Here’s another item in our Boat Hacks series, which are posts about little things that solve little problems. Today we’re looking at an easy fix to a recurring problem that has dogged us for quite some time, the dreaded issue of outboard motor clamp lock.
There are a lot of things to dislike about outboard motors. My feelings toward them are about the same as my feelings towards horses – they’re evil, spiteful things that continually look for ways to openly defy and frustrate you, and you count your blessings if they uneventfully deliver you to your destination. One major source of problems comes from the use of materials that aren’t fully compatible with a marine environment, or at least a saltwater marine environment. For instance, the screw clamps that you tighten to lock the outboard in place are made of a metal that doesn’t really get along well with the engine mount casting. Consequently, if left alone for too long, corrosion causes them to seize up. When they do, the short toggle handles you have to use to loosen/tighten the screw clamps are too short to apply sufficient force to break them free.
I’ve kept a short length of stainless rail in the stern locker to slip over the toggles to use as a cheater bar to get extra leverage, but if you get overzealous, then you shear off the toggle pins and the handles fall off. We keep a small supply of these pins onboard as replacements since they seem to break pretty frequently. The thing about these shear pins though is that you peen them in place with a hammer, and they’re not designed to be removed.
Recently our screw clamps froze up so firmly that I actually fractured the toggle handles themselves trying to get the clamps to turn. Life actually got a bit easier as a result, because with the toggles now gone I could just put a crescent wrench on the end of the screws to turn them. But I didn’t like the idea of having to always remember to grab a wrench when I wanted to put the outboard on the dinghy. Then I had my “duh” moment.
Instead of replacing the toggle pins with another set that are peened in place, why not just use a couple of stainless cotter pins? That way I could use the toggle handles to tighten up the outboard, but if the clamps seize up, I could just pop the cotter pins out and remove the toggle handles so that I could put a wrench on the head of the clamp screws.
Since we’re a sailboat, we keep a handy box of various sizes of stainless pins and rings onboard. I found two that fit, popped them in, and they worked great.
The true solution to this problem is following a proper preventative maintenance schedule, and I’ll have a post soon about PMS (the non-hormonal type). But it’s good to know that if this issue ever gets away from us again and the screw clamps seize up, I can just pull out these cotter pins to bring more power to the problem in the form of leverage from a big wrench.