Guide: Outboard engine maintenance

Our all-season pointers for stress-free engine care

By David HarrisDavid Harris

Cottage outboards were once the exclusive realm of a few North American-built mix-yer-own gas-and-oil two-strokes. Smaller outboards — 30 hp and under — are now available in an astounding assortment of four-strokes and two-strokes, including oil-mixed, oil-injected and, recently, a new subspecies of ultra-clean, computer-controlled, low-emission, low-maintenance, direct-injected two-strokes. Not to mention electric and diesel outboards — which we won’t in this article.

Cottagers needn’t be intimidated by today’s seemingly complex engines. While the hiccups of some modern engines can only be diagnosed by laptop-wielding techs, many small, tiller-steered outboards have maintenance schedules that include plenty of tasks suitable for a weekend mechanic. Every outboard runs best when electrical, fuel, and mechanical systems are working in harmony; a successful spring engine wake-up depends on proper winterizing procedures, and mid–season maintenance ensures these major systems are operating at their peak. Before getting started, read through your owner’s manual — most are available online, if not from your dealer — and familiarize yourself with the engine.

A boater’s tool box

All that is required for the work described here is a basic cottage tool kit (screwdrivers, Vise-Grips, pliers), as well as the following:

  • spark-plug wrench
  • socket and wrench set (metric and standard)
  • oils and lubricants specific to your engine (and a grease gun, if appropriate)
  • oil filter wrench (for four-strokes)
  • oil and fuel filters
  • fuel stabilizer
  • spark plugs
  • storage spray (also called fogging oil)
  • funnel, bucket, oil-absorbent mats, and a sealable oil-disposal container (many marinas subscribe to the industry’s Clean Marine program and will dispose of your dirty oil and filters for you in an eco-friendly fashion)

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David Harris