The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Obsolete Outboards
by Max Wawrzyniak

Legalities of Old Outboard Ownership

Perhaps my continual ramblings as to the many and varied benefits of old OMC (Outboard Marine Corp.; i.e. Johnson, Evinrude, & Gale) outboard ownership have finally convinced you that you should consider buying one.

A subject that we need to touch on before you actually go looking for old outboards is the legalities of outboard ownership. Before you even consider buying or bartering for an old outboard motor, you need to do a little research as to the legalities of outboard motor ownership in your particular state, in the case of U.S. residents. Some states require outboard motors to be titled, just as autos are titled, and some don’t. For example, I live in Missouri, not far from the Mississippi River which forms the state line with Illinois. Missouri titles outboard motors, while Illinois does not. If my neighbor down the street is cleaning out his garage and unearths an old outboard motor that he had long forgotten that he had, he might offer it to me for a pittance. I would point out the white registration decal of the state of Missouri on it and ask him about the title. His reply will most likely be that he has no idea what he did with the title and just wants to get the greasy thing out of his garage so his wife will quit “bugging” him about the messy garage and am I interested in it or not? The asking price is less than the cost of a propeller for a new outboard.

If I want to legally use this outboard in the State of Missouri I am going to have to convince my neighbor that it is worth his while to apply for a duplicate title so he can sign it over to me. That is about the only way I am going to get legal title to this old outboard. Now lets complicate matters a bit; lets say that my neighbor, upon being shown the Missouri registration decal, scratches his head and says that he did not know that outboards had to be titled and that he bought this outboard about 10 years ago at a garage sale. Well, you can go to the Dept. Of Motor Vehicles (the state agency that handles outboard motor registration in Missouri; other states may use other agencies) and get the name and last-known address of whoever is named on the title, and then try to hunt them up to see if they will “sign-over” title to the motor. Just how bad do you want this outboard motor?

But it can get worse. Lets say the neighbor says that he bought this outboard about 10 years ago at an ESTATE sale; so the last registered owner of this motor is no longer “with us.”

And just about the time that my neighbor is starting to tire of my questions concerning paperwork that he does not have, a guy driving a car with Illinois license plates pulls up and asks if that greasy old outboard motor laying by the curb is for sale. My neighbor says “sure,” it’s for sale, and cheap too, but he does not have a title to it. The man from Illinois says that is not a problem as Illinois does not title outboard motors. Five minutes later the man from Illinois drives off with a greasy outboard motor in his trunk and my neighbor goes back to work cleaning his garage with a bit of cash in his pocket.

The “good old days” of outboard boat ownership: no concerns about boat registration or motor registration or gasoline shortages. A “sweet” lapstrake boat, a sweet “babe” (sorry) and not a care in the world.

But lets back-up a moment. What if this outboard did not have the registration decal? What if there was no evidence of it being titled in Missouri or in any other state? If the motor had not been titled in Missouri, and showed no evidence of being stolen or titled in another state, then I COULD get a Missouri title to it. All I would have to do is obtain the necessary forms (3 or 4 of them) from the department of Motor Vehicles, take the motor and the forms to a Missouri State Water Patrol Officer (who will check to see if the motor has been reported stolen or if it shows signs of having been titled either in Missouri or in another state), and then take the completed forms back to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where I can pay the customary fees and be issued a title. Yes, it is a royal pain. And can be an even bigger pain if, despite the lack of a registration decal, it turns out the motor WAS in fact already titled. Maybe the previous owner forgot to apply the decal, or maybe it fell off. Or better yet, what if it turns out the motor was reported stolen?

Here’s another complication: I mentioned that I live in Missouri near the Illinois state line. If I have a boat stored in a marina or elsewhere in Illinois, then the boat (and outboard motor) are subject to the registration laws of Illinois, where the boat is kept, and NOT Missouri, my state of residence.

If you have no clue where to find out about outboard motor titling /registration requirements in your area, check with a local boat dealer who can certainly direct you to the correct state agency. Or do an “on-line” search, as I believe that most states have this information on their web sites now. But don’t believe everything the boat dealer tells you; I have had them give me bad information before. Like telling me that, as a resident of Missouri, I can not register a boat in Illinois. If my boat is stored in Illinois, then I HAVE to register it in Illinois, according to Illinois law.

There is a new legal issue on the horizon (closer than the horizon for people in some areas, such as California) and that is the “bans” on the use of 2-cycle engines on some specific lakes and in some specific areas, Lake Tahoe being the most well-known. It is an undebatable fact that older outboard motors are just not “environmentally friendly.” They dump a considerable portion of the fuel they use into the water, and seeping lower units can add some gear oil as well. Certainly there are those among the readers who’s conscience will not allow them to run any outboard other than the most modern fuel-efficient, environmentally-sound engines, and I commend you for putting your principles above the need for economy. But I will not condemn those who must, because of financial considerations, minimize their expenditure on their outboard motor or do without one. My personal position is that I try to compensate in other areas of my life for whatever environmental damage my all-to-infrequent opportunities to go boating inflict on the waters. I only drive small pickup trucks (and have ever since sitting in the “gas lines” of 1979 in a V8-powered S.U.V. back when no one knew what an S.U.V was) and I take advantage of opportunities to go boating in my home-built sail-, paddle-, and oar- powered boats when an appropriate situation presents itself. I also take some pride in utilizing an existing asset that otherwise might end-up in a trash dump.

Whatever your personal position on old outboards, however, keep in mind that leaving an oil sheen on the water is a direct violation of Federal and some state laws that you can be held accountable for, so it would be in your best interest to replace such leaking hoses and fittings and gaskets as necessary to minimize as much as possible any leakage from your engine, for legal reasons if not for moral ones.

Minimizing fuel leaks will also serve to minimize your use of gasoline, a prudent move in light of recent fuel price trends.

Happy motor’n