If you go out and try to start your boat but notice it gives one single click or multiple clicks and never starts, then we have a fix for you.
The good news, a boat that is clicking is often an easy fix. There are rare times it can be involved, but most of the time you can have your boat up and running in a jiffy!
Why Your Boat Clicks And Won’t Start
Here are the list of reasons why your boat is clicking and not starting:
- Bad battery.
- Bad starter relay.
- Corroded or damaged battery cables.
- Blown fuses.
- Bad starter motor.
- Hydrolocked or seized engine.
- In gear or impeller stuck (direct drive boats).
Points 1 through 3 are the most common reasons why a boat won’t start and just clicks.
Let’s break down each point to see which one is keeping your boat from starting.
1. Bad Battery
A bad battery has to be the most common reason for a boat not starting and if you hear clicking.
The way you can tell it’s a bad battery is if you hear multiple clicks when you try to start your boat engine. Multiple quick clicks coming from the engine, or near the battery as it’s the starter relay clicking, is a sign the battery is bad.
To fix this, you need to first try charging the battery. I suggest a smart battery charger (ad), especially ones that have a desulfator. Your battery may be weak because it’s been sitting for a long time and its plates have sulfated causing the battery to be weak. A charge from a smart battery charger can help bring it back to life.
Another thing you can do is take the battery to any autoparts store and have them load test it. You need to do a load test, a voltmeter will tell you lies as it’s amps that start the boat and not volts.
Boat batteries can last 3 to 5 years if you maintain them properly, which means keeping them on charge when not in use for months. Otherwise, a boat battery will only last one season. If this is the case for you, then you either need to get a new battery or see what the smart battery can desulfate your battery back to life.
Even if you think the battery is good, or it’s a new battery, it can still be the battery at fault. Most of the time it’s the battery no matter how new or good you think it is, do a load test on it! Batteries like to lie and play games, never trust them on face-value.
2. Bad Starter Relay
The second most common reason for a boat to not start is that the starter relay or also called starter solenoid has gone bad.
You can tell it’s the starter relay because you get one click when you try to start the engine.
This one can be tricky, as the boat may start after a few tries, making you think it’s not the starter relay. If you have to do a special procedure to start your boat or “hold your tongue just right” then it’s most often a bad starter relay playing games with you, and you need to replace it.
Replacing the starter relay is not that hard for most boats. It’s located near the battery or on the outboard and often has two large power wires and a low power cables. You must disconnect the battery to avoid shock because you’re messing with in-line power, these big cables have the full power behind the battery, so it can be dangerous.
3. Corroded Or Damaged Battery Cables
The battery cables and connectors do build up gunk and corrode over time.
With all that gunk and corrosion on the cables connectors, it can’t make a proper contact and can cause all kinds of starting issues. It can even make it seem you have a weak battery, when it’s just that cables can’t make good contact.
Using a wire brush or sandpaper, wipe the connectors and terminals to remove any corrosion and gunk off them.
Don’t forget to clean any ground wires, especially ones that connect to the engine block. Dirty grounds are a common thing that causes starting and running issues for boats and jet skis.
I need to point it out, but make sure the battery wing nuts and other connections are tight. A loose battery cable can cause starting and other electrical issues.
4. Blown Fuses
Anytime you have electrical related issues, it’s always a good idea to check your fuses to make sure one is not blown.
The clicking could be smaller relays in your fuse box of your boat, and they need to be replaced. You can often hear the starter relay from the helm, but these smaller relays in fuse boxes are harder to hear.
So check the fuse box for any blown fuses or blown relays.
5. Bad Starter Motor
A click or a clunk can be a bad starter motor keeping your boat from starting.
Usually, if you replaced the battery and have a new starter relay, the next thing to check is the starter motor. (Unless the motor is hydrolocked or seized, see point 6)
You use a 12-volt test light (ad) to see if power is coming out of the starter relay and going to the starter motor when you try to start the engine. That is how you test the starter motor quickly. If there is power going to it, then you need to take the starter motor out and bench test it, or take it to the local autoparts store and let them do it.
I would look at option 6 before I replace the starter motor, just to be sure.
6. Hydrolocked Or Seized Engine
A boat engine clicking can be due to the engine having water in it, or it’s seized.
Sometimes people hydrolock boat engines (get water in it) and that will not only keep the engine from starting but also damage it too.
I highly suggest taking your boat to a repair shop if you think there is water in the engine, or it’s seized, as it’s a very involved process.
Usually, people will remove the spark plugs and see if water comes out when they turn the engine over, but that can be tricky and cause more problems. That is why I suggest letting a professional look at it if you think your boat engine is hydrolocked.
7. In Gear Or Impeller Stuck
This reason is not for every boat, but some boats won’t start unless you’re in neutral and will only click.
For boats that are direct drive, jet boats mostly, if something is stuck around the driveshaft or impeller it can keep the boat from starting, and you hear a clicking sound because the starter relay and starter motor is trying.
If you have a jet boat that won’t start, I have a post that can help you here.