uses up all the fuel. Since then, all modern outboards have a straw that ends 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the bottom of the bowl. So you accomplish little by running it dry.

    Worse, to meet emmissions requirements they have extremely narrow orifices in the carberator, almost as narrow as a human hair. Those are extremely easy to block.

    My 23HP engine has an internal tank with gravity feed. There is no fuel nipple to disconnect, and I can not add an inline fuel filter.

    A possible solution would be to swap my 2012 Yamaha for a 1980 Johnson 2-stroke. But unless Libby can start the Johnson, it wouldn't work.

  4. I don't know, I think he is over stressing the carb / tank issues. A few yrs ago, I had to replace the carb in my Honda 2000 genset. It had gummed up. If you've ever seen one of these, it is literally a 1.5" cube block of aluminum that has been orificed and mangled by a computerized milling machine.

    Since I was having success running the (94 Johnson 40 hp) outboard dry, I started doing the same with the genset. For at least three years now, every time I need it, she runs. I don't "exercise" it monthly like folks recommend. I just run it dry, cover it and come back to it when I need it. And fwiw, I always put stabil in the gas suitable for long term storage, even if I am using it every week. Same for outboard.


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