New Outboard, New World

By Tom Neale, 8/6/2009


Tom Amazed at the New Beginnings on His Transom

I’ve got a confession to make. For years I’ve harbored a terrible secret:  I wanted that outboard to die. But it just wouldn’t. I began to wonder if it was it some kind of supernatural being or something like that? It had been rode hard and put away wet most of its 24 years of life. It had come to me hooked onto the stern of a 1985 20-foot Mako which I bought from a friend, years ago. This 200 HP 2-stroke beast was the cream of the crop when it was new, but it was far from new when I got it. Nevertheless, it gave us great ride after great ride after great ride. But in the last few years peripheral parts began to give me trouble — just as you’d expect, with something mechanical that’s been used and abused on salt water for that long. These were normal problems like thermostats, the remote shift/throttle control, an oil level alarm sending unit, and a high pressure hydraulic line for the tilt motor. They weren’t really big deals in and of themselves, but when you added them up, they were becoming very big deals to me. (You can read some more about this outboard in the archives section of this part of the BoatUS site.)

Unlike more intelligent (and more wealthy) people, I’ve fixed my own outboards over the decades. With this one, I fixed things and I fixed things. It got so that I was afraid to take a boat ride to a friend’s for dinner without taking an extra pair of clothes—work clothes—to put on when I had to fix whatever I had to fix on that trip. But the basic outboard just wouldn’t die. I developed a love-hate relationship as I kept fixing little things and that motor just kept on roaring. I loved what it did for that Mako, but I hated what it did for my fingers, bones, joints and knuckles.

Finally, a short while ago, a good friend’s wife called me one morning and asked if I could go out and rescue her husband whose motor had quit as he was pulling up crab pots. I like crabs. (I like my friend too.) Mel and I headed out, found him and towed him back. That afternoon we decided to go for a ride in the Mako, backed away from the dock, shifted to forward, and nothing happened. After 24 years in salt water, the steel shift rod running down in the lower unit had finally rusted through. (Now they’re made of stainless.) This was something that I couldn’t fix myself and the cost would have been more than I wanted to put into the motor. But the unbelievably frustrating thing was and is that the powerhead still starts and runs like a champ.  (Anybody need a good powerhead? Or a good stainless 15 M propeller?) This 200 HP outboard of near eternal life was a Yamaha.

Todd Works His Magic

I first got turned on to Yamahas many years ago in the Bahamas out islands where there are far more outboards than cars around most of the islands. Here, a reliable outboard isn’t just a matter of convenience. An outboard that quit on you in those days could easily have left you stranded to die. I saw that there was a substantial predominance of Yamahas in use. I took note. “These people probably know something,” I thought. Then, many years ago, I put a Yamaha 25 on my dinghy. Despite years of rough use and terrible gas in the Bahamas (sometimes gas came with sea water for free), and also lots of use in the States, it’s still running. So it didn’t take much head scratching for me to decide to call the Yamaha people when I knew I was finally to the point where I had to repower my old Mako.

I just took delivery of a Yamaha 150 4-stroke through Whelan’s Marina on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Whelan’s is special. It’s a local family owned and run institution with an old-time country family-and-friends atmosphere coupled with modern technical expertise for boats and motors. You drive through green fields of crops and grazing livestock before you reach the marina. A John Deere tractor does most of the launchings. On the property, vacation trailers and permanent homes surround Morratico Creek and look out over the beautiful Rappahannock River. In the midst of this, the service department was booming. And, to my amazement, when parts were needed for jobs, the technicians walked to the parts department and got them rather than saying, “Well, we can probably get them delivered in a few days.” We saw new and used boats for sale ranging from PWCs to 30-footers and three brands of outboards. They sell new Robalos, Sport Craft, Yamaha Wave Runners, and Steiger Craft.

Tom and Keith Whelan on Sea Trial

When I’ve gotten motors before, I just bolted them on, cranked them up and took off. “It doesn’t work that way with this motor,” Keith Whelan patiently explained as we talked about “installing” it. I watched Todd Grenier, a certified Yamaha mechanic, as he did the work. The guy was amazing as he pulled out old stuff, put in new stuff, and made it all work. We took it out for a preliminary sea trial and he started to explain some things. The first thing I noticed was that I could hear him talk--with the motor running. As I listened, my mind glazed over. “I wasn’t trained to fly,” I thought.

Requiem for an Old Friend

This motor has Yamaha’s Command Link™ system of gauges that tell you just about everything you would ever dream of wanting to know about what’s going on with the outboard, and a lot of things I’d never dream of wanting to know.  Like how many gallons an hour you’re burning. In the past I’ve tried to keep that thought far from my mind.  No way did I want to know that piece of deadly information. It spoiled the fun completely. But now I can look at a gauge and know the exact number of gallons per hour I’m using. And I can handle it emotionally because I’m consuming so much less than what I was consuming before. And I have a working fuel gauge. I’ve never had one of those before—I’ve had plenty that didn’t work, but not one that did. It’ll also tell you how long your trip has been, how many miles per gallon you’re getting, how much fuel you’ve consumed since the last fill up, your speed, motor diagnostics—I could go on and on. This new motor turns my old Mako into something that feels like a jet plane when I look at those gauges. It also makes it feel like a jet plane when I give it the throttle.


Tom’s Tips on Installing a
New Outboard

1. Whenever you install an outboard (or anything else to your transom) take very particular care that all holes into your transom fiberglass are sealed so that water won’t get to the core inside and cause transom rot. A good marine sealant should be applied around the through-bolt holes and the outboard’s bracket

Click Here for More Tips

I had ordered some extra work and we had to wait around a week for completion of everything. There were complications like 5 tornados nearby, prolonged rains, days without electricity and all the other good stuff you get out in the country that the news media never seem to know about. But finally the day came and Keith took us on our official final sea trial. I started asking questions about  how to do the things I’ve been accustomed to doing all these years with my outboards. Finally he started shaking his head. “It’s not like it used to be. You just don’t have to fix these motors like you had to fix the older ones. And if you do, you need a computer and the programming. This is a new world for outboards. Relax.” And after a few trips with this rig, I know that he’s right. And, you know what? I kind of like that.

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Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale