Boat Kill Switch Keys: Its Past Time for a Standard

The recent UK Milligan accident really stirred up the boat kill switch lanyard issue there (they call them kill-cords). Are we the only ones that think it is ridiculous to have seven different keys?

7 boat kill switch keys as shown by JAG Trading Online

The 7 boat kill switch keys as shown by JAG Trading Online
JAG sells lanyards / kill cords on eBay

At one time, most drive builders builders had their own key design (Johnson/Evinrude, Mercury, Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu, and Honda).

Here in the U.S., the Coast Guard and several boating safety organizations are trying to encourage boaters to use/wear emergency engine kill switch lanyards.

Among the reasons boaters do not use them are:

Attwood Marine Products universal (7 key) boat lanyard / kill cord

Attwood Marine Products universal (7 key) boat lanyard / kill cord

  • Their boat does not have a kill switch
  • They want freedom to move around
  • Their kill switch is broken
  • They don’t know their boat has a kill switch
  • They do not know how to use it
  • They don’t have a lanyard
  • They don’t have the correct “key”
  • They would buy a lanyard but are afraid they will not get the correct “key”
  • They only use the lanyard in certain situations
  • They are not safety minded and do not think they need one in any conditions, or the few conditions they might use one in do not justify keeping it around
  • They just forget to hook up the lanyard sometimes

We are aware there are some weird looking, universal “key” designs in which one “key” will fit several different types of motors as long as you know how to adapt it to each situation, but universal keys are still not a solution to the basic problem. They just add another layer of confusion to novices not used to using them.

A related issue is if the boat operator was wearing the kill switch lanyard when he was ejected, anybody remaining on board must find a backup key or lanyard that has the correct “key” on board to start many boats in order to go rescue the operator (or retrieve the key from the operator or water before restarting the boat). If the operator was injured, has difficulties swimming, or sea conditions are challenging, time is critical.

Besides the confusion created by so many “keys”, they add to manufacturing costs and to the trash heap as unwanted “keys” are discarded.

Manufacturing costs are increased by requiring manufacturers to:

  • Design, develop, and maintain seven key molds instead of one (or mold with more than one key type in them)
  • Purchase approximately seven times as much resin as would be needed for one key
  • Carry seven different keys in inventory instead of just one
  • Assemble all seven keys on the lanyard instead of just one
  • Ship the additional space and weight resulting from all the extra keys)
  • Spend additional efforts to explain their product and why it has seven keys vs. one

Increased manufacturing costs result in increased retail costs. The industry should be trying to get lanyards into the hands of boaters, not make them more expensive and more confusing.

Once a boater buys a universal lanyard with all seven keys, they often try to cut-off the unwanted keys. That is just another task making kill cord lanyards more difficult. In addition we suspect boaters occasionally cut-off the key they actually need by mistake and either have to go buy another universal lanyard of just say to heck with it.

With so many barriers dragging down kill switch / kill cord lanyard wear rates, the industry needs to remove at least some of them. Developing a standard kill switch “key” through ABYC and similar boating standard organizations around the world is a logical, long overdue step in the right direction. While any new universal key or one of the currently existing keys might take many years to work its way into being the dominant “kill cord key”, it is long past time to start.

Our understanding is that Personal WaterCraft (PWC) have even added a few more kill switch lanyard “key” designs to the mix. It might be wise to include them in the standard as well.

We welcome your comments.


  1. Good day

    Completely agree with all statements.

    Frankly, I hadn’t thought of the scenario where I go overboard with the Kill Switch Key, leaving the Boat ‘keyless’.

    I recently bought a couple of Lanyand/Key combo’s (primarily for lanyard) and the Key is too big. The Item was described as correct though.

    Let’s provide a simple, cheap, easily repeatable, useable solution (unlike the SeaDoo magnetic key) for all to use. Then it is up to us to use it.

    Thank you
    Virginia Beach

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences of taking action and getting another lanyard before you had an “event” and someone became a statistic.


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