Free Yacht Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Step 1: The British Seagull

The "motor won't start" archetype is encoded deep in the engrams of my race memory.
The Finnish one-cylinder "Olympia" diesel in Frei Boot is a champ, but what if?
A backup motor seemed like a good idea.

Then I saw the following ad on
SEAGULL OUTBOARD BOAT MOTOR--LONG SHAFT W/CLUTCH & BIG TANK & BIG PROP - $150 (hercules, pinole, san pablo, el sob)
Reply to:
Date: 2006-07-07, 7:44PM PDT

"The best outboard in the world" is known as the British Seagull. This is the BIGGEST one that they made....LOTS OF TORQUE....If you like the Seagull, this is the "GRAND-DADDY"!!! They RUN FOREVER. Great for sailboat or moving something heavy--NOT FAST--BUT STEADY & SURE!! Not pretty, by today's standards, but plenty of reliable power and simple. Not set up for pics....look up on net. In Crockett.

As the ad implies, the British Seagull is famous for being smoky, loud, rough, having few moving parts, looking prehistoric and running forever. Just right for the outboard equivalent of a police revolver. Not to be used unless life is threatened, and then it better work.

That's too macho. Maybe it's more like a flattened roll of toilet paper in your sock. It looks crazy but it's there when you need it.
Here's what it looks like perched on our transom. How did it get there? Read on.

Step 2: Brad's Garage

I hightailed it up to Crockett (north of Berkeley, CA) to take a look at this wonder and meet Brad Low who had the honor of owning "The Best Outboard for the World". That's the British Seagull company's official slogan.
The motor was just as it was promised to be. Brad has an accumulation of boat equipment and other outboards for sale at good prices. Give him a call at 415-497-3731.
I tried to lift the motor to look at it better. Brad moved a garbage can that was in the way. It somehow snagged another outboard motor, pulling over so it toppled onto Brad's foot. That was bad. He yelled for Ann, his wife.
Then he said "Let's deal with this thing before the pain starts." and started explaining how the motor works.

Ann is a nurse. She nurse-walked into the garage, took in the situation, and started telling him how bad it was, "That toe has to come off." and scolding him about having too much stuff in the garage. I whispered "howabout "poor sweet baby?"" to her. "Don't get me started." she said, gesturing at the garage. "EVERYTHING!" the gesture said.
We were all enjoying ourselves a lot, making the best of the situation.
Even Brad was having sort of a good time, except he was bleeding and kind of messed up. After all, a motor had just smashed his toe at the root of the toenail, leaving broken shards and a lot of pain.

I said "howabout $120?"
Through gritted teeth he said "there are a couple of other guys coming to see it."
Ann was working on his foot with utmost care and giving him an earful about the dangerous garage.
To her I said, "Okay, you're in charge of the bargaining"
She said "Well, if I were you I'd suggest that we split the difference."
"You're costing me money!" he exclaimed.
Me: "Do you have an external gas tank for my Yamaha to maybe throw in?"
He: "I've got the exact one, but it's down at the marina and I can't go there now because of this." (the foot)
Me: "howabout this one over here?"
After a bit more of this, I was the proud owner of a motor that could ornament an Irish pub and an external gas tank for my other one. Brad had $150. "Hey, why are you giving it to him?" Ann said, smiling and reaching for it. "No way", he said, cradling the money like a football.

Later that day I called to see how he was doing. The bone is crushed and the toenail is gone but he kept the rest of the toe. If we ever find out what toenails are for he's going to be feeling pretty left out.

Step 3: Gear Oil in Bottom End

So I took it home and set about getting it ready. First step, top off the bottom end with oil.
"Some leakage is good, it means the bearings are being lubricated" says the manual. In other words it's likely the bottom end would be empty and need frequent refilling. The manual calls for SAE 140 oil.
I looked everywhere but grocery, drug, and parts stores only have multiviscosity with names like 10w-30. That's runny 10wt. oil that's supposed to lubricate as well as thick 30wt. oil. That's fine for new motors that are designed for it. But old ones are different.

Viscosity is the number of seconds it takes a liquid to drain out the hole in the bottom of a "viscosity cup" and empty it. An old machine is like that. A can of oil with holes in it. I needed straight-weight thick oil so it would stay full longer.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Committee of Unctuous Pedants thinks that runny oil is good somehow. They can have it. I finally found the right stuff at One-Stop Autoparts.(510) 653-2821, 6040 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608 Woohoo!

I cleaned the plug threads and added an o-ring to the plug before putting it back in place.

Step 4: Fire It Up

I clamped a board in the vice, clamped the motor to that, mixed some gas with two-stroke oil, put that in the motor, opened the gas valve,
closed the choke plate, wrapped the pull rope around the flywheel, pulled it, and it fired right up.
Loud and smoky!
Next step: run it in a barrel and see if the waterpump works and the motor doesn't overheat.
Erich Brandeau helps me out with some water.

Step 5: Water Pump Test

The water pump works great and the motor runs cool. I left the choke on too long and it got really smoky. The manual says to add one part two-stroke oil to TEN parts gasoline MINIMUM. That's some greasy gas. I couldn't believe it so I kept searching online til I found a site that said some of these motors can run on a leaner mixture. I'll try that if I ever run this motor much. For the time being I'll compromise and burn 16:1 and watch it carefully.

Step 6: Prop Test

This model has a clutch so the prop wasn't spinning yet. I engaged it and water got blasted around in the barrel. The barrel was on a wheeled dolly. Due to physics it jerked forward until the front of the motor hit it and stopped it. Fortunately the prop didn't bite a hole in it. Then the cooling water stopped squirting out of the engine. I shut it off. What went wrong? The water in the barrel was dirty and there was all sorts of crap floating on it. Note: use a clean barrel for this sort of thing or the prop blast will shake debris loose from it which will then plug the engine's cooling channels. Oof!. I picked some wood chips out of the engine's water outlet , dumped and reffilled the barrel and it was fine.

Step 7: Bolting It On

The boat came with a fancy stainless elevator bracket for the outboard. I spent half a day measuring everything and agonizing over where to bolt it. I drilled holes, goobered them up with silicone caulk to seal the wood so it wouldn't rot, and bolted the thing on with carriage bolts. The holes came through the transom in somewhat inaccessible places, but I finally managed to get the washers and nuts on and cinch them down.

Step 8: And There It Is



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    29 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 5

    I believe that 10 parts gas is the most you can add. These engines are notorious for being considered 'gas lubricated oil burning engines' with their crazy mix ratios.


    9 years ago on Step 2

    exactly why they invented steel toes. but i don't blame him for wearing flip-flops.


    9 years ago on Step 8

    Maybe need to continue on reading, but why an old outboard, when you have a wonderful inboard diesel?

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 8

    Like a boy scout you should always be prepared. Have a back up to the back up you'll never know when you'll need it.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 2

    Not if the root is destroyed. Nails are kind of like hair, in that they both grow from root cells under the skin. No root, no new growth. My girlfriend lost a toe nail to something I speculate was a fungus, but no podiatrist would prescribe her an antibiotic. The nail would try to regrow, but the new growth would eventually peel off. One doctor wanted to remove the nail root surgically. She's glad she didn't go that route, because she eventually got the nail to grow back normally. As a side note, that doctor's wife was a runner who frequently had toenail fungus. He removed all her toenail roots.

    With Seagulls if you want to cut down the somking dramatically use 10:1 fuel mix with Synthetic Oil such as : Valvoline 2 stroke Synthetic oil NMMA TC-W3 we use this on our old seagull motors works fine


    10 years ago on Step 5

    by "minimum," do they mean that 1 part oil is the most you can add, or 10 parts gasoline is the most you can add?


    12 years ago

    i bent a toenail at right-angles halfway up in a non-boat-related accident once, but seeing as it has nothing to do with boats, free or otherwise i've just wasted some interweb space! teehee!

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    How dare you! I have half a mind to report you to Al Gore. lol It's related by proxy, so you're forgiven this time. But don't make this mistake again. I'll be watching you. haha.


    10 years ago on Step 2

    I thought toenails were for picking your teeth, in the chance case that you've lost both hands (or all five fingernails?) in a freak boating accident.


    11 years ago on Step 2

    "When life hands you lemons, make whisky sours"----W.C. Fields
    Excellent "Instructable". I been wanting a Sailboat to live on and trying to get the most for my money. This a good approach to Free for now and pay later. Ha! Many people pay to get and then pay some more. ;-)


    12 years ago

    I almost wet myself laughing at the "toe" part, not looking on someone elses misfortune but active bartering while the guy sitting in obvious agony, ROFLMAO.


    12 years ago

    OWWWW!!! Do you keep running records of how much everything costs (moror, wood, glue, marina space, insurance, etc)? I wonder how much a trip to the doctor's office added...

    1 reply

    Reply 12 years ago

    it was the sellers foot, not tims. Boat running costs are notoriously expensive. Slightly more so for a second hand 'freebie'