Let me set the scene. It’s 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Pitch dark. Nothing lighting the crisp fall morning other than the spreader lights on my boat. Eight rods are rigged and ready, and just after 6 a.m., my dad and cousin roll in to join me for a day of chasing stripers. The bite has gotten hot, and yesterday was my first chance to grab a piece of the action. I jump on the bow and untie the lines while dad unties the sterns. The outboard is idling away, warming up for some run-and-gun. Then dad nudges the throttle to bump us out of the slip, and the outboard shuts down. He turns the key and there is that horrid, screaming alarm that lets you know something ain’t right. Try as he might to get the engine to turn, she just won’t kick.
What happens next is what I believe to be the natural reaction of most anglers faced with this situation. You freak out, but convince yourself that you can fix it. We tie the boat back up, break out the tool box, pop off the engine cowling, and suddenly there are ratchets and screwdrivers flying around. It’s definitely a fuel issue. She’s not sucking any up. The big problem here, however, is that dad nor I really know much about outboards. So you tinker with what you kind of understand. Check the filters. Check the fuel line connections. Pump the ball. After about 45 minutes of going nowhere on a fix, I lay down on the dock in frustration, doing everything I can to stop myself from crying. Meanwhile, all my buddies are offshore already, and I’m just waiting for the phone calls to start. The new plan is to sit tight until 8 when the guys show up at the marina office. We’ll have them listen. Your hope is that it’s something an expert will say is no big deal, but in reality you know there’s a good chance it’s a fuel pump or something that can’t be fixed on the spot, so you’ll have to pack up the rods and go home.
At 8, dad flags down one of the guys from the marina shop and tells him what’s going on. He jumps on the boat, reaches to turn the key and shoots me a smirk: “You know your kill switch isn’t connected, right?”
I’m not sure if I was more upset about missing an hour and a half on the water, or that while pining over pumps and filters, nobody ever thought to check the kill switch. It must have shook loose somehow right when dad hit the throttle. We’ve had the boat 7 years now, and in all that time I don’t think the kill switch was ever disconnected, which I guess is why my head didn’t instantly go there. I think the lesson learned is that when trouble arises, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fix that you often overlook the simplest solution. The marina dude shook our hands with a smile and off we went. Luckily, the bite hadn’t started yet, and we showed up just in time for the first push of bass on the bait schools.