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How to Replace a Pull Cord on a Boat Motor

by Chris Stevenson

Manual starters on outboard motors consist of a pull rope, handle, winding spring mechanism and a gear cog. Simple in design and function, the pull rope allows the owner to manually pull to turn the engine over. Once the engine turns over fast enough, it creates a spark for ignition, starting the engine. Unfortunately, pull-rope starters often fail, usually as a result of a broken pull rope. Any boat owner can perform on-site repairs in case of an emergency, or he can permanently replace the pull rope by removing a few parts and using some basic tools.

Refer to your owner's motor manual, if available, for the correct length and diameter pull rope you will need as a replacement. Pull ropes come in standard replacement lengths and are usually made of water-resistant, braided nylon. They come in a few diameters, including 1/4- and 3/16-inch sizes. Get the proper replacement rope for your outboard motor; the boat-supply store should be able to help you find the correct replacement size and length if your owner's manual isn't available.

Use a socket and wrench to disconnect the negative battery cable, if you have an auxiliary battery on board your craft. Unclasp the top engine cowl snaps and pull the cowl off. If the pull rope still extends through a guide hole in the engine cowl and the rope has broken at the handle position, pull the rope out of the guide hole from the inside and take the cowl off. If the rope remains around the drive pulley cog, pull on it to see if the spring still has tension on it.

Don a pair of gloves and safety glasses. If you have rope wound around the drive pulley cog, turn the pulley against its spring tension, one-half revolution at a time, until you reach the end of the pulley rope, knotted in the pulley. Wedge a screwdriver between the gears of the drive pulley cog and the flywheel teeth to hold it in position. Use a block of wood to hold the tension, if that works better. Be careful -- the spring is under pressure.

Snip the pulley rope where it knots to the pulley and carefully unwind the rope. Do not release the wedged tension on the drive pulley cog and the flywheel. Burn both ends of the new pulley rope with a lighter, to seal the braided ends. Slip one end of the rope through the pulley hole and double-knot it on the outside of the pulley. Use a figure-8 knot, if you wish. Place the new pulley rope in the drive pulley groove. Hold the drive pulley cog while you release your wedging device.

Allow the pulley to retract the rope slowly by its spring tension. Keep one hand on the pulley and the other hand guiding the rope. When the pulley cog nearly retracts to its full position, wedge the drive pulley cog and flywheel teeth again. Take the other end of the new rope and feed it through the engine cowl guide hole. Feed the new rope through the pulley handle, and knot it twice or tie a figure-8 knot.

Remove your wedging device to release the remaining tension on the pulley. Slip the engine cowl back on and snap the clasps. Slowly pull the rope a few times to gauge its operation and tension. Reconnect the negative battery cable with a socket. Test-start the engine by pulling the rope.

Items you will need

About the Author

Chris Stevenson has been writing since 1988. His automotive vocation has spanned more than 35 years and he authored the auto repair manual "Auto Repair Shams and Scams" in 1990. Stevenson holds a P.D.S Toyota certificate, ASE brake certification, Clean Air Act certification and a California smog license.

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