It’s 90-something degrees outside. You walk out to the dock, straddle your 2006 Sea Doo RXP, attach the key, and press the start button. But instead of “vroooom” you get “tick tick tick tick.” Chances are high that you’ve got a starter solenoid problem. You may be able to press the start button a few more times to get it going, but that won’t always be the case. Best to replace it now instead of being stranded out on the water. That’s what happened to me last weekened (the “tick tick tick” part — not getting stranded :)). The fix is easy and relatively inexpensive at just under $40, and since both my ‘Doos are the same year and model (and because BRP has upgraded the design of their starter solenoid), I decided to replace both of them at the same time. It’s a very easy repair, so even if you’ve never worked on your own Sea Doo before, you can do this.
BRP uses the same starter solenoid on a lot of their boats. I know from first-hand experience that they are in all of the modern 4-tec engines, but they’re also in a good number of their older PWCs since 1995, including the following models: 3D, GS, GSI, GTX, GTX, HX, LRV, RX, RXP, RXP-X, RXT, SP, SPX, SUV, and XP. It’s also the same starter solenoid used in Sea Doo jet boats like the Wake, Challenger, Explorer, Islandia, Speedster, Sportster, and Utopia. Basically, if your solenoid looks like the ones shown in this post, then this procedure will work for you. I also happen to know that they sell a conversion kit (#295500900) for upgrading older boats to the newer solenoid style, so check online or with your dealer to see if this will apply to yours.
What Is the Starter Solenoid?
The starter solenoid (sometimes also called a “starter relay”) is wired between your start button, the starter, and your battery. When you press the start button, the solenoid “closes” the connection between the battery and the starter, which provides power from the battery to the starter, which starts the engine. When the solenoid goes bad (and the original design seems to go bad pretty often), the “tick tick tick” noise is the solenoid trying to connect the battery power to the starter… unsuccessfully. In newer boats, the solenoid is located up front near the battery and electrical panel (by the fuses) and is attached to a metal bracket. In this photo, it’s the brown piece connected to the black wires with the red rubber boots. Check your owner’s manual for the location of yours.
How to Test for a Bad Solenoid
If you’re getting the “tick tick tick” sound when trying to start the engine, there are a few ways to verifying that the problem lies with the solenoid. There’s the “easy” (but dangerous if you’re near the fuel tank) method that uses only a screwdriver, and then there’s the “right” (much safer) way that involves a voltage meter. The screwdriver method produces a spark, so if you’re up front near the fuel tank, that’s very dangerous. Have I done it on my 4-tec engines? Uh… probably… but only when very well ventilated, I don’t recommend it, and you accept all risk of blowing yourself up if you do it this way. But if your solenoid is in a safe location (meaning not next to the fuel tank), then here’s how to do it:
“Easy” screwdriver test method: You don’t need the key on the ignition post for this test. Pop off the covers on the red boot shown above, which will expose the two posts and nuts that attach the two wires to the solenoid (one wire comes from the battery, the other goes to the starter). Take a long screwdriver (preferably with a plastic or rubber-coated handle) and briefly touch both exposed posts at the same time. Don’t be alarmed if you see a brief spark (and for that reason, it’s a good idea to make sure the area is well ventilated so there are no gas fumes). The spark is the result of your screwdriver basically performing the job of the solenoid: connecting 12V of power from the battery directly to the starter. If doing this screwdriver trick causes the engine to turn over, then you can be certain that the solenoid is indeed the problem. If it were a bad starter button instead, it wouldn’t try to actuate the solenoid, and so you wouldn’t have heard the “tick tick tick” sound when you press the button.
“Safe” voltage meter test method: You do need the key on the ignition post for this test. Expose the solenoid’s posts as described above. Put your voltage meter in the appropriate mode to test for 12 VDC (including one decimal place) and touch a test lead to each post. Put the engine in “drown mode” by holding down the throttle all the way (you can put a rubber band around it to hold it open), then press the start button. The voltage across the solenoid should be no more than 0.2 V. If you show more than 0.2 V going across that connection, then your solenoid is confirmed bad.
Tools & Supplies You’ll Need
- A replacement solenoid (more details below)
- A ratchet and 10mm socket
- A 10mm open end wrench (or “spanner,” depending on where you grew up)
- Some dielectric grease or compound ($8 for a tube that will last you a long time)
- A bath towel
When sourcing a replacement solenoid, BRP has a few different part numbers, depending on which vintage you’re talking about. You can find some aftermarket replacement ones on eBay and Amazon, and they might work just fine. The original design is a brown plastic top that is riveted to a metal base plate. I suspect that water probably gets in between the plastic and the metal, which leads to the early failures. The newer design is completely molded in black plastic, which eliminates that potential problem. Part numbers for some of the older style solenoids that can be replaced with this procedure include:
As of the date of this post, all of those are superseded by the most current version of the solenoid (the black fully molded one) which is part number 278003012. Here’s what one of the older vs. newer solenoids look like (this is a shot of the one I removed and the one I installed):
The MSRP for solenoid 278003012 is $43. However, you can save a little money by buying upgrade kit 295500900 for $39 instead. That OEM upgrade kit is designed for some of the 2-stroke boats built between 1998-2003 that use the old-style solenoid 278000077 (the old one has two small wires with end terminals on the small leads) and upgrades the older boats to support the new solenoid design. The kit includes the newest solenoid, as well as some extra connectors, wiring, and lock nuts. So if you have an older 2-stroke boat, use the additional connectors in the kit to upgrade your solenoid wiring setup. But if you have a newer boat (like a 4-tec) you can throw away the additional connectors and just use the included solenoid (which is what I did), or save the extra bits for use on some other project. If you buy the kit from your dealer, you’ll pay the same price as online, you won’t pay for shipping, and they’re used on so many models that I’d be shocked if your dealer didn’t have them in stock. Instructions for upgrading the wiring on older boats is included in the kit. Here’s what OEM upgrade kit 295500900 looks like:
As I discussed in my earlier post on changing Sea Doo spark plugs, dielectric grease is a Sea Doo owner’s best friend. You can find some at pretty much any hardware or auto parts store, or you can buy some on Amazon for cheap. I prefer Permatex brand or Dow Molykote (also called “Compound 111”), but any 100% silicone based grease will work. Dielectric grease is great on watercraft, and it prevents corrosion on electrical connections… which is exactly what you want with a solenoid.
Depending on where your solenoid is located, you’ll need to either open the front cover and pull out the cargo bin, or remove your seat. Once that’s done, disconnect your battery by using a 10mm wrench to loosen and remove the screw on the negative (black) side first, then remove the positive (red) side last. You’ll reconnect them in the opposite order when you’re done.
Also, before going further, place the bath towel down on the bottom of the area in which you’re working. If you drop a screw or nut (and there’s a very good chance you will with this procedure), it will land on the bath towel instead of falling down into a crevice. Trust me on this one; you want that towel there.
Unmount the Old Solenoid
I find that the hardest part about any Sea Doo maintenance project is finding a comfortable position to work in. This one is no exception. You’ll have to move your hands into some awkward positions to get this done, but it’s doable. Also, I recommend doing this in the comfort of your garage or shaded driveway… and not with your boat sitting in an EZ-Port on your dock in 95F+ weather. Chrome plated tools get really hot in that kind of direct sunlight (that’s the voice of experience, kids).
I used a combination of both a 10mm open wrench and a 10mm socket to remove the two mounting screws that attach the solenoid to the metal bracket (you can see the threads painted yellow in the photo above in the “What is the Starter Solenoid?” section). One of the screws was accessible with the socket, but the other one was too hard to access with my socket, so I loosened it with the wrench until I could unscrew it with my fingers. Put both screws aside in a safe place (I like to use the small storage compartment near the handle bars).
Disconnect the Old Solenoid
With the solenoid unmounted, pop open the two rubber caps that protect the terminals. If the previously installed solenoid was installed correctly, it should be gooey with dielectric grease inside. The rubber boot surrounding the nut makes it a bit hard to get a socket down in there, so I found it easiest to use an open-ended wrench to reach down inside to unscrew and remove the nut on each side, as shown here:
Put both lock nuts aside somewhere clean. The upgrade kit comes with new nuts, but there’s no problem re-using these ones if you like, especially since they’re probably already coated with some dielectric grease (but we’ll add even more on re-assembly).
You can now discard the old starter solenoid.
Prepare the New Solenoid
There’s not much to do to prepare the new solenoid, apart from removing it from the package and putting a generous coat of dielectric grease on both terminals (emphasis in the generous).
Connect the New Solenoid
It doesn’t matter which wire (battery or starter) goes to which side of the solenoid, but I prefer to put the starter wire on “top” and the battery wire on “bottom” since that’s how it was originally, and I think it looks a bit cleaner. But if the opposite way is easier in your application, that’s fine.
Place the rubber-booted connector for one of the wires on one of the threaded solenoid posts, then start threading the lock nut. It might be a bit tricky with the grease, but you’ll get it. It’s easier to use the socket when putting the nut on vs. taking it off, but use whatever combination of wrench and socket you need to make sure it’s on tight. Do the same with the other wire, and make sure they’re angled properly to ensure you’ll have room to remount it. Before closing the rubber caps, work a generous amount of dielectric grease into the holes. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Dielectric grease is your friend. Here’s what the new solenoid looks like all wired up:
Mount the New Solenoid
This is actually the trickiest part of the entire procedure, because access is so difficult (at least it is on the 4-tec boats). Contort your hands into whatever position you need to line up the bottom mounting screw location first, insert and tighten the bottom mounting screw, then rotate the solenoid until the top mounting hole lines up. Re-attach the top mounting screw, and you’re good to go! It should look something like this:
Finishing Up and Testing
Now all that’s left is to reconnect your battery (red first, black second), replace the seat or close the front hood, and test out your handiwork! Connect the key to the ignition, and hit your start button. It should turn over the engine on the first try. Now, if you were stupid enough to perform this procedure out on your dock under the blazing hot sun, your only reward will be the ability to take the boat for a quick test ride to congratulate yourself for your efforts… then come back and perform the upgrade procedure on your other Sea Doo. 🙂
So for under $80, I now have two reliably starting 2006 Sea Doo RXPs — and that’s cheap insurance against getting stranded out in the water. If you’re still rocking an original solenoid (just check to see if it’s brown), I recommend at least purchasing the upgraded one to have in your tool kit, so you’re not down for more than a few minutes when (not “if”) your solenoid starts acting up.
If It Still Doesn’t Work
If replacing your solenoid doesn’t do the trick, then your first suspicion should be the battery. If you’ve bypassed the solenoid with the tests I recommend above, and are still getting a single “tick” or even multiple “ticks,” 9 times out of 10 it’s the battery.
I’ve heard people say that they just replaced the battery, but that’s no guarantee that the battery is good. The stock Yuasa batteries that come with Sea Doos are terrible (often lasting only one season), and I recommend switching to an AGM battery like a Deka instead. Make sure your battery is fully charged when testing.
If all else fails, you can hook standard jumper cables from your car/truck to your Sea Doo’s battery to rule out a battery problem.
I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below. And I invite you to check out my other Sea Doo related posts while you’re here!