How can a day on the water go awry? Let us count the ways. Better yet, let us count the ways to diagnose (and cure) problems, or at least make it back to the dock under your own power.
1. Loose throttle cables
Few things are more disappointing than turning the ignition key and being greeted with stony silence. First, check to see that your throttle is in the neutral position, as most engines won’t start in gear. Seems straightforward, but loose throttle cables can complicate the issue. In this case, you may have to jockey the throttle lever back and forth several times, while keeping the ignition key turned, before you find the right spot. Don’t forget to take ’er to the marina to have those loose cables tightened.
2. Kill-switch killjoy
The engine won’t start if you forget to insert the kill-switch clip. If your boat or engine has a kill switch, check that the clip is firmly in place, or try removing it and reinstalling it. If the engine still won’t start, you may have a loose connection between the kill switch and ignition. Check that all wires are firmly connected and free of corrosion. If corroded, try some WD-40 or a similar spray oil. Smart boaters keep a spare kill-switch clip onboard in case they lose, forget, or break the first one.
3. Terminal conditions
If the engine still doesn’t produce any activity or sound, check the battery terminal connections. Terminal post nuts often loosen over time because of vibration; if they’re loose, tighten with a wrench. By the way, if you have wing nuts on your terminal posts, replace them with nylon-insert locknuts, which will not back off. If the terminal posts or cable terminals show signs of corrosion, spray some WD-40 on them or scrub them with baking soda and a wire brush. Replace all corroded cables and leads as soon as possible.