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How to Hotwire a Boat?- Know The Steps Well (Best Tips)

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to hotwire a boat

Losing your boat key can be a nightmare when you are out in the waters. That is why many boaters want to know how to hotwire a boat. If you are a boating enthusiast, you might as well join the club.

The boat ignition switch wiring can be confusing to beginners. This article aims to provide you with the basic steps in hotwiring a boat so you know what to do when the situation calls for it.

How to Hotwire a Boat


Hotwiring an engine is not very complicated. However, you need to ensure that you are not doing something illegal, or you can end up in prison.

Below are some of the common steps you need to take to start a boat without a key.

1. Things you’ll need


  1. Screwdriver
  2. Starter switch
  3. Color-coded wires
  4. Marine-grade electrical tape

2. Steps to hotwire an inboard boat (hotwire ignition switch)

Step 1: Access the ignition switch wires/terminals.


Using your screwdriver, you need to access the terminals of your boat engine’s ignition switch. Accessing the terminals is the first step to hotwire a boat motor.

Step 2: Tap or jumper a short wire to the live wire terminal and the engine wire terminal. Tapping a short wire to the live wire and the engine wire will trigger the boat engine to start.

If you want to have the option to conveniently turn off the engine after using the boat, you will need to install a starter switch.

Here are the steps to install a starter switch:


  • Disconnect the battery.
  • Access the ignition switch electrical system and cut the battery wires. Remove the insulator at the end of the wires. Use the electrical tape to secure or re-insulate the exposed wire joints.
  • Connect the starter switch. Connect the wires to the three terminals of the starter switch. The red wire goes into the “A” terminal, the black goes into the “B” terminal, and the green “C” or COM (common terminal).
  • Reconnect the battery and test. As long as the wires are connected to the correct terminals, the engine should start.
  • Use the starter switch to turn on/off the engine.

3. Steps to hotwire an outboard boat

This section is useful if you want to hotwire a 6 wire ignition switch like the one on the common Yamaha and Mercury outboard engines.

Generally, hotwiring an outboard motor only involves the steps below:

Step 1: Make a pigtail connector that you will use to connect into its power. To create the pigtail connector, you will also need an ignition switch assembly (usually a 6-wire ignition assembly).


Step 2: Join the pigtail connector and the key starter. Make sure that the pigtail connector is compatible with the outboard motor.


Step 3: Plug the connector you built into the outboard motor. You should do this when the main link to the control unit has been disconnected.



General Tips When Bypassing a Boat Ignition Switch


Below are a couple of tips that might help you successfully hotwire a boat ignition switch.

  • You can install a remote starter to bypass the ignition switch. Once the remote starter is properly installed, you can switch your engine on without a key. You can check the details on how to install the remote starter.
  • If you are not in the middle of boating while missing your boat’s key, it is best to consider other options first such as contacting your boat dealer or contacting a locksmith. If these options are not feasible for your situation, go ahead with the bypass.
  • You can try to use a flat head screw driver to bypass the ignition switch.
  • An expert boater Fred Apstein warns in this thread that the engine might be damaged if the boat’s cooling system is not operating after the hotwire.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is hotwiring a boat hard?

Hotwiring a boat is not that complicated. First, you need pull out the ignition switch and determine the ignition wire and the starter wire.

Then, you can jumper a short wire to the live wire and the engine wire. This should crank up the engine.

How can I turn on the boat ignition switch without a key?

You can turn on your boat engine’s ignition switch without a key by bypassing it. You can hotwire the ignition when you connect the ignition wire to the battery or jumper the live wire and the engine wire on the ignition switch with a short wire.

Do I need to rewire my boat after I hotwire it?

It is not necessary to rewire your boat after you hotwire it. You only touch the ignition switch wires when hot wiring your engine.

However, should the situation calls for it, you can check this guide on how to rewire a boat. This guide provides substantial information and a wiring diagram to guide you. But if you are not confident, it is always best to get a professional’s help.


Basic knowledge on how to hotwire a boat can be useful during emergencies. Hotwiring a boat engine is not very difficult, but it could be overwhelming for beginners.

If you have access to a mechanic’s help, it is best to get some help to ensure that you do not mess up with your boat’s wiring. Although, you could experiment hotwiring the boat using the information you learned.

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