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Can You Start An Outboard Motor Without A Key?

Can You Start An Outboard Motor Without A Key?

It has happened to all of us – those times when you simply can’t get your engine running.

There could be many reasons why this happens. Maybe a wire got disconnected, your key was broken, or there was a breakdown. Or the simplest explanation – you lost the key by accident. In these cases, you can try starting your outboard motor without a key.

In this article, we will provide you with all you need to know about this topic!

Starting an outboard motor without a key is done by creating a short circuit. You do this by finding the two poles of the starter motor and placing a metal object between them.

Losing a key can be troublesome, so always try to have its serial number written down somewhere. If you have that number, getting a replacement is incredibly easy and any locksmith can do it for you.

Starting an Outboard Motor Without a Key

First of all, the most important thing you can do is recover the key or get a replacement. Starting your engine without a key is only a temporary solution!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s see the actual methods of keyless starting. 

There are three ways you can do it. Some are simpler than others, but generally, you just need to follow a few easy steps.

1. The Starter Motor Method

For those that prefer following a video guide, here is a short one that will show you the gist of this process: 

This first method uses the starter motor; you create a short circuit with the positive and negative poles found inside it. 

Make sure to carefully follow these instructions, and always use a screwdriver  (or another metal tool with a rubber handle) when creating a short circuit.

  • First of all, locate the starter motor in your engine. You will recognize it by the two electric cables that are connected to two poles. Those are the negative and positive poles.
  • Carefully use the screwdriver to touch the space between the negative and the positive poles.
  • This will create a short circuit and start the engine! 

2. The Ignition Switch Bypass Method

Once again, those that prefer video lessons can check out this handy Youtube link: 

How to hotwire an outboard motor

This second method involves the ignition switch of your outboard motor and is a bit trickier but still manageable.

  • Locate the ignition switch and remove it. 
  • If you have a boat with a keyless entry, you may need to unscrew the switch. On some models, you will need to raise the plastic casing with a lever.
  • Once you’ve done that, you need to find the wires. There will be two: a red one and a black one. These are the wires you will connect to the battery.
  • Disconnect the wires from the ignition switch.
  • Connect them to the terminals on the battery directly, red being positive and black being negative. 

Sometimes the ignition switch will have three wires. These can also be bypassed. Follow the steps below:

  • You will need wire cutters, a screwdriver, and marine-grade electrical tape .
  • Strip the insulation from the end of the wires using a wire cutter.
  • Use marine-grade electrical tape to insulate the ends of the wires before connecting them to the terminals.
  • Connect each of the wires from the 3-wire ignition switch to a terminal.
  • The red wire should be connected to the A terminal, the black to the B terminal, and the green to the COM terminal.
  • Now try starting the engine.

We can’t stress enough that this shouldn’t be a permanent solution! If you find yourself in a situation where you need to do this, your first goal should be finding a key.

3. The Remote Starter Switch Method

For this method, we have also found a Youtube video that can be helpful if you get stuck on a specific step: 

How to hookup a remote start switch on a 1996 40HP Mercury outboard

This method requires the installation of a remote starter switch, a device that lets you start your engine without a key. The installation is quite simple, but you still need to pay close attention to what you’re doing!

  • You first need to disconnect your battery cables for safety.
  • Next, disconnect the positive feed from the ignition switch of your outboard motor.
  • After that, connect the two leads from the remote starter switch to the terminals on the ignition. If you don’t know how these terminals look, you will recognize them by the black arrow symbols on the switch.
  • When you turn the remote switch on, the engine will start spinning if the ignition key is off. It will start if the ignition key is on.
  • The remote switch will have a light that will let you know that your engine now has enough power to start.
Actron CP7853 Remote Starter Switch for 6V and 12V Automotive Starting Systems
  • Actron's Remote Starter Switch allows one person to start or crank the engine from under the hood
  • Ideal for a compression test or bumping the engine onto Top Dead Center (TDC) timing position for valve, distributor, or camshaft adjustment

Last update on 2024-07-21 at 22:47 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

There is also an alternative method to using a starter switch. This is done by bypassing the ignition switch on your boat.

  • First of all, you need to remove the engine cowling and locate the motor’s cable harness.
  • It connects the console of your boat to the motor of your outboard engine. It looks like a cable harness you would find on a trailer.
  • Once you have found the wires, clip the leads to the wires and connect them to the remote starter switch. The harness will most likely have three cables that need to be connected to the starter switch.

How to Find the Right Replacement Key

Finding a replacement key can be trickier than it seems. Sometimes knowing the model of your outboard engine isn’t enough. 

In this part of the article, we will provide you with a few tips on how to easily find the correct replacement key for your outboard engine. You just need to employ your investigation skills a little bit.

1. Check the Manual

reading the user manual of motor

People often misplace the manual for their outboard engine, which is a real rookie mistake. Your motor’s manual can provide you with tons of useful info, and you should always keep it nearby.

If you know where the manual is, you can find the necessary info for the replacement key easily. The first few pages of the manual will have the info on your outboard motor’s serial number.

Sometimes, it will even include a code number that you can bring to a locksmith. With this number, they will be able to cut you a new key without a problem! Many large marinas make key duplicates as well.

With a serial number, you can visit any shop that sells engines of the same brand as yours and they can also make a duplicate key for you.

2. Check the Outboard Motor

serial number tag attached inside of an outboard boat motor

If you can’t find the manual, your outboard motor should have the serial number marked in two places. 

The first one is the left side of the swivel bracket of your engine. There, you should be able to find an aluminum plate. On that plate, you should see your engine’s horsepower, model year, model number, and serial number, among other info.

However, sometimes this plate will be painted over. In that case, try removing the top cover of your outboard motor. Look on its right side, and you should see a tag attached to it. You will be able to find all of that same info on this tag!

Once you have the serial number, repeat the other steps from the previous section.

3. Check the Inside of the Remote Control

remote control of a boat motor

If your outboard motor has a remote/throttle key switch, or a throttle/shifter/key switch combo, finding the code you need will be a piece of cake.

You will be able to find it inside the remote control, right on the body of the ignition switch. Simply remove the screws that connect the remote control to your boat if it is attached. Alternatively, you can remove the four screws found on the back of the remote unit.

The next thing you want to do is separate the front side of the remote control from the back panel. There you should be able to see the ignition switch. It is a cylinder right next to the throttle handle.

Once you find the code number, take it to a locksmith or shop, and they can make a new key for you.

4. Make Sure to Keep Your Key Info Safe

If you happen to lose your outboard motor key and need to do any of the previous steps, your next goal is to assure that it won’t happen again.

To prevent needing to do all the extra work in the future, make sure to record the serial number of your engine, as well as the key code. Actually, you should try to record all of the info you can find, as it will make getting a new key much easier.


That settles it–you definitely can start an outboard motor without a key. However, you should keep in mind that this is only a temporary solution.

You can do it in a relatively simple way, by locating the starter motor in the engine and creating a short circuit. This is done by placing a metal object (like a screwdriver) between the two poles of the starter motor.

However, losing the key to your outboard motor is no small issue, so you should try to get a replacement as soon as possible. This is done by finding the serial number or the code number of your key!

We hope this helps and makes all your key-related troubles disappear.