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Old 16-07-2021, 21:09   #1
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Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Am I the only one, or one of very few, who think that it is pointless to have an engine ignition key in the cockpit of a sailboat? The engine is running perhaps 5% of the time and the key is simply a vulnerability for all the rest of the time that you are out sailing. It is subject to being kicked, snagged by ropes, hit by flying gear, etc. This can either break it or knock it overboard, often at a moment of crisis and panic when the engine is most likely to be needed. If the skipper takes it out and puts it in his pocket, it is still vulnerable to loss. If that skipper happens to go overboard, the crew cannot start the engine to effect a retrieval. So why don't our engine instrument panels just come with a simple switch?

My previous boat had a simple push-pull ignition switch and a starter button. The boat was relatively safe from theft because someone would have to first gain entry to the interior and switch on the batteries and the appropriate breaker before any power was available to the engine. On my new boat, I will be replacing the keyed switch on the cockpit panel with a simple rotary starter switch and moving the keyed switch inside to the nav station, where the key will be sheltered and safe. This will also give me an alternative starter switch for testing the engine while working on it. Both switches will have to be "ON" for the ignition circuit to be active and for engine to start and run.


So, what's the general consensus? Does this idea make sense to other people or is it just my personal bugaboo?
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Old 16-07-2021, 22:00   #2
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Perfect, I agree with you. I keep considering the situation, and the only thing that keeps me from rerouting it right now is that I am not at the marina at the moment. I have been chewing on this a while, but had not considered moving the key switch inside. I rewired a tractor once to remove the key entirely, and it worked just fine for me. Of course, someone moving an International 504 High Clear beast down the road would have drawn attention in that neighborhood, and there was NO way anyone would have been able to start it without attracting attention. I installed a cherry bomb muffler on the stack!

If they did get it moving there was no synchronizer in the gears, so that grinding noise would have made a less dedicated thief reluctant to take her home if he was not attuned to revving her just right to get her into gear! Even then if he popped the clutch, he was going to be tossed dang near out of the seat, assuming he was able to keep her running! I miss that tractor, but I REALLY miss that pushbutton starter switch, was fine in the rain, and cost me maybe five or ten bucks at the local auto parts store. Was good for many years of hard use! I even changed out the voltage generator for an alternator, rebuilt the head, and gave her a wash when I first got her home. Those back tires were huge! I miss her...

Anyway, drift aside, you have a great idea I think. And even further, you can put the key switch inside a cabinet above the nav station. That way, you can lock the door when you leave if you are inclined, keeping the radio and costly electronics locked away when you are at the docks or in a yard. At least if you lose THAT key, you can remove the cabinet hinge without damage, while the fast crook may not make the effort to get into a locked cabinet on the fly. Save your electronics AND keep the starting key relatively secure.
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Old 16-07-2021, 22:20   #3
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

A simple robust, low profile switch or switch+button makes sense to me.
I've seen them at various times:
"Lost".
Broken.
Corroded in place so that they become a permanet fixture.
Corroded and then snapped off.
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Old 16-07-2021, 22:50   #4
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

My key stays in the lock at all times, Just in case its needed to start the engine by others,
I bought a new ignition switch, Because the key is bent and wont go back in the key hole with out great difficulty,
Its still only an Off - On switch,
Its in the cockpit Dash and covered with a clear plastic cover,

But nothing works if you dont turn on the main switch I installed to stop battery drain,
That one is also an anti theft device as you have to know where it is and its buried inside one of my lockers,
Then you also have to turn the remote diesel fuel pump on as well, Thats also hidden out of the way,
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Old 17-07-2021, 03:37   #5
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

In one of those, “ Did that just really happen?” moments, I once watched a main sheet line somehow get caught on the ignition key in the cockpit, during a tack, and launch it into the water about fifteen feet from the boat.

I also remember, trying to get our key out of the ignition in our cockpit, several months into a cruise, and finding it took a lot of WD40 and a whole bunch of jiggling, to even get it out of the ignition.
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Old 17-07-2021, 04:54   #6
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Quote:
Originally Posted by StuM View Post
A simple robust, low profile switch or switch+button makes sense to me.

That’s exactly what we have - just heat/start and stop buttons (plus tachometers/hour meter) in the cockpit and a pair of toggle switches tucked away inconspicuously in the salon to turn the ignitions on. No keys anywhere.
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Old 17-07-2021, 08:59   #7
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Our keyed switches were failing, so I rewired to covered toggle switches. Much easier and less problematic
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Old 17-07-2021, 09:19   #8
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Power on with push pull switch and a momentary push to start switch.
Working for me for years
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Old 17-07-2021, 09:20   #9
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

I tried to find a quarter turn switch to replace the key but no luck, so a few years ago I just put in a push/pull on off switch and no more key hassles.


Like it much better, as stated you have to gain access to the interior to turn the power on.
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Old 17-07-2021, 09:34   #10
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

My Beta weather proof (ish) engine control panel has no key, just rubber booted push buttons and gauges. Anyone who starts and steals my boat will have to take over the maintenance and costs, I’ll bet in a short while they will bring it back.
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Old 17-07-2021, 09:34   #11
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Quote:
Originally Posted by PerfectPirate View Post
Am I the only one, or one of very few, who think that it is pointless to have an engine ignition key in the cockpit of a sailboat? . . . So, what's the general consensus? Does this idea make sense to other people or is it just my personal bugaboo?
Actually that's one of the upgrades I'm considering. If and when I get around to that little project I also intend to get one of Blue Seas Weatherdeck switch panels so I can control the bow & stern, anchor, steaming and deck lights from the cockpit.

I really don't understand why any boat has those switches below decks.
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Old 17-07-2021, 09:45   #12
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

I have recently seen one of those Blue Seas Weatherdeck panels in the cockpit of a powerboat- totally corroded and useless.
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Old 17-07-2021, 10:02   #13
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

Would rather have a push button ignition but have a key ignition. I always keep engine battery on and key in the ignition ready to turn the engine, if necessary while reefing, traveling under a bridge., countering current, in a tight channel, etc. for safety while sailing.
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Old 17-07-2021, 10:04   #14
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

I’ll be the contrary opinion here I guess. I have ignition key in the salon but have on and off buttons at my piloting station. I have seen situations a couple of times when an emergency shut off was necessary ( traveling at night and coming upon a small boat with no lights). They were not visible from the lower station where the piloting was being done but the person hit the off button when they saw the boat. Also the start button has come in handy when piloting from the bridge and the engine “stalled” and needed a quick restart.
The buttons are simple on/off with red or black rubber boots. They are checked from time to time but have serviced for 25 yrs thus far.
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Old 17-07-2021, 10:17   #15
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Re: Are ignition keys pointless in the cockpit?

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Originally Posted by PerfectPirate View Post
Am I the only one, or one of very few, who think that it is pointless to have an engine ignition key in the cockpit of a sailboat?
(or most boats, save runabouts)

I agree. The explanation is that it's probably just easier to produce one engine panel with everything on it, including the ignition key.


One of the boat's I've worked on this year is a SeaRay. The "key" part is in the cabin, then there's 3 position OFF-ON-START buttons for each of the 2 engines. So there's full control from the helm position (including a kill).
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