What Is An Outboard Lanyard, Kill Switch, Or Kill Cord?


One thing that every single outboard engine set up has in the rigging, is a lanyard. Whether it is called a kill switch, kill cord, pull cord, lanyard, or any other name. The main issue is what is it, and why is it important?

What Is An Outboard Kill Switch? An outboard kill switch is a cord that is used to attach the boat operator to a switch that will stop the engine from running, in the event that the operator is thrown from the boat, or falls out of the captain’s chair. This is a safety switch to help prevent a boat operator from being run over and killed by the boat if this should happen.

You may have many questions about the kill switch and this article is going to clearly answer all of the major things that you need to know about an outboard kill switch!

What Is A Lanyard & How To Use It

Within every outboard engine rigging, there is a lanyard or kill cord. This is a cord that is designed to attach to the operator of the boat. The kill switch can be called a number of different names.

Whether it is called a lanyard, kill switch, kill cord or some other name the functionality is the same. What this device does. Is it attaches to the operator of the boat to a switch in the console by a small red cord.

Then what that switch does, is that it shuts off the engine if the red cord is pulled off of the switch. So in order to use the kill switch. You just simply attach the red cord to your shirt, your lifevest, your shorts or bathing suit, and that’s it!

Why It Is Important To Have & Use The Lanyard.

The importance of the lanyard is all about safety. Especially on faster boats such as speed boats, bass boats, flats boats, bay boats, and other smaller, extremely fast boats.

The reason for this is because in the event that the driver is thrown out of the boat or out of the captain’s chair. Then the boat is going to continue moving at the same rate of speed, with no one operating it!

On single-engine boats what happens is, that the engine will turn all the way to one side and begin doing circles. At the same RPM’s that the operator was running when they were thrown out of the boat!

(You can read these articles that we wrote here for a better understanding of why the engine goes all the way over to one side. Why A Boat Pulls To The Right or Left. and Rotary Vs. Rack & Pinion Boat Steering: Which Is Better?)

The issue with this is that if the person was thrown from the boat. Then the boat begins to circle. What has happened many times is that the person in the water, gets run over by the boat.

In most cases, the propeller ends up killing the person! Which is what makes the lanyard so important to understand.

When Is The Most Important Time To Be Using The Lanyard?

Understanding what, how, and why the kill switch operates. This means we can use judgment about when to use the lanyard.

It’s obvious that you can’t be running around the boat fishing while wearing the lanyard. And you don’t really need to have it on while you’re hanging out at the sandbar.

This is why it’s all about judgment.

It’s up to you as the operator to understand and use the lanyard when it is needed.

Mostly when cruising and when operating at wide-open throttle is when the lanyard is going to be most important to use.

How Outboard Kill Switches Operate.

The kill switch is a simple on and off switch. What it does is, for most manufacturers, is that it is usually in the off position.

Whenever the lanyard is pulled, the switch will turn on. That will send a signal to the engine, which will then cut the ignition system of the engine off.

In other cases, the lanyard is in reverse of this and is in the on position when the lanyard is hooked up.

When the lanyard is pulled, the switch goes to off and will send the same signal to the engine. Telling it to shut off the ignition system.

This immediately kills the engine and the boat will just slow down and then come to a standstill. Or float into whatever is in its path!

Can You Bypass A Kill Switch?

As almost anything in life, where there’s a will, there is away. Yes, you can definitely bypass the kill switch. Depending on which style you have.

If the switch is open when the lanyard is on, then disconnecting the wires will bypass it.

If the switch is closed when the lanyard is on. Then by plugging the two wires together, it will bypass it.

We do not advise that you bypass your switch.

We recommend that you fix it, if it is broken, and use it when it is necessary!

If you are wanting to bypass the kill switch in your boat. It is most likely because there is something wrong and it needs to be fixed. There isn’t much to these systems so it is something that you could fix one evening and saving yourself some hassle!

Boat Kill Switch Laws.

Most states do not have specific laws that pertain to wearing a kill switch. But there are some that do. There are a lot of variables surrounding the issue and it is something that if you are questioning it.

Then you should just do a quick search on your local government’s website, or give them a call and ask them.

This is really due to recent accidents where states like Texas have enacted new laws requiring lanyard usage. Which is why it is best for you to double-check your location if you are questioning it.

It all comes down to safety and making sure we are taking preventative measures when it comes to every boater’s life.

Most laws that are surrounding the kill switch and lanyards are between manufactures, the NMMA, and the ABYC. As the years go on, we may see more laws come into play around the usage of lanyards.

Whether other states follow suit with Texas, and to what extent. We will just have to wait and see.

Bluetooth Kill Switches.

Bluetooth kill switches are a relatively newer device. That has only been out on the market for a few years now, but is a pretty cool device.

They work in the same basic way that the normal OEM kill switch does. With the exception of having to clip the kill cord physically to you.

The way that they work instead, is that they have a key fob that you can just stick in your pocket.

Whenever the key fob gets wet, it kills the engine! Just like pulling the lanyard on the age-old standard kill switch! They are really catching on in certain applications.

Especially on smaller bass boats, bully net boats, and other low gunwale fast boats. They are also relatively cheap and can be gotten on Amazon!

Check Us Out!

Now that you now all about lanyards and kill switches. Here are some other articles that you will find super helpful!

How To Tie Up A Boat! Don’t Wake Up With it Underwater!

How To Rent A Boat: Don’t Get Taken To The Cleaners! Know This!

You can also check us out on our Youtube channel where we create all kinds of how-to and DIY videos!

Aaron Hilligoss

Aaron has been working in the Marine Industry for over a decade and holds certifications for Yamaha and Mercury Marine. It is not uncommon for him to own and be working on at least three different boats at any given point in time!

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