How to Replace a Rope on a Johnson 9.9 Horsepower Boat Motor

Updated February 21, 2017

The rope on an outboard motor's hand recoil starter will eventually break and need replacing. The project needn't be messy or difficult, but it is tricky because you're dealing with a rope and a spring that's loaded with lots of potential energy struggling to stay in place. Even so, if you are willing to take the time to re-rope the motor yourself, you'll probably save a bit of cash and wonder what the big deal is all about.

Pull the rope out of the recoil starter far enough to tie a simple figure-eight knot in it, to act as a stopper. Remove the anchor that keeps the handle on the rope and remove the handle. Untie the stopper.

Let the rope wind back into the pulley slowly, controlling the pulley's motion with the heel of your hand, allowing the spring to unwind.

Hold the rope pulley and the cup it rides in together and use a 3/8-inch box-end wrench to loosen the bolt enough to take it out of the intake manifold; don't remove it from the starter. Thread a 3/8 inch-by-16 pitch nut onto the centre mounting bolt.

Set the starter into a bench vice so that the starter is parallel to the ground. Tighten the vice just enough to hold the cup bushing steady. Remove the nut from the centre mounting bolt. Ease the bolt and washer from the starter. Work the pinion gear off of the top of the pulley and lift the pinion spring off the unit.

Ease the blade of a narrow putty knife in between bottom side of the pulley and the top of the recoil spring in the cup. While holding the spring in place in the cup, lift the edge of the putty knife to work the pulley off of the cup.

Remove the four screws from the bottom now-dismounted pulley with a small screwdriver, separate the two faces of the pulley and remove the old rope. Scorch one end of the rope with a butane lighter. Set the lighter down and wrap a heavy cloth around the hot end of the rope. Pull back on the rope to pull the molten fibres together to form a pointed end. Repeat the process on the other end of the rope.

Tie a figure-eight knot in the very end of the new rope. Turn the top of pulley up. Push the knot into the cavity at the end of the slot you see and fit the rope out through the slot.

Hold the starter pulley and cup together and position the assembly in place on the powerhead. Thread the mounting screw into the manifold and tighten the screw securely. Thread the rope through the front cowling of the outboard.

Tie a figure-eight knot in the rope as close to the cowling as possible. Allow the rope to rewind onto the pulley until the knot stops it. Slide the end of the rope through the bumper, the handle and the rope anchor.

Press the rope anchor into the handle, securing the rope and handle together. Untie the figure-eight knot and let the rope rewind -- slowly -- onto the pulley.


Before beginning the project, twist and pull the spark plug leads to remove them from the spark plugs. Ground the wires to the powerhead. Note that the starter rope used for the 9.9-horsepower motor is 9/16 inch in diameter; the original length is 4ft. Always wear safety glasses when working with a recoil starter.


Disconnect the negative cable of your battery before performing any maintenance work on your outboard motor, to prevent electrical shock or accidental starting. Remove the nut from the negative post with a 5/16-inch box-end wrench. Lift the cable from your battery, move it outside of the battery box and close the lid of the battery box. After the work is complete, reconnect the negative battery cable. If you work on your outboard motor when your boat is on its trailer, or your motor is on a storage stand, remove the propeller nut with a wrench and slide the thrust hub, propeller and washers from the propeller shaft. Failure to remove a propeller before operating an outboard out of the water during maintenance or long-term storage is an invitation to a propeller-strike injury, which can maim or kill.

Things You'll Need

  • 3/8-box-end wrench
  • Starter rope
  • Bench vice
  • Screwdriver
  • Butane lighter
  • Heavy, clean cloth
  • Safety glasses
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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.