Cottage Q&A: Storing an outboard for two years

A close-up of an outboard engine By Aduldej/Shutterstock

We live in Buffalo, N.Y., and we have a cottage in Barry’s Bay, Ont. Because of COVID-19, we were unable to get to our cottage in 2020. How bad is it for our 18-hp outboard—we leave it in an unheated shed—to sit for almost two years?—Micheal Tokarczyk, via email

It’s not good. But it’s not that bad. Assuming it was put away properly, an engine could last for about two years, says Chris Pahnke of Inlet Marine Repairs in Port Moody, B.C. “If you left it for 20 years…that would be a completely different story.”

Still, Murphy’s Law tells us that lots of things could happen over the course of two years: the blades of the water pump impeller could dry out, harden, and crack; moisture could cause some corrosion of the engine’s electrical components; rodents could get inside the shed and chew or pee on every single part of your boat. 

“It’s kind of a crapshoot,” says Sean Horsfall, the owner of Len’s Cove Marina in Portland, Ont. But he thinks that the most likely scenario is that any fuel left in the tank or carburetor will have broken down. “The ethanol in fuel evaporates over time and leaves behind solids that aren’t burnable in a boat engine.”

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Fingers crossed, this could be a non-problem, says Pahnke. First step: “I’d dump the old stuff, put in some fresh fuel, and then just see if the engine runs.” 

Sadly, it probably won’t. “There’s a 90 per cent chance that it’ll need some servicing, and the carburetor will need a proper clean-out,” says Horsfall. If you’re used to doing the boat and engine maintenance yourself, you might be able to DIY everything. (See p.23 for spring boat maintenance tips.) If not, take it to an expert. 

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And if you can’t get back to the cottage by the summer—ugh, we really, really hope that isn’t the case, COVID—see if a Canadian lake neighbour can take the engine somewhere for servicing. Because Canadians are nice, eh?

This article was originally published in the Mar/April 2021 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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