Boat Key Replacement: What To Do If You Lose Your Boat Keys

Published Categorized as Boats

Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

Boat keys are considerably less complex than car keys. That’s good news because if you’re trying to replace a lost boat key, it shouldn’t be too hard to do.

Given the precarious nature of everything that comes near the water, you should take special precautions not to lose your keys. The same applies to your cell phone, wallet, car keys, and anything else that is small, doesn’t float, isn’t waterproof, or is important to you.

There is a certain amount of inevitability to the lost boat key. King Neptune likes to claim prizes and take offerings. Tops on his personal Christmas list: keys and cell phones. Ask how I know.

Here are a few tips for holding on to your keys, or at least to reduce the inconvenience when Neptune finally claims his prize.

A box of keys at a flea market in New York. I wonder how many of them are lost ones or whether they are keys to things that no longer exist.

Table of Contents

Types of Boat Key

Boats tend to come with a few different keys to open and work everything. The engine has one key, which is usually different from the key to open the door to the cabin. Likewise, each deck locker might have a keyed lock. Plus, many boaters use standard padlocks to secure hatches and equipment.

Ignition Switch Keys

Whether installed on inboard or outboard-powered vessels, most boat ignition switches are simple cut-metal keys. They don’t have the electronic chips or theft-prevention technologies that come standard in cars.

That’s good news because it means that replacing them should be easier and cheaper compared to a car key. It’s much more like getting a new key for your house.

Are boat keys universal? No, the boat makers still vary the keys significantly, so just because you have a Yamaha and your friend has a Yamaha does not mean that the keys are interchangeable.

Cabin and Locker Keys

Similarly, most keys that secure the door to the boat cabin are not fancy at all. Instead, the marine-grade locks used on most boats are simple barrel locks with simple keys.

Kill Switch Keys

Some people refer to the small plastic clip used on the kill switch as the boat key. Of course, it’s not really a key—but it does have to be inserted to make the boat run!

The kill switch is usually universal within a brand. So a Yamaha kill switch will work in another Yamaha, but you cannot use it in a Honda kill switch. Each one is a slightly different shape and a different thickness.

If you’ve lost your kill switch key, you can usually buy a generic replacement online. In addition, some marine stores have a spare kill switch key set, which will give you one key for every type of switch out there.

attwood 7591-6 Universal Boat Kill Switch Key Set for Johnson, Evinrude, Mercury, Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu and Honda

Deck Fill Keys

Boats also use special keys to open the deck fills—the fuel cap, water fill, and wastewater pump-out fittings. These are usually a two-pronged fork—they aren’t truly locked. In a pinch, your multitool will suffice. Some sailboats use a star key that matches the shape of the winch handle.

Simple Anchor Solutions Stainless Steel Universal Deck Plate Key - Gas Fuel Water Waste Fill

Lost Boat Key Replacement How-To

The ignition switch or the cabin lock would be the hardest ones to replace of all of these different locks.

Options for replacing your boat key:

Option 1. Make a Copy with Your Spare

You have a spare, right? If not, you’ll need to move on to the next step. But if you have a key that works, take a trip to your local hardware store and have them cut a copy of it ASAP. That way, you’ll always be able to start your boat or get into it.

Option 2. Use the Manufacturer Key Code

If your engine or door lock came with a set of keys, they might be coded. If you contact that manufacturer and give them the exact make, model, and serial number, they may be able to supply a working replacement boat key. This method won’t be very fast since you’ll need to talk to the dealer or manufacturer and have them ship you the key.

Option 3. Contact a Professional Locksmith for Boat Key Services

Without another key or the key code, things will get more complicated and expensive. Your next step would be to call around to local locksmiths and see if any of them offer boat key services. Even the ignition switch on a typical boat is a simple lock, so any professional locksmith should be able to create new keys for you in no time.

Option 4. Get a Whole New Lock

If you’re trying to get into a securely locked hatch or door, this one might not work. But if you’re just trying to get the motor running, you might be able to look into replacing the entire ignition switch. Of course, in the process, you’ll get a brand new set of keys.

Most ignition panels will come off with a few screws. Depending on how the manufacturer supplies the replacement part, it will either be the keyed switch or the entire panel. Either way, it will likely require only attaching a few wire leads in the same position that they were installed before. Obviously, you’ll want to consult the maker’s instructions and wiring diagram for any issues.

The same applies to door and hatch locks, too. If you were lucky enough to lose your keys while the door was unlocked and can get inside, you can probably easily remove the entire lock assembly. Then, it’s a simple matter of putting on a new one—with a new key.

Prevention is Easier than the Cure – How to Prevent Lost Boat Key Drama

It’s probably apparent by now that replacing a lost boat key is a whole lot simpler if you have a spare somewhere. Even if it isn’t convenient at this moment, having one somewhere safe will save you a lot of hassle.

Keep a Spare Set Somewhere Safe at Home

When you take possession of a new-to-you boat, step one is to start getting copies of the keys made as soon as possible. The keys are easy to make copies of at your local hardware store. Doing it now rather than later will save you a lot of hassle. Don’t make just one spare—make a couple. It’s cheap insurance.

Give a Set to Your Marina or Hide it Onboard

Take one of those other sets you make and put it somewhere on the boat where you can get at it. That way, you’ll never be locked out or unable to start the boat.

brown key

Find a Key Float

Foam floaties have been around for years – you can usually pick them up for free at boat shows or for cheap at the checkout line of your favorite marine store. There are also little plastic cases that will hold things inside. However, if you don’t want to carry that amount of bulk, check out those that automatically inflate like a PFD for your keys!

Whichever style you choose, make sure the weight of your keys isn’t too much for it. It will slow down their rate of sink, but with too many keys or extras, you still might not be able to catch them in time.

Use a Key Lanyard

You can also keep your keys safe by using a secure lanyard. Neck lanyards are an excellent way to keep them safe when getting on and off docks. Just remember to use it – if the lanyard is attached and you just stuff your keys in your pockets, you could still lose them. But, at least the lanyard would give you something to grab with a boat hook.

Put Your Keys in a Bag

If you have a backpack or boat bag, consider having a dedicated pocket or clip for your boat keys. You are far less likely to lose a large bag than you are a set of keys. Plus, the bag will likely float – at least for a moment or two. It’s grabbable and an excellent way to keep other things, like your cell phone, safe while you get on and off the boat. Waterproof bags are the best.

Wear Clothes with Zippered Pockets

This tip applies to all of your personal items. If you value them and spend time near the water, the best thing to do is find clothing with zippered pockets. And then, of course, close the zips every time you put something losable in there.

It is uncanny how easily things can slip right out of a seemingly secure pocket, never to be seen again.

Consider Combination Locks

Or, you could work out a way to not have to worry about keys.

Many people leave their boat key in the ignition all the time. Certainly, it isn’t recommended for high-crime areas or public docks, but many marinas are secure enough to do so without worry. If you don’t want to put it in the ignition, maybe just hidden in a nearby cubbie or cup holder?

For the door lock, consider installing a combination lock. This will prevent you from ever having to worry about a boat key replacement ever again.

Drop Your Boat Keys? At Least King Neptune is Happy

Losing items overboard is never any fun. The fun factor continues to decline the smaller and heavier the items are. A two-pronged approach is necessary – prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Prepare by having spares of everything and trying not to lose stuff. And hope that you never need the spare.

By Matt C

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.