Outboard Timing Symptoms: Boat Owners Should Keep in Mind

Timing is everything for an engine including outboard ones.

Without a properly synced voltage regulation, your boat’s engine can show lots of serious problems.

In this article, I’m going to describe how to know bad timing issues along with the necessary actions to solve them.

What Signs Should You Look for To Catch Bad Outboard Timing?

Whenever you feel that your boat can’t reach maximum speed or the highest RPM like before, you should assume that the timing is off.

It means that one or more cylinders are not firing at the right moment, thus the engine loses power.

However, there are other symptoms too by which you can tell whether the timing is off.

What Are the Symptoms When Outboard Timing Is Off?

From ticking noise to a bad start, there are several common symptoms to catch an out-of-sync timer base or stator. Let’s talk about them in this section.

Continuous Ticking Sound

If you see the timing belt, you will notice that there are a series of pulleys attached to it.

As soon as the belt starts to wear out, you would hear a ticking noise. Whenever you hear something like that whenever you run the engine, don’t waste time, and hire an expert.

Engine Doesn’t Start

The previous symptom happens when the belt has worn out but this problem of not starting at all indicates that the belt is completely damaged or taken off.

Furthermore, a frightening fact is that it can happen while the engine is on. As a result, either cylinder head, crank bearings, oil pump, push rods, rocker arms, or valves can get damaged.

Misfiring Occurrences

Another very common symptom is misfiring. The concept is simple here.

When the trigger fails to send a signal to the power pack at the right time, one or more cylinders can’t complete proper combustion.

That is when you hear misfire. Here, you should expect two possibilities. One is when the ignition is advanced and another is when it is retarded or delayed.


Outboard timing advancing means that the air and fuel mixture in the combustion chamber can’t get burned at the exact time.

The symptom of it is hearing a loud pinging sound coming from the engine.

It happens because the mixture gets ignited even when the cylinder is still trying to compress the air-fuel blend.

Note: Slightly advanced timing can increase the horsepower as it helps the spark plug get past the ignition delay. But too advanced timing is not a good thing.


Ignition having a delayed spark means that the air and fuel mixture is wasted a little bit. In the end, the result causes damage to the engine’s performance. The boat can’t reach the highest RPM, thus losing power and overloading the engine.

Bad Starting

When you try to start the onboard engine, facing a hard time or hearing knocking sound means that the timing is probably off.

As I have mentioned in the previous point, both too early and too late ignition causes several problems. And it includes a bad starting too.


The engine may overheat due to improper ignitions. This is also a noticeable symptom of poor outboard timing.

Low Power

So far, I have described the possible outcomes of bad voltage regulation and missed ignition timing.

And, you have probably understood that it decreases the engine’s potential. As a result, the outboard motor runs with an extra load but providing less speed or RPM.

Thus, you get the feeling of low power output and notice that the engine is using more fuel than before.

Is It Expensive to Fix Outboard Timing Issues?

One can only tell how expensive the fix is going to be after diagnosing.

Consider the hourly rate of a boat mechanic within a range of 70-100 dollars, and the price of the components to be replaced.

For example, having a bad trigger would only cost around $250 including the service charge of an expert.

If you have enough know-how on the wiring and working procedure, you will be able to troubleshoot and replace the faulty part by yourself. In that case, it is possible to save around 150 bucks spent on a mechanic.

Final Thoughts

I urge you to take the timing problem seriously because it creates extra load to the engine which decreases its longevity.

It also affects other components related to combustion and eventually fails the engine.

So, keep all of your senses at the highest level of attention, and take action whenever you suspect that something is wrong.

Related: You Should Know These Symptoms of a Bad Trigger Outboard

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