Outboard Safety Checklist

10 Things to check before using your outboard

Outboard Service Checklist

Been a while since you started your outboard? Coming out of overwintering? Just had your outboard serviced? Here are 10 safety checks you should make to your outboard before putting it back in the water.

Outboard Saftely

Your boat outboard is probably the most important piece of hardware in the boating experience.  It's performance in relation to the type of boating you do and and reliablity will hugely influence how much enjoyment you get out on the water.

Getting into the habit of performing even a basic level of checks (call them saftey checks if you like) will give you confidence and peace of mind when out on the water.  The safe operation and relability of your outboard to get to where you want to go (or more importantly getting back home) is fundamental to enjoyment levels.

Of course required reliability levels are mandated somewhat by the type of boating you do. For instance summertime canel cruising is quite different from crossing Chichester harbour in a loaded rib on a blusterday April day.

The checks described in this article should be viewed as a minium and should complement and be in addition to any manufacturer stated checks.



Pre-start safety checks (Recommeneded before every use)

Also known as pre-start checks it's a good habit to get into working through the following for just a few minutes before each time you start your outboard.

Source: RNLI.org

Here's what to check before every use:

  1. Clamps - Ensure the outboard is securley clamped and ideally locked to the transom or mount. Ensure any anti-vibration mechanisms are in place.
  2. Fuel - Make sure you have enough fuel for your intended journey plus a good contingency in reserve.
  3. Oil Level - Most 2-stroke engines run pre-mix fuel but on four stroke outboards and non-pre-mix 2 strokes ensure the oil level is topped up to atleast the min spec.
  4. Controls - Turn the steering and throttle controls through a complete motion range to ensure free movement.
  5. Propeller - Ensure the prop and drift leg are free of any debris and if you can eyeball the prop retaining nut ensure the splitter pin is in place and secure.
  6. Fuel Line - Ensure a secure connection at both ends with no leaks or kinks.
  7. Fuel Filter - Check any water splitter and empty if necessary.
  8. Tank Tap & Vent - 2 second checks to ensure an fuel taps and vents are open.
  9. Battery Switch - If your outboard has an electric starter or trim mechanism ensure the necessary circuits are on and not fused.
  10. Primer Bulb  - 4 of 5 squeezes should prime the fuel line with sufficient fuel. The primer bulb should be firm before use.

11. Probably most importantly always always always make sure the kill cord is attached to your wrist or life-jacket.  You don't have to search very long to find plenty of horror stories that should leave you in no doubt about this!

Once your familiar with your outboard and setup all of the above should take no more than a few mins.

Once it's running...

Always look for a good flow from the outboard cooling outlet. a strong and consistent flow at tickover is sign the impeller and cooling jacket are functioning well. Older outboards or those with a few miles on the clock will likely have less squirk to them. It's important to become familiar with the flow rate so when you eyeball it you can recognise when the flow is diminished. This will indicate either a restricted flow into the cooling jacket (most likely due to debris booking the inlet) or a worn impeller.

Check the outboard impeller water flow
Check for a steady flow from the cooling outlet

If starting from 'cold' (not necessarily cold weather just not started in a few hours) then let your outboard idle for a minute or two before gently increasing the revs to let the engine settle to operating temperature before setting off.

Making pre-start checks easy

It's worth trying to get in a pattern on doing these checks, particular if you regularly go boating with family or the same group of friends. While ultimatly it's the skipper's (or helms) responsibility to ensure the above getting in a groove where everyone recognises theire importance and understands of who and when will make your time on the water far more enjoyable.

Post-service safety checks - (Recommended after a service)

In addition to the normal pre-start checks it's prudent to take time and check a few more things following an outboard service. If you've had your outboard serviced by a professional or accredited dealer then these may be less relevant but if your doing some basic servicing yourself then make sure you check the following after any servicing work:

  1. Spark plugs are secure with the H/T lead held firmly in=place with it's securing clip (where one exists).
  2. Excess fuel and lubricants that may have seeped during your service are wiped away with a clean dry clothe.
  3. Kill cord switch and release cable still operational - i.e. actually kills the engine when yanked.
  4. Fuel lines are reconnected and secured with the appropriate jubilee clips (or similar).
  5. Gear oil filler cap is secure to necessary torgue rating.
  6. Propeller turns freely and rotates the piston appropriately giving that reassuring soft pop on exhaust cycle.
  7. Battery terminals (if electric start) are secured and suitably protected with anti-oxidising protective grease (or equivalent).
  8. Fuel filler cap is secure and breather vent/pipe clear of obstruction.
  9. Throttle and gear linkages move freely and any spring return mechansims operate smoothly.
  10. Any anodes that have been changed are fixed firmly.

So there you have it. Our recommended outboard safety checks.

Missing somthing? post a comment.

Enjoy the water and be safe with your boating!

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