How to Pull Start a 5HP Johnson Outboard Engine

Written by will charpentier
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How to Pull Start a 5HP Johnson Outboard Engine
Evinrude introduced outboards with electric starters in 1932. (toy outboard motor image by pearlguy from

Once upon a time, the only way to start an outboard motor was to grab its starting-rope and pull as if your life depended on it. Although the electric starter was first introduced in 1932, its cost was higher than that of the pull-rope recoil starter. The 5-horsepower Johnson Seahorse outboard motor, manufactured from 1919 until 1968, used the recoil starter, like other outboards, but unlike its competitors, it had a gear lever. When the cantankerous beast finally roared into life--in neutral--the hapless boater didn't go flying head-over-heels into the water.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Move the shift lever into "Neutral." The shift lever will be straight up.

  2. 2

    Pull out the choke knob (away from the engine), if the motor is cold. If the motor has already been warmed up, only use the choke if the engine refuses to start after the first three or four pulls.

  3. 3

    Turn the hand grip on the throttle control arm--the arm that you steer the engine with--until the arrow on the grip is pointing to the "Start" position.

  4. 4

    Pull out on the starter rope handle until you feel resistance. When you feel that resistance, pause and pull forcefully, maintaining control of the handle. Allow the starter rope to wind itself back into the pull-starter, slowly.

  5. 5

    Allow the motor to idle for a few moments before pushing the choke knob back in slowly and smoothly. If the motor begins to falter as you push the knob in, stop pushing the knob and allow the motor to idle a moment longer before trying to push the knob in again. Don't try to operate the boat until the choke knob is all the way in.

  6. 6

    Turn the hand grip on the throttle control arm until the arrow on the grip lines up with "Shift." Move the shift lever into "Forward" or "Reverse" and turn the grip to "Run."

Tips and warnings

  • If the motor doesn't start, pull the rope again. If it refuses to start after five or six pulls, push the choke knob in, allow the motor to set undisturbed for five minutes, then attempt to start the motor again.
  • Do not stand in the boat to pull the starter rope. If the motor is in gear or the starter just spins, you could loose balance and fall overboard.

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