wikiHow to Shift Your Boat

Shifting can be easy once you know the basics and have practiced a little. Mercruiser shifters have some features that you need to know. There are several different models and styles of Mercruiser remote controls. These instructions/tips are for a standard later-model top mount or panel mount Mercruiser remote control.


  1. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 1
    Look your remote control over before starting the motor.
    • Get familiar with the handle and its Locking Mechanism.
    • Check out the Neutral Detent Button and trim buttons (if so equipped).
  2. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 2
    Think before you shift. Safety is a major concern. Once you shift, the propeller will start to spin. A spinning propeller can injure or kill a person or pet.
  3. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 3
    Never start the motor when a swimmer is in the water near your boat.
  4. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 4
    Let all your passengers know that you are about to shift into forward or reverse.
  5. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 5
    Look around your boat before shifting.
  6. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 6
    Plan ahead. Is all clear?
  7. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 7
    When practicing shifting make sure your vessel is clear of all vessels and obstructions at sea or firmly tie your vessel to a strong dock with several adequate lines.
  8. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 8
    Use the control handle to both SHIFT and ACCELERATE. The handle has three shift positions or "DETENTS". FORWARD--NEUTRAL--REVERSE. Usually the handle is straight UP for NEUTRAL.
  9. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 9
    Start your motor with the handle in the NEUTRAL (up) position. Note: Most remote controls are equipped with an In-Gear-Starter-Protection-Switch. This switch should prevent the motor from starting if the shifter is in gear. If the motor won't crank make sure your shifter handle is in neutral.
  10. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 10
    Place your hand on top of the handle. Under the handle your fingers should feel the Shift Locking Mechanism. This Locking Mechanism must be lifted with your fingers before attempting to shift. Note: If you shift past the forward detent the engine will accelerate and the boat will move forward faster. This is called "throttling" and it should never be done while tied up to a dock. Only throttle up if you are untied and ready to proceed forward.
  11. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 11
    For practicing purposes only advance the handle to the initial DETENT position.
  12. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 12
    To SHIFT INTO FORWARD, lift the Locking Mechanism with your fingers and then you push the handle forward with a firm positive motion until you "feel" the FORWARD DETENT. Do not shift too slow or the gears will grind.
  13. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 13
    Practice shifting into and out of forward gear making sure to lift the locking mechanism and to use a firm action.
  14. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 14
    Practice shifting from neutral into reverse by pulling the handle back into the reverse detent position.
  15. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 15
    If you are at sea and clear of all vessels, shift into forward detent and let the boat "idle" forward for a little while. Take a good look all around your vessel to make sure that it is safe to accelerate and throttle up.
  16. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 16
    Slowly push the handle forward and accelerate the vessel while steering and using all precaution.
  17. Image titled Shift Your Boat Step 17
    As you accelerate and push the handle forward the bow bow of most boats will rise up and you will make a large wake. Eventually, as the boat speeds up the bow will drop down and the boat will "plane-off" and ride fast on top of the water. To slow down, slowly pull back on the handle little by little until the boat drops off-plane and returns to in-gear idle. Do not shift into neutral until the boat has slowed way down to the idle speed. Remember to ONLY SHIFT at dead idle speed.


  • Do not grind your gears.
  • Use a positive motion when shifting.
  • Get familiar with your control.
  • Replace any damage or worn parts.
  • Avoid shifting or running in shallow water or where underwater obstructions may reside.
  • Keep your control washed clean of any salt and wax or lube.
  • Do not accelerate too much in reverse gear.
  • Only shift at dead idle speed.
  • Avoid hitting things at all cost.
  • Have the stern drive DOWN before starting your motor.
  • Other items to consider on your remote control is the Safety Lanyard Switch/Chord and the Trim Button(s).
    • The red Safety Lanyard cord should always be attached to the driver while under way. In the event that the drive gets jolted or thrown overboard the chord will activate a switch which will cut off the motor. Use this feature at all times!
  • Have an experienced boater demonstrate its operation and safety points.
  • Your control has several parts. It has a Handle, a Neutral Detent Button (common models), A Shift Locking Mechanism and possibly Trim Control Buttons and a Safety Lanyard Switch & Chord.
  • Shift cables need adjustment from time to time.
  • Be aware your prop is spinning and that it can be deadly.
  • Do not shift slow or "drag" the handle into or out of gear.
  • If possible, have an experienced boat operator or captain show you the shifting mechanism and process.
  • Most modern day remote controls have trim and trailer buttons. The TRIM button will raise and lower the drive while you are under way. TRIM only allows the stern drive unit to tilt up to a certain safe height to improve the boats performance. The TRAILER button should only be used with the ENGINE OFF. It will tilt up the drive unit all the way for launching and retrieving the vessel at the boat ramp or for towing on the trailer.
  • Read the owners manual (see online at


  • Shift at dead idle speed.
  • Never leave the helm while in gear.
  • Never shift while the boat is "under way" above idle speed or damage can occur to your stern drive.
  • Use your safety lanyard chord.
  • Never start the motor with the stern drive tilted too high. It is usually a good idea to make sure the stern drive unit is in the full DOWN position before starting the vessel.
  • Never start or run the engine with swimmers in the water or on the dive platform.
  • Never shift "through neutral" into the other gear. In other words, let the shifter sit in neutral before proceeding to the other gear. For example, if you are in forward gear, do not yank the handle all the way back into the reverse gear. This can damage your gear unit (stern-drive).
  • Think safety first.
  • Read the Owner's Manual.

Sources and Citations

  • [1]Read more at Sterndrives.Com

Article Info

Categories: Boat Motors and Marine Engines