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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Lambert

5 Things to Check if Your Boat Won't Start

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

In the Sunshine State, any day is a good day to be on a boat (unless there's a storm), but what happens if your boat won't start up? Like with any modern boat, there are steps you can take to troubleshoot the problem yourself.

  • Chances are it could be a simple issue that won't take more than a minute to diagnose.

Is Your Kill Switch Engaged?

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Kill Switch

And no, we're not talking about the band.

First item to check if your boat won't start is your kill switch. One of the most common artifacts over-looked, your kill switch (also known as a safety lanyard or engine cut-off switch) is connected to the engine, usually by a red lanyard. This is not only an essential feature for your boat (as well as required), but your boat needs it to run.

If it is disengaged, your boat will not start.

Battery Exhausted?

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Marine Battery

Another reason your boat won't start could be a battery issue. If your engine is not cranking and your safety lanyard is in place, the next item you want to check is your battery. It could be dead (or hopefully just low), but you can check that with a voltmeter (or multimeter). Your battery should read from 12.6 to 12.7 volts, but some AGM batteries can read 12.8 volts. If it reads below 12 volts, it probably needs to be jumped (or replaced).

  • Another key to remember is to put the probes on the right way, or you could end up with a reading that is completely opposite.

Left in Gear?

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | marine gear lever

Boat not starting but your battery and kill switch are all in check? Another avenue to consider is your shifter. Because most boats have a neutral safety switch, it won't allow your boat to operate if its left in gear. Slowly move the gear back into neutral, and your boat should crank.

Boat Still Won't Start?

If you made it this far down the checklist, it may be time to check your fuel.

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Check Fuel

When was the last time you filled up? Another matter to consider if your boat won't start is your fuel. Fuel gauges can be faulty at times, so it is important to physically check your fuel. Also, having extra fuel on board is also important because you never know if you want to take a longer trip and need extra fuel. Other common fuel issues may stem from your fuel's primer.

  • Primer Issue

Does your boat have a primer bulb? If so, pump the bulb to guarantee that it fills with fuel and is firm after several squeezes. If it doesn't, check for obvious signs of leaks or that the primer bulb itself doesn't have a bad valve.

Electric primer? Double check that it's operating properly. Remove the hose that leads to your intake or carburetor and physically operate the primer to see if fuel spits out. If no fuel excretes, you may want to have your primer serviced.

Ventilation Issue?

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | boat ventilation

Sufficient air flow is required for ignition. So, if your boat won't start, the next thing you want to check is your air vent. If your air vent is closed, you can't withdraw fuel. Without fuel, your engine will not start.

  • Blocked exhaust

A blocked exhaust will also prevent an engine from cranking up. If you store your boat when you travel, it's wise to inspect all your exhaust vents as small creatures like to build nests in spaces they can fit into.

If you went through this list and your boat still won't start, it's time to schedule a service call. The Mobile Mariner's goal is to provide peace of mind while you are on the water. Whether it's your home, slip, or dock, The Mobile Mariner will travel to YOU and troubleshoot the problem. We work with you from start to finish to ensure that your boat is safe and ready for the water.

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