When An Outboard Goes Forward In Reverse!

Something that can really through you off is if you put your engine into forward gear and all of a sudden the boat starts going in reverse!

Outboard Goes Forward In Reverse? This is because the control box is hooked up incorrectly, the wrong prop is installed, or the wrong lower unit has been installed onto the engine.

Many of these issues may seem to be common, but here’s what you need to know about the entire situation and how it happened!

How The Control Box Controls The Shifting

If your outboard forward and reverse shifting is backward, then you have a serious problem!

With the introduction of digital throttle and shifting, or fly-by-wire controls. This issue doesn’t really happen because of the control box.

But when we are talking about mechanically controlled outboards and control boxes. Then yes, they have a direct connection with each other!

Your mechanical control box uses either what is called “push” or “pull” control with the cable.

That simply means that when you shift your control handle. This will either push the cable out or pull the cable in.

Now when the cable goes in either direction, it will move the shift mechanism on your engine. Shifting your lower unit in either one direction or the other.

(Now if you are experiencing a hard shifting condition or other shifting problems, you should read this article here!)

So, what can happen is if these cables get hooked up incorrectly inside of the control box.

Then when you shift into forward, it might need to “pull” the cable in. In order to shift the engine in to forward.

If it is hooked up backward and “pushes” the cable. That will put the engine into reverse!

Making your outboard go reverse in forward! Or vice versa, if it is “pushing” when it should “pull”.

And you are shifting in to forward when you shift into reverse. This will make your outboard go forward in reverse!

But this is going to be a simple fix, all you need to do is just reverse how the cable is hooked up in the control box.

Making it shift properly!

How The Propeller Controls Your Direction!

Now another reason that you will find an outboard going forward in reverse, is when the wrong propeller is installed!

For many people that only ever deal with single outboard boats. You might not think about there being two styles of propellers.

One style is going to be a right-handed propeller. And the other style is going to be a left-handed propeller.

Or commonly called a standard rotation prop or a counter-rotation prop.

What this means is that on a standard or right-hand rotation propeller. The propeller blades are designed to spin to the right when in forward gear.

And a counter-rotation or left-handed prop. Is designed to spin to the left when in forward gear.

So if you change out your prop and put the wrong rotation prop on. It will go forward in reverse or reverse in forward!

This is also common in twin-engine applications. Where usually you will have one counter-rotation engine on the port side of the boat.

And one standard rotation on the starboard side of the boat. (Read this if you are unsure of the difference in port and starboard, why boats use these terms, as well as all the ways to remember them!)

But when a boat gets serviced, if the props get swapped when they get put back on the boat. Then you are going to find that the outboard forward and reverse are backward!

Why The Lower Unit Rotation Matters!

rebuild a bad outboard lower unit

Now just as we talked about the difference in the control box going one way or the other.

And as the props spin in either one direction or another. This will tie directly into the engine’s lower unit!

The engine itself, whether a standard or counter, is basically the same. The engine spins in the same direction.

It is in the lower unit that the spinning of the propeller and the direction is switched between the left and right-handed prop.

Or simply put, your forward and reverse gear positions!

Which direction the control cable goes, relates to which style lower unit you have.

And the propeller directly relates to which style lower unit you have. Because the lower unit is what shifts into either forward or reverse.

So a counter-rotation lower unit will require the control box to go in one direction or the other, depending on the outboard brand and model.

And it will require a left-handed propeller. Whereas the standard or right-handed lower unit.

Is going to require the control box to go in one direction or the other. As well as requiring a right-handed propeller to be put on it!

So if you have a twin-engine application and do a service. If the lower units are swapped when they get put back on, then that will swap your shifting again!

Now if you want to learn more about lower units and the gear lube read this! And if you want to learn about the signs of a bad lower unit, then read this!

Putting The Forward And Reverse Components Together And Some FINAL WARNINGS!

Now that you know all about the control box, the lower units, and the propellers.

You can see why it is super important that everything goes together with the way that it should!

If you are experiencing this problem, then you have probably already figured out what has happened and why your shifting is backward!

But you will remember that you want to put the parts the way that they should be.

Though it may be a good thought to think if I swapped the lower units when putting them back on. Then I can just swap the props and be good to go!

Yes, that would work, and your shifting will go back to forward and reverse. But, you would now be running your lower units in the opposite direction.

The gears inside the lower unit are built differently. Basically, your forward gear is built stronger than the reverse gear. As well as the forward bearing.

Versus your reverse bearing. So if you are swapping your lower units and props, and running your lower units in forward.

But really running the lower unit in the reverse gear, just in forward. Then it might sound a little confusing, but you are actually just going to blow up your lower unit.

Because the forward parts of the gear case are meant to handle the load of the boat going in forward at higher RPM.

Then the reverse lower unit parts. So DON’T just swap your parts around, reversing your cables and lower units and props!

Make sure the right hand lower goes forward in forward. And the reverse in reverse. As well as the counter.

It should go forward in forward, and reverse in reverse!

Check Us Out!

We hope this has helped you understand why an outboard will go forward in reverse. As well as vice versa!

If you would like to learn even more about your boat and all the components that are in the boat. Then you can consider joining our Boating Academy where we have created video courses that do just that! You Can join Here!

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Here are some other super helpful articles that you might find interesting!

Aaron Hilligoss

Aaron has been working in the Marine Industry for over a decade and holds certifications for Yamaha and Mercury Marine. It is not uncommon for him to own and be working on at least three different boats at any given point in time!

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