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That’s what our friend Jeff called our inability to start our dinghy’s outboard engine, an opportunity to learn how to troubleshoot and fix an outboard, without needing to get it done to outrun some storm.

To back up a step, we were inspired by this post about checking your systems before you need them and thought that it would be a very good idea to do that with our dinghy engine. And it’s a good thing that we did!

When we first dropped the dinghy down into the water and attempted to start our virtually new Tohatsu outboard, we couldn’t even get the starter cord to pull. I employed my standard troubleshooting method which I use in situations like this which is to stare at the non-working item for a while and then try the same thing over again. As it typically does, we got the same result. 🙁 With a bit of tweaking by a friend of ours, we were finally able to at least get the cord to pull. Would it start? Of course not. That would make a fairly boring blog post, wouldn’t it?

We noticed at this point a bit of oil/gas in the water (sorry Hub!) and it was suggested that perhaps our lower unit was leaking oil. We promptly raised the motor back out of the water and made plans to change the oil the next day. It’s always fun wrestling the engine on and off the dinghy but we got it done and dragged the engine out to the parking lot and onto a saw horse. We have the drill for changing the lower unit oil down pretty good now after having done it a couple times with the Yamahas. After going to that trouble I don’t think there was anything wrong with the oil but it is still good for peace of mind.

Not a drop of oil was spilled!

So, back on the boat goes the engine and more starting attempts, sadly netting the same non-starting result.

We ran out of time and patience that day but our next troubleshooting step will be to check that we are getting spark from the spark plug. If we are, that leads us to fuel, which I think could be the problem. Yes, we left fuel in the fuel tank over the winter, without adding stabilizer. I thought that because we were storing it inside that the fuel wouldn’t break down but apparently this isn’t really the case. So we might just need to remove the carburetor and clean it, assuming that it is now all gummed up with “varnish.” As I said, what a great opportunity!

It looks like I am doing some Karate move in this pic!


  1. Now yer cruisin’. 😉

  2. are you outboard or diesel on the big boat? We had twin outboards on our PDQ and then one on the dink… which resulted in MANY crash courses in outboard love. Oh the stories I could tell. Yes, it’s an important thing to know. Have fun!

  3. I had the the same issue with a brand new motor for two years in a row. The first year it was under warranty and they rebuilt the carb and it ran fine for the rest of the season. The second year they told me it was the gas and that i should have used stabilizer. I put stabilizer in when i put the motor away that time. Last season it started after 2 pulls.

    My right arm has returned to the same size as my left thanks to the stabilizer!!!!

    If you drain the carb and tank of the old gas it might just run. If not you will have to remove the carb and clean it. If you need a place to do this, my workshop is yours.


    • Thanks Terry. Perhaps I should just take it to the dealer. It is less than 1 year old! I wonder if “stupid owner” is covered under their warrantee.

  4. Here’s a trick I learned from my Yamaha Dealer. Purchase a replacement fuel line fitting that connects to the outboard engine without the fuel hose. When you know the engine will be idle for a period of time, disconnect the fuel line and plug in the spare fitting. Start the engine and let the engine run out of fuel. It is important to use the fitting because it lets air in as it burns the remaining fuel in the carb.

  5. Everyone hates outboards, and the smaller, the worse it seems. Chain saws and the like don’t suffer so much, since they do not have to meet the same smog rules and can be tuned in a more forgiving manner.

    1. Try ether. If it starts, runs, and stops on ether, that confirms it is a fuel issue. You shouldn’t need ether to start on a regular basis, though in near-freezing weather or with cold water, it is possible. I always keep some in the dingy. Also, if you ever need to you the emergency rope on the 9.9 Yamahas, a squirt of ether improves the odds that the first pull will do it.
    2. “Rebuilding” a carb on a nearly new motor is simply cleaning it. 8 chances in 10, the needle is stuck in the seat and a few minutes with spray cleaner will set it right, no parts required. Really, you might as well learn to rebuild a carb; it’s simple, a big money and time saver, and it will happen again.
    3. Everybody has a theory on keeping carbs right. The funny thing is, the OEMs don’t all have the same advise! Mercury/Tahatsu/Nissan changed their advise in 2010; they no longer recommend running carbs empty! The reason is, that unless you use the drain plug, you can’t actually get them empty, and a half empty carb is worse. Don’t feel you were the cause; you may not have been.
    4. Did the fuel separate? Perhaps, if you use e-10. The main thing with e-10 is to close the tank vent EVERY TIME and to keep the tank as full as possible; you want to minimize breathing. I did any article for Practical Sailor on E-10 and additives that claim to help; none of them did ANYTHING AT ALL, and some made it worse. Controlling breathing worked.

    • After using the drain plug to drain the carb we were ultimately able to get it going. I was half looking forward to taking the carb off and dismantling it. On a nice day with nothing else to do I may just take it apart anyway.

      Where does one buy ether and where would I be squirting it? In the spark plug hole?

      Did you test Star-Tron Fuel Additive? Thanks for the tip on the vent. I actually thought I was supposed to leave it open!

      • Ether (starting fluid) is available at any marine or auto parts store. The instructions should be on the can; typically ~ 1/4 to 1 second spray in the carb air inlet (depends on engine size). NEVER while it is running, if you value eyebrows.

        Sounds like the fuel separated.

        Yes, we tested Startron and Startron Ethanol; nothing. Don’t get me started on Starbrite and false advertising. The labeling they use on antifreeze products is quite deceptive, since claim freeze protection that is impossible.

        Check out the chart that compares freeze points (data from DOW Chemical, who makes the ingredients) to product names. Pretty funny stuff that should lead you to believe nothing they say.

  6. Mike,I can tell you “stupid owner” is not covered under warranty. I tried.
    Fired up our 2hp Honda-which finally started and ran reliably once I learned the “Honda Handshake” as my friend (Honda Marine rep) called it.
    Fired up the motor and after 10 seconds we had thick white smoke,and oil pouring out the side of the motor-Yikes! The Admiral starts over the side of the dinghy,convinced that little Honda is gonna blow up!

    Took it to the dealer to fix it,told him to contact the rep(my friend) about warranty.
    I go back to pick up the motor-I gotta pay. Mechanic says” Jeff says he can’t warranty stupid”
    Bottom line -hot day-full tank of fuel(tank on motor),fuel line left open-fuel expand in the hot sun,blows the float needles open and floods the crankcase with gas.
    What an Outboard Opportunity!
    Service outboard motor-$109.00
    Close fuel line after use-Priceless!

  7. Sounds like the routine I went through with the mower this spring! Had it serviced in August. Come spring, no spark. Click, click. Battery new in August. Ditto oil, etc. Go to store, buy charger. Charge battery. Now it turns over, but won’t start. Finally starts, goes 10 feet. )*^$#^*&^%#%&*&! Wait out rainy days, still no start. Call dealer, mechanic says use max choke. Still no start. Call again, have mechanic listen while I try to start. No go. Go to store, buy siphon. Siphon gas out, put new gas in. Still no start. Put throttle back to position I usually use. Starts right off, no further trouble.

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