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Marine engine

Common engine problems and solutions

on November 21, 2021

Dealing with engine problems is frustrating, especially if you are out boating, let's take a look at the most common engine problems and solutions, hopefully, we can help you.

Marine engine



Boat Engine is Losing Power

If your boat motor is losing power/strength, you might have a fuel filter problem or fouled spark plugs.


Replace the inline fuel filter, if you do not have a spare filter at the time, you can remove any debris from the filter element, clean the filter and drain any accumulated water. Once you have replaced o cleaned the inline fuel filter, it is important to vent the engine box before restarting. 

Spark plugs can also be a problem; you need to check them and replace them.


rubber bushing inside, ignition chip


To prevent problems, we need to know what causes them in the first place. You might have had a bad batch of fuel, or you're fuel went bad after leaving your tank near empty for an extended period of time, and this causes condensation and water in the gas. Change your dirty fuel filter often. Have someone from an auto repair shop ensure everything is in good condition regularly.

Always make sure your fuel level is not near empty; if you are storing your boat, you need to add a fuel stabilizer. 

Most problems can easily be prevented by regular Boat maintenance daily, weekly, and monthly. 

Having a Spare filter or filter element onboard is always a good idea, and add a filter wrench to your spares!

water pump, lose power

Broken drive belt

You might not hear your drive belt breaking due to the engine noise; however, it won't go unnoticed, your overheat warning light will come on, and your voltage meter will show that the alternator isn't charging. 


There really is no other solution than replacing it; if you find yourself out on the water and don't have any spares to fix the problem, you need to get towed in and replace your drive belt. There is a lot of temporary fixes, but I would not recommend it, instead replace it before and avoid more damage to your boat.


Regular inspection is required; this is part of your maintenance, tighten and dress the belt, check for corrosion, inspect the condition of pulleys.  The drive melt must be inspected before you store your boat for winter, and again after winter, most boaters will remove the belt or loosen it during storage. Inspect, tighten and dress the belt. You also might want to check the condition of the pulleys' contact surfaces. 

Your Engine Is Overheating

Your temperature gauge is rising, meaning you have a lack of water flow in the cooling loop. 

Solution: The most common cause is an obstruction in the raw water intake, like a plastic bag, weeds or mud, you need to clean it out, another reason can be loose hose clamp or a split or burst hose can also slow water flow, and it can spray damaging moisture around the engine. Inspect the exhaust system for corrosion and blockage. 

Prevention: Ensure the coolant reservoir is full; it is part of your regular maintenance. Service and replace the impeller.

Engine Won't Start

There are a variety of reasons why your engine might not start; it can be an electrical issue, a dead battery, or a break in the ignition circuit.

Solution: Check the kill switch to ensure the shifter is neutral. Inspect the starter switch sometimes, it can be the ignition switch that became loose in its fitting, and all you need to do is tighten it. Check for any loose connection, and check the battery. You might need to replace the battery or charge it.  Battery chargers & Battery Meter 

Prevention: Inspect, clean and, replace your wiring periodically again as part of regular maintenance. Install a secondary battery bank. Always check your battery before your trip.

Boat Motor Suddenly Stops

The most common reason for this is, you are out of fuel; however, if this is not the case, it might be an electrical failure, blown fuse, or a tripped breaker; a loose connection might also be the cause. Check the kill switch; it might have come loose—corrosion on battery terminals or other wires.

Solution: Make sure the lanyard key (a strap is worn around the neck, shoulder, wrist to carry a key) hasn't come loose. Inspect Ignition switch check for loose connections. Check all wires for corrosion and clean. If none of the above is the problem, you might need to call it in. 

Prevention: Regular maintenance, inspection and clean, use Anti-corrosion products on all wires, connections, you can add this product to all exposed areas. Learn the components of the ignition system.

It's good to have the following in your toolbox Shurhold Detail Brush / Shurhold Long Dip & Scrub Brush to clean terminals and Corrosion Block Liquid Pump Spray. 

broken belt, fuel supply

Vibration from the Engine Prop

The more you accelerate, the worse the vibration is, and your boat loses speed. The problem could be with the prop; A gouged blade can create an imbalance followed by vibration; a towrope or fishing line can snarl the shaft, or you might have hit an object, causing the prop to be ineffective.

Solution: You need to get back to shore and replace the prop. It is not advisable to change the prop while you are in the water; however, it is possible. Bring up your motor, switch of the engine, and remove the prop; if the prop is damaged and you have a spare, replace it or clean out the prop. If there is still a decrease in performance, you should get it checked out before it leads to permanent damage.

Prevention: Practice changing props so that it is no surprise when you have to do it while out boating; it is best to have a spare prop on board, although there might not always be space for it. Check the prop before you go out boating, and check the prop after every boating trip, and clean it out if necessary. 

Engine Won't Shift into Gear.

When you pull away from the dock, but your boat never leaves idle speed, meaning the shifter is not engaging the transmission. 

Solution: It might be a fuse if you have e-link electronic controls. If your boat uses mechanical cable shifts, it's most likely stuck, or it can be a broken linkage. Inspection time, start at the gearbox, and make sure the cable did not detach from the shift lever on the transmission housing. Internal corrosion can cause the cable to stick, try to wiggle it free, or you can try to shift it manually at the engine/transmission; if the problem is on the transmission side of the linkage and not the cable side, it might be transmission failure, if this is the case you can't do anything about it while out on the water, Transmission problems require the work of an engine mechanic. The most common cause of transmission failure is a lack of fluid or gear oil. 

Prevention: Regular maintenance is required, your engine is your baby, and you need to care for it, check the transmission fluid and gear oil, keep the levels topped off and change as required or prescribed. Maintain the fittings and hardware and service the cable.

Fixing Steering in Your Boat

When you turn your wheel, and the engine/outdrive does not rotate, the probable cause could be that your steering system is low on hydraulic fluid, or it has a leak.

Solution: Add hydraulic fluid as needed to get the system working; if you see the fluid flow out of the console or a fitting near the motor, try tightening the fitting. If you find that the drive is frozen in place, it might be a mechanical failure or possibly a loose connection on the steering arm. If your boat has full mechanical steering, the problem could involve any part of the cable system; you need to trace the lines in order to find the actual problem.

Prevention: Steering fluid is vital; you need to check the steering fluid level regularly and lubricate and service the mechanical systems. (Check your user manual for more information)

outboard boat motors, boat's engine

Rising Water in Your Boat

When your bilge pump is working overtime or you notice your boat suddenly feels heavy, it seems your boat is filling with water. The most common cause for this is, you forgot to insert the transom drain plug, or it could be a burst hose on the engine's cooling and exhaust system; another reason can be water intake for live-well or raw-water washdown.


If you did forget to insert the drain plug, you need to insert it. Shut down the engine; this should stop cooling-related leaks; most builders put some type of shutoff valve or seacock next to the water intake. If you carry spare hoses and clamps, you can make a quick change; however, if you are not prepared, you might be able to cut and shorten a damaged end fitting or wrap the split section with tape, just enough to get you back home asap, as this could cause engine damage.

Prevention: Inspect your hoses and fittings replace them if you see any type of aging or damage.

Every boat requires regular maintenance, however cleaning the boat does not mean you are maintaining it, oftentimes we forget to inspect all internal workings and maintaining/service it. Your boat and engine is your baby, you need to care for it, and regular maintenance and inspections are required. Do a proper assessment from bow to stern inside and out, check your equipment, and make sure you have the necessary tools on board for simple, quick fixes.


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