Do You Need a Special Outboard Motor for Saltwater?

One of the most significant conundrums in owning a boat is finding enough free time to use it. Between work and family responsibilities on the weekends, it seems like you get to use your boat one time a year.

After getting through the rat race and setting yourself up for retirement in the Florida Keys, the last thing you want to do is to be sitting on dry land 365 days a year.

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Do You Need a Special Outboard Motor for Saltwater?

Do you need a special outboard motor for saltwater? No, you do not need a special outboard motor for saltwater. While saltwater can be extremely corrosive and damaging to an outboard motor and any other boat elements that contain metal, all modern outboard motors will operate in both freshwater and saltwater.

Although you do not need a special outboard motor for saltwater boating, all motors will need special care when salt is in play.

Roughly 15 minutes a day will need to be budgeted or set aside for outboard motor maintenance when taking your craft out in the ocean, which can be a major and potentially unexpected commitment from someone with only freshwater boating experience.

Can Any Outboard Motor Be Used in Saltwater?

In 2020, all outboard motors will function equally well in freshwater or saltwater. Therefore, any outboard motor can be used in saltwater.

Saltwater is detrimental for your outboard motor not in its ability to decrease motor performance, but in its insidious capacities for causing metal components to rust and deteriorate at an accelerated rate. 

In addition, this deterioration process is exacerbated in the presence of UV light, so considering that most saltwater areas also have a lot of sunshine, the need for increased motor care cannot be understated if you choose to use your boat in saltwater.

The following are some best practices in caring for your outboard motor with saltwater use. If properly cared for, your outboard motor should theoretically last a lifetime, no different than it would if confined to freshwater areas.

Flush the Engine

Flushing the engine with fresh water after every saltwater use is the single most important step in maintaining an outboard motor that is used in saltwater.

This ensures that the motor hardware remains free of any salt buildup, algae, barnacles, or other corrosive debris that will damage the motor during storage.

Nearly all modern outboard engines come equipped with a garden hose adapter (some call this part “garden hose muffs”) so that owners can transition between freshwater and saltwater worry-free.

To use the garden hose adapter, employ the following steps:

  1. Connect the adapter to a garden hose – on the backside of the adapter (the part that looks like earmuffs), there will be a port for connecting a garden hose. Securely attach the hose to the adapter prior to mounting on the outboard motor
  2. Attach the adapter to the outboard motor – look for the water intake holes on the outboard motor. These should be located near the front base of the motor on the opposite side of the propeller. The adapter will slide over these holes like a pair of earmuffs. Make sure the holes are completely covered on both sides to prevent leaking
  3. Turn on the water supply – this will introduce freshwater from the garden hose into the outboard motor to help rinse it
  4. Run the outboard motor – with the water flowing and the motor running; this will replicate the experience of running your boat in fresh water. In doing so, the freshwater cleans the motor and flushes it of any salt buildup. Keep the motor running during this flushing process for 10 minutes

On the off chance that your boat did not come with a garden hose adapter, this part can easily be purchased online or at your local sporting goods shop for about $15.

Spray the Motor Hood with Freshwater

This washes away any salt that may have built up during your excursion on the saltwater. While this is not as critical as flushing the engine with a garden hose adapter, it is still important.

If salt builds up on the hood and causes a rust hole to form, then saltwater would have the ability to seep directly onto the motor components, which could lead to an unforeseen nightmare.

Not all motor hoods will be susceptible to saltwater corrosion, especially if made from fiberglass.

However, it is still a best practice to get in the habit of washing the salt off the hood because if any salt were to inadvertently make its way into the air intake, a part that cannot be rinsed with water, then your outboard motor would be severely compromised.

Do You Need a Special Outboard Motor for Saltwater?

Apply Silicone Spray

Every three or four times that your boat is in use and in contact with saltwater remove the hood of the outboard motor and apply a high-quality silicone spray to the motor’s components.

When searching for silicone sprays, be sure to find a brand that will not damage rubber or plastic, as some of the motor’s gaskets and valves are made from these materials. 

The silicone spray adds another layer of protection in the event that saltwater was somehow able to find its way under the hood of your outboard motor.

After applying the silicone spray, make sure the hood is securely reattached to the motor prior to taking it back out on the water.

Take Care of Scratches and Dings

It is not possible to prevent your motor from getting dinged up while in use, as small sticks and other forms of debris will surely come out of nowhere and scratch your outboard as you go speeding by.

However, these small dings can turn into major problems over time as they open the door for salt to seep in and start corroding the outboard hood much more swiftly than before.

After each excursion, examine your outboard motor hood for any nicks, covering any scratches with matching marine paint. If you find a scratch that is particularly deep, be sure to fill in the area with a high-quality metal primer prior to painting. 

Grease Motor Components

The motor’s interior components come with a thick layer of grease to keep them lubricated and running smoothly while moving.

Over time, saltwater decimates the grease coating and leaves the moving parts vulnerable to friction, which will cause damage to the engine and potentially make it stall.

At least a couple of times a summer, use a grease gun to reapply grease to the appropriate interior engine components to keep it free from corrosion, rust and wear. 

Keep Your Boat out of Sunlight

If you have a garage or stand-alone shed, consider making it a priority to store your boat inside one of these structures when not in use. If you do not have this luxury, find a thick tarp with which to cover your boat when sitting out in the sun.

UV rays break down rubber and plastic structures, leaving them vulnerable to cracking, splitting, and breaking. When combined with saltwater’s corrosive properties, the combination can be particularly damaging.

Therefore, UV-blocking measures should be combined with your saltwater flushing routine in a proper boat maintenance regimen.

Outboard Motors and Saltwater: Conclusion

Although salt has particularly corrosive properties that can quickly deteriorate an outboard motor, boat owners should not be scared of taking their craft out onto the saltwater.

With about 15 minutes of prevention and maintenance every time you use your boat in saltwater, with a few special touches interspersed throughout the boating season, you can rest assured that your outboard motor will function just as well on saltwater as on freshwater and be churning for a lifetime of fun.  

Do You Need a Special Outboard Motor for Saltwater?