How to Fix a Pull Rope on a Boat Motor

by Will Charpentier
Life without an electric starter leads to an unwanted test of resolve.

Life without an electric starter leads to an unwanted test of resolve.

When you truly wish for a day aboard your boat, you know you'll enjoy it despite the recoil starter on your outboard motor. A recoil starter on an outboard is much the same as that found on a lawnmower: a rope you pull in a test of wills with a piece of machinery. When you pull the rope to start your outboard and find yourself standing there with a rope in your hand that's either slack or completely unattached to the outboard, it's time to re-rope the motor's recoil starter.

Remove the four screws that hold the shroud that covers the recoil starter. Lift the shroud from the motor and remove the four screws or bolts that hold the recoil starter to the top of the motor. Lift the starter clear of the top of the motor.

Turn the recoil reel against the spring's tension, winding the reel up. Clamp the reel against the starter housing with locking pliers.

Cut the knot holding the old rope in place with scissors or a sharp knife. Insert the end of the new rope--uncut to its finished length as yet--through the eyelet in the shroud housing and inward, into the reel hub. Tie a knot in the end that you inserted, to keep it in place. Remove the locking pliers and let the reel rewind--hold on to the reel and the loose end of the rope to keep the recoil unit from jumping off the work table--until it's full.

Clamp the locking pliers back onto the reel and the starter housing to keep the reel from "taking up" any extra rope. Slip the T-handle from the old rope and slip the end of the new rope through the hole in the T-handle. Tie a knot in the end of the rope to keep the rope from slipping back through the T-handle and cut the rope off just beyond the knot.

Set the recoil starter atop the motor, so its prongs engage the motor's flywheel. Thread and tighten the four screws that hold the starter in place. Set the shroud over the recoil starter, reinsert the screws that held it in place and tighten them securely.

Items you will need

  • Locking pliers
  • Scissors or knife
  • Replacement starter rope


  • If you use a nylon rope or polypropylene rope, burn the knots together with a cigarette lighter so they don't come apart.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

Photo Credits

  • toy outboard motor image by pearlguy from