Broken key in ignition switch

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Joe and Carol

We had a boat load of guests both days sailing last weekend.  And as some of you may have experienced, someone broke off the ignition key.  No problem. . . with a handy knife blade, we could turn the switch on and off.  Upon return to dock we extracted the broken key part and, believe it or not, found the six replacement keys we had made when we purchased the sailboat.  My question:  Is it worth the trouble to replace the keyed ignition with a more user friendly toggle or other kind of switch?   We could extend a guard over the key and design a new key head, but have any of you fixed this problem in a special way?
Joe & Carol Pyles

1987 Catalina 34 TR
Hull #244

Sailing Stockton Lake, Missouri

Stu Jackson

When the engine is off, remove the key and hook it with a short length of line over the kill handle.

If your guests break it when the engine is on, ya got a whole different issue.

You can always replace the key switch with nothing and put the switch down below.

Your boat, your choice.
Stu Jackson, C34 IA Secretary, #224 1986, "Aquavite"  Cowichan Bay, BC  Maple Bay Marina  SR/FK, M25, Rocna 10 (22#) (NZ model)

"There is no problem so great that it can't be solved."

David Sanner

I've had a key maker chop off most of the top
of the key and then drill a small hole in it.
That worked for awhile.

Removing the keys when the engine is off and
having many spares is our current method.

Hanging the keys off the kill lever is a good
one for quick access.  Bungee cord with a clip?

Always something to do on a boat.

David Sanner, #611 1988, "Queimada" San Francisco Bay

Ron Hill

Joe : I've neverheard of that problem before !
I agree with Stu, about removing the key during sailing, but if an emergency should happen that last thing I'd like to deal with is reinserting a key to get the engine started.

Get less clumsy guests?  Include the "key" in your normal safety briefing that you give to new guests!!
Maybe your idea of a guard may not be all that bad - for you.   A few thoughts
Ron, Apache #788

Stu Jackson

One of the other things that happens is the cockpit cushions start moving aft, even with very careful guests and crew.  I've stopped using our port cockpit cushion for two reasons:  that and the fact that it's easier to get into the port locker without a danged cushion in the way! :D

So guests, clumsy or not, may not be the only reason that keys get bent.  I inherited three bent keys from the PO!  And he was fastidious.

However, I have not yet found anything on a sailboat that would require me to move any faster than simply putting the key in the slot and turning it.  It takes all of four seconds or less to lift it up off the kill handle.  If you need it quicker than that, you've got way BIGGER issues than turning the engine on.  If it's been off for a while, you need the glow plugs anyway, right, which are way more time consuming than movin' the key.

So maybe try using the string through the key and hook it over the kill handle trick, or take the key out altogether and put a simple switch somewhere else.  You know, one of those danged toggle switches I have all over Aquavite. :D :D :D
Stu Jackson, C34 IA Secretary, #224 1986, "Aquavite"  Cowichan Bay, BC  Maple Bay Marina  SR/FK, M25, Rocna 10 (22#) (NZ model)

"There is no problem so great that it can't be solved."



I have been reading this post with interest. I am glad that when I re-powered, I decided to discard the old panel and install the gauges on the EP162 NavPod and fitted it on the pedestal. I really like how it turned out. The panel is out of the way but still accessible behind the wheel. I will try and include a picture if I can find it.

I got the marine primary wire from and wired the control panel from a scratch. I also moved the SS pipe that takes the wires down through the deck to the engine forward and differently than the standard Catalina install.

Just thought I would post this for information... :D :D
Mahendra, Sea Fever, Pearson 10M, #43, Oakland, CA

Ron Volk

We had that problem just two weeks ago, my wife & I were out sailing and I was sitting on the rail above the instrument panel with my feet up, when I went to stand up in the cockpit my foot slid down the panel cover, hit the key & snapped it off well inside the switch.  I worked at it for about 1/2 an hour trying to get the broken part out but couldn't do it so I took the cover off and then unscrewed the panel and shorted the contacts on the back of the switch with a screw driver to get the engine running.  Back in port I took the switch out & worked on it until the broken piece fell out.  My thought at the time was that I need to remove the key while sailing.  I think the idea of hanging it on the kill switch with a line or bungee would be a good idea.  All the time I was sitting on the cockpit floor working on the switch I missed a large pod of dolphins and a blue whale go by.       
Ron - GOOSE III - Hull 1235 - 1993
Tall Rig - Fin Keel
Dana Point, CA

Ted Pounds

When I was sailing with the engine off I would close the intake thru-hull (just as a safety precaution).  Then I would take the key out and hang it in the bathroom to remind me to open the thru-hull.  I guess that also ensured that the key never got broken off while sailing...  8)
Ted Pounds
"Molly Rose"
1987 #447

Stu Jackson

Ted, that's a good idea.  Only downside is the time, as Ron said, to restart the engine.  One day I was being assailed by a huge tanker who'd just weighed anchor and was quietly slipping up behind me as the wind was dying.  I needed to get going right away and not disappear down below.  I sail singlehanded quite often.  We've also sailed for the past 12 years with the intake thru hull open with no issues.  We leave the thru hulls open when we're on board for overnights have had not issues either.  But this is from a guy who keeps his head valve open, too, even though the sticker says: "Important, Important, Important, Close Thru Hull Valve to Head!!!"  Your boat, your choice. :D :D :D  We do, however, ALWAYS close all thru hulls when we leave the boat.
Stu Jackson, C34 IA Secretary, #224 1986, "Aquavite"  Cowichan Bay, BC  Maple Bay Marina  SR/FK, M25, Rocna 10 (22#) (NZ model)

"There is no problem so great that it can't be solved."

Ron Hill

Guys, Susan and D. Gill : If C34 owners are breaking off the key, the only real solution is to fabricate a guard over the top to protect the key.
I hope that no one ever gets the idea to turn the key off while the engine is running, as you (depending which V regulator you have) just might send your alternator into "after burner"!!  A thought
Ron, Apache #788

Momentum M

Ron you've got me puzzled here.

Usually when I stop the engine I turn the key first and then pull on the lever (motor at idle).  Is this wrong?
Or do you mean that (depending of your system) turning the key when underway (IE: higher RPM) then one run a risk of damaging the system.


Serge & Carole Cardinal
C 34 Mk II 2005 - 1719
Wing Keel
Fresh water, Ontario Lake, Canada/Usa
On Hard from Oct to May

Ron Hill

Serge : The proper procedure is to pull the fuel cut off First - that stops the engine (fuel starvation) and then Second - turn off the key switch.

That's what your Engine Operators Manual also instructs !!

The reason for this procedure is that some voltage regulators take their battery voltage sensing from the key switch.  If the Voltage regulator suddenly sees "0" voltage it could and usually will crank up the alternator to take care of that "problem" and get the batteries recharged again !!  

Know your systems(aboard YOUR boat).   A thought
Ron, Apache #788

Kyle Ewing

I experienced the broken key problem, too.  My fix was to replace the ignition key with an on / off / momentary switch.  I used a Cole Hersee 95612-BX.  Wiring was identical to the switch I had.  I'm reviving this old thread because I had a hard time finding something that would work and wanted to share.

Regarding security, I always turn off the engine battery switch when away from the boat.  Besides, if a thief wanted the boat bad enough and couldn't find the key down below, it'd take him all of five minutes to replace the ignition switch with his own.
Kyle Ewing
Donnybrook #1010
Belmont Harbor, Chicago