Boat Re-Power DIY Special – How To Pull An Outboard Off A Boat

Removing an outboard from a boat you’re repowering can save you some serious cash.

Whether you just purchased a used boat with dead outboards or decided to repower your present boat, you’ve probably been perusing our Boat Motor pages in search of the ideal new outboard.

But before you can have a shiny new engine mounted on your pride and joy, that old anchor needs to come off the transom.

You could pay the shop to do it, but savvy do-it-yourselfers know that you stand to save a bundle by taking on this chore yourself. Why? Because you won’t just save on labor costs of the engine’s removal, you can also make a buck by selling that old eggbeater. Here’s the surprising part: getting it off of the transom is actually a fairly easy job – if you have the know-how to get it done.

boat re-power
With a new outboard on the transom, your boat will have a new lease on life – but first, you have to get rid of that old engine.

Prep Work

Before you can get the trouble off your transom, you’ll have to get a few things ready. First, disconnect the battery, steering, and control cables. Neatly coil and stow the control cables (and the steering cable as well, if that’s not going to be re-used with the new powerplant), because potential buyers of the engine will want ‘em. Even if the powerhead is blown take care of those cables because parts-seekers will see the value in them.

The gauges, controls, and associated wiring harnesses need to come out next but don’t just yank, break, or cut them. There’s more potential value in those old parts if you keep them labeled and in good shape. As you remove the wiring harnesses make sure you tie a pull-cord to the end, pull it through the chase as you take out the harness, and leave it in place. That will make fishing a new harness through much easier.

boat re-power
As you remove cables, gauges, and wires, take care not to damage anything. There’s a lot of value in those old pieces-parts.

Finally, you need to remove all of the engine’s fluids. On any outboard, you’ll need to pull the plug on the lower unit and drain the oil. If the engine is a four-stroke you’ll need to drain the crankcase oil and remove the oil filter, too. Don’t forget to remove any internal fuel filters and drain the fuel lines as well.

Get A Gantry

Once the prep work is done, you need to establish some sort of gantry (a frame used for hoisting heavy objects.) The best gantry is one that already exists – if there’s a tree in your yard with a branch at least eight inches around and at least two feet higher then the top of your outboards, you’re in luck. Back the boat under the branch, and move on to the next step. Otherwise, you’ll need to construct a freestanding gantry.

The gantry needs four legs, a main transverse beam, and cross-bracing. Six-by-twos will work for the legs and cross-bracers, but the transverse beam will be under the most strain, so use a four-by-four for this section. Steady the bases by driving stakes at least one foot into the ground, and securing the legs to them. This is an important step because stability is every bit as important as strength, and these stakes will prevent the bases from moving.

boat re-power
You can use a gantry (or a substantial tree branch) and a come-along, to lift off the engine.

Don’t use nails to hold your gantry together. Instead, use large C-clamps secure each piece in place as you drill holes for the fasteners then through-bolt the sections to each other. Constructed in this way, your gantry should have no problem supporting an outboard up to 500-pounds. (If you’re not incredibly handy, there’s a good how-to video on building a gantry on Popular Mechanics website. Just ignore the part about the wheels). With your gantry or tree branch ready to roll, hitch your tow vehicle to the trailer and back the boat into place so the outboard’s centered underneath.

boat re-power
When constructing a gantry, nails aren’t good enough; through-bolts are in order.

Removing The Engines

Once the gantry is in place, use a webbed strap with sufficient weight capacity to attach a come-along to the transverse beam. You don’t have a come-along? Don’t worry, these are inexpensive (about $30 for a 500-pound unit), and even small ones should have plenty of capacity for this job. The come-along will have a hook on the end, which you can use to attach to the engine’s lifting eye. The location of the lifting eye depends on what brand of outboard you’re lifting; some brands have a lifting eye permanently mounted under the cowl, but some others require you to buy an eye that screws into the top of the motor. Once it’s all hooked up, ratchet the come-along until there’s minimal tension on the strap.

Now you’re ready to remove the nuts which secure the bolts going through the motor mount and transom. Got ‘em off? Good deal. But there will still be some pressure on the bolts, and you can’t simply pull them out. So you’ll need a partner for this next step: you want to pull the boat forward S-L-O-W-L-Y a tiny bit as someone holds the motor and gently rocks the lower unit back and forth, to jiggle the bolts free without damaging the mounting holes. Once this step is complete, you can pull the boat clear and leave that engine hanging in mid-air.

boat re-power
Once the engine’s off you can pull the boat away. But before you start celebrating, get a tube of silicon and seal up the transom holes immediately so moisture doesn’t invade this critical area.

The Profit

Now make a listing in the BD Boat Accessory classifieds, and sell that old eggbeater. When your buyer arrives to pick up the powerplant, have them back their pick-up truck or flat-bed until it’s under the outdrive. Be sure to cushion the engine properly (old life jackets work great for this task) as you drop it down with the come-along, one click at a time. Now send your buyer on his way, and head for the bank with your proceeds.

Just how well might you make out by attacking this task instead of leaving it to the shop? An example: I pulled a pair of 1998 90-hp Honda four-strokes with 1,300 hours on them off my current fishing machine. One was operational, the other had thrown a rod through the block and was totaled, and they both looked terrible under the cowl. Since I was gentle when removing the wiring harnesses and gauges, I had both in good shape and included them as part of the deal. I found a buyer who had the same model motor and needed a good supply of parts. He paid $1,720 for the pair. I spent $21.99 on a lifting ring, and $30.00 on a come-along. That adds up to a $1,620.60 profit for a day’s worth of work, and I saved a $300 bill from the yard to pull the old powerplants. That adds up to a grand total of $1,920.60. Not bad, by anyone’s measure.

boat re-power
List that old outboard in the BDOutdoors classifieds, and you’ll have a pocket full of cha-ching before you know it.

Of course, your old, dead outboard might not be worth quite this much. But virtually any powerplant large enough to be bolted on is going to be worth between $200 and $2,000 dead or alive. Add in the labor cost savings, and pulling an old outboard yourself is clearly a worthwhile endeavor.

What about mounting the new outboard on your own? That’s a tougher call; you may risk voiding the warranty. Many will find this an unacceptable danger, considering that mounting a new powerplant only costs around $1,000. Besides, you probably just saved that much or more – so call the dealership, schedule an appointment to have your new outboard installed by a pro, and save the difference for your bait fund.

Get more great boating information and tips from Lenny Rudow on BD.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...