My first outboard class

A couple weeks ago I attended a class on outboard engine maintenance, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it ever since, but I’ve forgotten so much of what I learned! Still, I want to write about the experience, especially for other women out there who may not have a lot of experience with engines and are thinking about taking a class.

To that I say, GO FOR IT! I admit, I felt intimidated, and with reason. I’ve been in technical classes before where sexism was not only present, but completely tolerated by the teachers and/or administrators. I was imagining a class of all guys, who all knew the basics of engines, and who would look at me like I was an alien, or worse, make jokes at my expense. I didn’t have the energy for it. That morning, I woke up, and my fibromyalgia was pretty bad, and I thought, “Maybe I just don’t go today.”

But then I checked my email, and I had the most wonderful message from a couple who I’d shared a lot of email with earlier this year, when I was looking to buy a Flicka. They have one for sale, and it’s a beautiful boat, but it was a little far from home. I wanted to see Dave and Sherrie’s boat first, which I ended up buying. But this couple just wanted me to know how they were happy for me, and now they were so excited because they’d met a new person who was buying their boat, and he was over the moon for her, and it had just all worked out so beautifully. I read this with a huge smile on my face, and that letter felt like a sign. Get my ass out of bed, go be the sailor I want to be. Don’t let niggly fears intimidate me. I have to learn how to take care of my boat!

It turns out, it was mostly guys (one other woman), and yeah, they did all know the basics of how engines work. But no, they didn’t look at me like I was an alien, they were very welcoming. The teacher, Stewart, treated me exactly like everyone else. And while there were a lot of jokes tossed around, it was all the usual sailor wise-ass humor that I know and love, and we were all laughing together. I had a great time.

Here’s where I’d love to demonstrate my knowledge, but alas, I don’t remember that much. I believe this is basically due to not having any sort of underlying mental framework for how engines work or are put together, so the information I learned that should have had that framework to hang on, didn’t have anything to adhere to.

My present goal is to break this down for myself, to teach myself about engines by understanding the gaps in my own knowledge (however huge those gaps are, and they are vast) and what information and concepts I need to learn. I don’t intend to do this solo – I intend to take classes, and avail myself of the bountiful fountains of technical knowledge that I have through friends in both my sailing community and my ham radio community.

First things first: this is an engine. I can at least identify that much. I have one hanging out the backside of my boat.

Also, I am able to label the following parts:

A. The main engine thing, with all the moving parts, that makes most of the noise.

B. The shaft. Metal rods run down this and turn the prop. If you remove the prop, and all those metal rods come out, and then your teacher says, “It’s a real bear to put this back in, you have to line up like seven things, and get them just right,” and then you think, “I’ve got beginner’s luck coming out the wazoo!” so you enthusiastically volunteer to put it back together in front of everyone… might have a good laugh. And so might the rest of the class. 

C. The prop. The fins of the fish, as it were. The tail of the whale?

Oh! And I also know what the zinc is! Don Casey helped me with that a few months ago through this excellent article on Boat US.

The first thing Stewart did was to take off the prop, and I got to do that! It was easy, just pull out a pin and unscrew some things. Taking off the prop is useful because…well, it lets you drain the oil. Also, you can replace the prop, or clean things. And….probably some other reasons I’m forgetting.

And then we drained some oil:


A. See! Another woman!

B. Grease. “Put grease on everything!” Stewart tells us. “EVERYTHING. IF IT MOVES, YOU GREASE IT. Now what’s the rule about grease?”


“That’s right.”

C. Oil! Coming out of the prop, after removing another bolt that I forgot to label.

And then we opened up the big engine part and we looked inside there:


A. Spark plug! I know what that is. I don’t know what it does. I mean I gather it’s a plug that sparks. I think it has something to do with the cycle of the engine. Like, there’s pressure from somewhere, and it builds up, and then a spark happens in this plug, and then power is released…..I might be thinking of a diesel. But gasoline engines still have spark plugs. ANYWAY.

B. This hose was something I helped remove. I have no idea what it does, but I got that sucker right off of there.

C. This is a metal plate thing, and you can feel if it’s too hot – that means something important that I’m forgetting (something more important than just, “the engine is too hot”).

D. You can fiddle with the screws over here to mess with the timing of your engine. I don’t know what that means – I get that it has to do with calibration, but what exactly I’m calibrating is fuzzy. Engine timing? But what’s being timed?

E. This is where the pull cord goes, and it’s also the carburetor I think? I’m not sure what a carburetor does, but thank God spell check knows how to spell it.

There was a lot more to it than that, but that’s about what I remember.

So! While that may all seem to illustrate how little I learned, in fact I learned a lot. I learned all the things I don’t know. I even have pictures of what I don’t know. I can now take these questions to friends who know more than I do, and to books and my engine manual, and I can say, “Can you help illuminate this?”

  • I also learned not to fear an outboard/mechanics class.
  • I also learned how to change the oil – I’m pretty sure I can do this on my own.
  • I learned how to take a prop off – I’m confident I could replace my own prop.
  • I gained confidence!
  • I learned that outboards aren’t perfect, but I still like them a lot better than diesels, and I know that for some of you that will make no sense, but as a sailor I am entitled to my opinion, no matter how strange.

I took my class through Sea Grant Washington although I can’t recall how I found out about them. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and want to learn more about these classes, email Sarah Fisken, I met her at the class, she’s great! She’ll put you on her list, and send you announcements of all the upcoming classes, on topics like marine technology, marine first aid, and lots of other things. Thanks, Sarah!

A note about note-taking:

I used this great app during my class, called Notability. It’s the first time I’ve used it for something other than doodling or taking idle notes. I was able to use my iPad to take photos (very easy to do in class), and then take notes on those photos – including being able to draw lines to connect photos to different notes, and to highlight areas of the photo that pertained to what I was trying to understand.

Here’s a screen shot:



  1. Stew Pugh. says:

    Good show. You learned the most important stuff! Do not be afraid of that noisy beast. You are the boss.

    Captain Stew.

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