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What do I do when my marine engine stalls?

Engine Stalls

According to a National Marine Manufacturers Association survey, there are 10.61 million power boats in the U.S. Other surveys note that 29% of all households, about 34.2 million, participated in recreational boating in 2011 and over half, 51%, used power boats. That’s a whole lot of families out on the water and it’s no time for your boat’s engine to act up, such as by stalling. A power boat without power is little more than a drifting log on the water—without power your ability to maneuver and get the boat, and your family, safely to shore depends on your ability to paddle.  As we all know, storms can develop very quickly over open water and can pack a powerful punch. It’s no time to be without a reliable engine.

What to Look For

Engine stalling issues may or may not give you any warning of an impending stall, and sometimes the warning signals don’t give you much time to react. The signs include hard starting when your engine is hot or cold, a noticeable increase if fuel usage and lack of power when you try to accelerate. Should you notice any of these issues, it may be wise to stay at the dock, or start heading for shore while your engine is still running. Once to safety, you can then attempt to diagnose the problem or make an appointment with your favorite engine mechanic.


A complete list of ailments that can cause engine stalling would take more space that we have available, but the following are some of the more prevalent causes:

  • Worn or fouled spark plugs, or damaged spark plug wires

  • Dirty air filter

  • Low compression caused by worn piston rings, cylinders, and leaking valves

  • Dirty or defective airflow sensor if your engine is fuel injected

  • Dirty or worn carburetor or linkage f your engine is so equipped

  • Defective idle air control valve

  • Kinked or damaged fuel lines

What to Do

Being on the water away from your home port without power can be a boater’s worst nightmare. To avoid this possibility, being pro-active is the best course to set. Well before your boating season gets under way, give your engine and fuel system a thorough check, preferably with a trained engine mechanic. Diagnosing and correcting possible problems are much easier in the safe confines of a boat yard, than out in choppy water.

It will also give you the opportunity to replace worn or defective parts rather than trying to make them work to get you to shore. If your engine does need parts, such as spark plugs or filters, insist on reputable brand-name parts from established manufacturers, such as Champion. Champion makes different types of spark plugs and filters specifically tailored to your engine.

Also, take steps to insure that the parts you buy are genuine, not some low-budget knock-offs—after all, the safety of your family may depend on the quality of the parts you buy. 


Once your engine is running smoothly in all conditions, knowing that neither you nor your family will be left stranded out in the middle of your favorite lake will give you the peace of mind to thoroughly enjoy your time spent out on the water.

Learn more about marine maintenance, find your boat part, or find where to buy your boat part today.

The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.

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