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After a several day battle with our dinghy outboard, Tohatsu-Sama (I find he runs much better when I refer to him politely), it is now back up and running (for the time being). Somewhere along the way, we either acquired some bad gas or we have some moisture in the fuel. Either way, the dinghy, having sat for several days without running, refused to start.

Troubleshooting included:

  • Much staring at the engine
  • A little bit of cursing
  • Plenty of arm and back exercise trying to pull-start it

Yes, my back was quite sore after doing this about a hundred times!

Seriously though, I have learned that these engines require 3 things to function: air, fuel and spark.

Because I had only recently changed the spark plug, I didn’t change it again. I also didn’t have the #$%# to just hang onto it while trying to start the engine to see if it would shock me. I did take it out and inspect it though, making sure it was dry.

I, of course, made sure the vent was open so that there was air getting in. I even tried to start the engine with the gas cap open in case the vent was clogged.

This left fuel, which we suspected was the issue all along. I ended up changing the fuel filter in the engine. The design of the Tohatsu unfortunately requires one to remove the gas tank to get access to the fuel filter. That’s not very convenient. I also checked to make sure the fuel pump was working (yes, fuel squirted out when I removed the hose to the carb and pulled the cord).

A friend back home showed me how to remove the drain screw in the carb and blow into the fuel tank, hopefully dislodging any tiny crap that might have settled into the bottom. That didn’t do the trick. My final card to play, short of tearing off the carburetor and cleaning it, was to squirt some gas into the spark plug hole and try to start it. Doing so got the engine to fire up, but not continue to run. On about the 6th attempt at this though, I was finally able to coax Tohatsu-Sama in running, albeit very roughly. I had to sit and baby the choke and the throttle for 15 minutes until it would run on it’s own.

With a combination of short trips out on the water, and idling while tied to our stern, the engine was allowed to run itself dry. My intention today it to acquire some “good” gasoline and see if the engine is ready to “play nice” again. Fingers are crossed.



  1. I’ve often had the same problem with bad fuel or water in the fuel. Especially in riding lawn mowers or motorcycles that will sit for the winter months without being used. There’s a product which I always keep on hand called Water Out. It helps removes water from your gasoline. I’ve had very good luck with it. I buy it at Canadian Tire here but I’m sure you can find it at most auto stores in the states. Good thing to take with you when you’re in the islands. Glad to see you got your motor running again Mike….Mark

  2. Sounds like you need to get a can of starting fluid. Handy stuff, even just for trouble shooting.

    By the way, that sounds VERY much like an expereince I had in Cape May last year–babying the throtle and gradually burning the tank MT. We had left the vent open and had some HEAVY rains. I wonder if the recent heavy rains got you.

    My daughter really learned about stuburn engines, as she insisted on taking it out to explore during the bad-fuel burnout period. Before, daddy always had to start the engine; now she is self-sufficient.

    • Yes, starting fluid is on our shopping list!

      It will be a while before we regain full confidence in our outboard engine. I am afraid to go much further than I am comfortable rowing back.

      • I know that feeling. And they don’t row for beans.

        Don’t get too worried about the ethanol gas. I certainly think it’s a poor idea for boats in general, but with good practices (keeping vents closed ALL the time on small outboards, keep tanks FULL, allow for warm-up, and use the engines regularly) it just is’nt a problem. Boaters in this area live with it every day, and for those that keep the fuel dry are happy. My outboards start first pull, every time, and I havn’t had the carbs off in 2 years. Never on the Merc.

        You won’t get away from e-10 anyway; it’s coming everywhere, and going to e-15 soon. Better to learn.

  3. We had the exact same problem with our 9.8 hp Tohatsu. Turned out that the ethanol in the fuel was gumming up the low idle jet. During our trip south last fall, I had the carburator apart so many times I could do it blindfolded. Once we got to Beaufort, SC where we could get non-ethanol gasoline, the problem went away.

    We’re back in Maryland now but we still have non ethanol fuel left from down south. I don’t know what we’re going to do when that’s gone. Row?

    Check out our ‘tongue-in-cheek’ blog posting:

  4. Alex and I read your posts every week and are loving the journey you guys are on…we don’t have any fuel tips but wanted to send a post saying hi and that we’re happy that your posting your travels online for us to follow…say hi to rebecca for us!

  5. Duh!!! You have your genders mixed up! I’m sure if you look up the definition of Tohatsu-Sama you’ll probably find that it means ‘bitch’. If someone kept referring to me as ‘him’ I’d be pissed off too, I’m just saying…

  6. I’m reminded of the ten-horse 1979 Johnson that stranded my wife out on the lake (against a lee shore, of course) this summer…. this was the engine I grew up with as a kid, and part of the routine was “when you can get it to start, we’ll think about letting you drive it”.
    Needless to say, it’s getting to be a little on the cranky side. I can usually get it to start from cold after ten or fifteen pulls and a bit of choke fiddling. (It’s much easier when warm.)
    Anyway, at one point I was out sailing in a Sunfish, a nice force 3 blowing, and there’s Katy in the skiff waving a cooler lid at me. By the time I finished short-tacking up the channel back to the dock and returned with another boat, she’d rowed it out to open water, and it started as soon as I had a tow line ready (of course)… back at the dock, we discovered that someone hadn’t pushed the spark plug boots on all the way.
    At least it was something simple…

  7. If you were ambidexterous you would get a better shoulder and back work out than TRX…..Glad you figured it out……Nothing worse than have your “car” not working

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