Are Jet Ski Keys Universal?

Let me guess, you lost the key to your jet ski? It’s okay, we’ve all been there.  As hard as you try, sometimes, keys just get lost or damaged.  Now, you’re probably wondering what to do next and you might have some questions. Are jet ski keys universal? Can you just buy another one online? Can you take the spare to a dealer to have a copy made?

Well before we can answer these questions, first we need to define what we mean by the word “key.” Most jet skis today actually have two different tools that are both referred to as keys, even though they have different functions: there are the “keys” that function as the security system for the jet ski, and there are the kill-switch “keys” that must be attached to the engine start button in order to turn the engine on and which automatically shut the engine off if you fall in the water while riding (which not all jet skis even have).  The answer to these questions depends on which kind of key you are talking about.

 Many older jet skis do in fact have universal keys. Newer jet skis have keys that function as the jet ski’s security system, such as the Sea-Doo DESS key, are not.  These types of jet ski keys are individually programmed to each watercraft they are designed to operate.  Each of the three major jet ski manufacturers—Sea-Doo, Kawasaki, and Yamaha—have different key systems that pair uniquely with individually-owned jet skis and if you break or lose your key, you’ll have to go to the dealer to buy a new one and have it re-programmed.

Sea-Doo DESS Keys

Sea-Doo designed a special kind of key for their jet-skies called a DESS key. DESS stands for Digitally Encoded Security System.  Almost all Sea-Doo models (except some Sparks) require a DESS key to be turned on. 

The DESS keys have two key parts: a magnet and a ROM chip. The magnet tells the jet ski to read the code encrypted on the ROM chip.  Each key has a different code, and each jet ski is capable of reading up to 8 different keys.  This is where the DESS keys get complicated. 

When you buy a new Sea-Doo, you will receive both a fast key and a learning key to operate the two different speed modes of the jet ski.  The codes on each key are different, so you can’t use one to re-program the other if it gets lost.  Instead, you have to take the whole watercraft to a dealer to buy a new key and have it programmed to the jet ski. The dealer will also have to cross-reference the jet ski’s VIN number with a stolen boat database to ensure that you are the actual owner of the jet ski.

It’s also important to note that Sea-Doo changed the design of its DESS key system in 2015, so you need to make sure you get the right key for your particular model depending on when you purchased it. 

Replacing a Lost DESS Key

As stated above, lost or broken DESS keys have to be replaced at a dealer or repair shop.  You will have to take the whole watercraft into the dealer for this to be done; you cannot just take a spare key or a key with a different operating mode. 

Replacing a lost DESS key can vary in price depending on the dealer you take it to. On average, it costs $50-100 for the key and programming, but some people claim to have spent as much as $200.

To avoid the hassle of having to bring in the whole jet ski, it’s not a bad idea to have a spare made and programmed when you take your Sea-Doo in for annual maintenance.  That way, you have a backup if one gets lost.

Kawasaki Immobilizer-Function Keys

Kawasaki’s immobilizer-function keys work very similarly to Sea-Doo’s DESS key system.  When you get a new jet-ski, you will receive a couple sets of keys that are encoded to match the jet-ski’s electronic control unit (ECU).  There are separate keys for SLO-Mode and FPO (fast)-mode.

These keys need to be in place and the codes embedded in the keys must match the code in the ECU or an alarm will sound. 

Replacing a Lost Immobilizer-Function Key

If you lose a key to your Kawasaki Jet-Ski, you’ll have to bring any remaining keys and the watercraft to a dealer to have a new key programmed.  New keys cost between $85-170 to replace and reprogram.

Unfortunately, you have to have at least one working key that is registered to the ECU to reprogram a new key. If you don’t have any keys, you’ll have to buy a whole new ECU. A new ECU can cost on average $400-600 (with some as high as $800), so if you lose one of your keys, get a new one made ASAP or you could be in big trouble if the other goes missing.

Yamaha WaveRunner “Keys”

Yamaha WaveRunners don’t use keys. Instead, they have alternative security measures in place to protect the jet ski from theft or misuse, but they vary based on series.

The Yamaha VX series and most older WaveRunners use a remote-control transmitter instead of a standard key.  This transmitter is encrypted with a code that the watercraft is designed to recognize.  The transmitter allows you to electronically “lock” and “unlock” the watercraft. 

The FX series, Yamaha’s luxury class of jet skis, improves upon the remote-control transmitter design by replacing it with an onboard security system accessible from the watercraft’s multi-function information center.  The jet ski is locked/unlocked using a pin instead of an external remote. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry about losing your “key.”

Some Yamahas, such as the EX series, don’t even have keys, which makes them significantly less secure than other options, which is something to consider if you are in the market, but at least you don’t have to worry about losing a key.

Replacing a Lost Remote-Control Transmitter

Both older WaveRunners and new VX series models use remote control transmitters in place of standard keys.  If you lose your remote-control transmitter, or if it is damaged beyond repair (P.S. they’re not waterproof), you will have to contact the dealer to have it replaced. New transmitters typically cost $70-150 and having them programmed at the dealer typically costs $25-50.

Replacing a lost remote-control transmitter can be more or less inconvenient depending on the circumstances under which it was lost.  The two main functions of the transmitter are to lock/unlock the jet ski’s engine and to switch between normal operation mode and low RPM mode. 

If you lose the transmitter out on the water while operating in normal mode, you will still be able to use your jet ski until you get a new transmitter, you just won’t be able to switch into low RPM mode or lock the jet ski’s engine.  Instead, you’ll have to find a different means of securing the jet ski while not in use.

Ideally, you really don’t want to lose the transmitter while the engine is off and locked because if you do, you won’t be able to unlock and use the jet ski until you get a new transmitter. Some people don’t even use their transmitters for this very reason. Rather than risk losing the remote, they simply keep the jet ski unlocked and use a different means of preventing theft.

Honda Aquatrax Keys

Honda uses a universal key with a personal PIN that can be used to lock and unlock the jet ski. This is great as it is very cheap to replace the key with a universal key as well as keep the watercraft secure while not in use.

If you happen to forget your PIN number, you will have to contact a dealer to get the PWC unlocked, so make sure to write it down in a few secure spots.

Jet Skis Pre 1996

Many jet skis before 1996 had universal keys that can easily be replaced if lost. This makes them easy to steal and operate. Consider locking up your jet ski with a cable lock through the bow eye loop while at the dock or buying a battery shut off switch with a key to prevent anyone from easily taking your jet ski for a joyride.

Tips for Avoiding a Lost/Broken Key

In a perfect world, we simply wouldn’t lose keys and would never have to worry about replacing them.  But of course, we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. Things get lost and broken sometimes.  That being said, there are some precautions you can take to reduce your chances of losing your jet ski keys or having them damaged.

  1. Always keep a spare at home in a safe location. Almost all jet skis, regardless of the type of key, come with a spare. Be sure to keep the spare somewhere safe.  Don’t use the spare, just keep it so you have it in the event of a lost/broken key.
  2. Always put your key in the same place. For your main key, always store it in the same location. If you keep it in the same place at all times, you are less likely to mislay it. Teach other riders in the family to do the same.
  3. Keep key on a floating lanyard. If your jet ski has an actual key, like Sea-Doos and Kawasakis do, be sure to keep the key on a floating lanyard so that if it falls out while you are riding, the key won’t sink. If you have a WaveRunner, store the remote-control transmitter in a floating dry bag so if it ends up in the water, it won’t be damaged by the water or sink. You can purchase such lanyards on Amazon for around $20-25. They often come with added accessories like extra kill switch keys and a whistle.
  4. Consider buying a key finder. If you are prone to misplacing keys (or have children who are) you might want to look into an electronic key finder.  These key finders, such as this one from Tile, are paired with an app on your phone that you can use to find your keys if you misplace them. They’re also water-resistant, which is an added bonus.
  5. Look into programming options. If you have multiple jet skis, you might be able to have them all programmed to work with the same key.  There are limits on the number of skis that can be programmed to one set of keys but having as many of your skis as possible programmed to the same key will prevent key mix-ups and/or issues if a set gets lost.
  6. Protect keys from magnets, heavy objects, and excessive heat. Both Sea-Doo keys and Kawasaki keys have internal magnet systems that can be damaged if you keep the key near other magnets. They also have plastic components that can crack and prevent the keys from working.  All three major jet ski brands use keys that should be kept away from excessive heat in order to prevent damage. Additionally, WaveRunner transmitters aren’t waterproof, so they need to be kept out of the water.

Other Important Things to Know about Jet Ski Keys

  • Call the dealer before you show up to buy a replacement key. If you need a replacement, call the dealer to see what you’ll need to bring with you when you come in.  Some jet skis, such as Sea-Doos, require you to bring in the whole watercraft in order to re-program a new key. You can’t just give them your spare key or VIN number.  You may need additional information as well, such as proof of ownership and warranty paperwork, if applicable.
  • Universal Kill Switch Keys. On the bright side, there is an additional key you will need for your jet ski that is universal.  All jet ski brands have an automatic engine kill switch so that if you fall off the jet ski, the engine automatically shuts off. These plastic keys need to be in place in order to turn on the engine.  However, if you lose them, they’re very easy to replace and are universal to all jet ski brands.  They are often sold along with a floating lanyard/key chain, such as this one from Amazon.
  • Used Jet Ski Keys/Security Systems. Jet ski keys and security systems vary by brand, series, and year, so it’s important to understand what kinds of security systems and keys your jet ski uses.  Most older jet skis just have the universal kill switch keys, so if one gets lost, you can simply order another one.  On the other hand, older/used jet skis may or may not have an additional onboard safety system in place. Some Honda Aquatrax, for example, have security systems with personal ID numbers that you will need to know before you can start the engine. If you forget the PIN number, you may have a very difficult time getting the jet ski started because there aren’t Honda PWC dealers around anymore.


Jet skis are not like cars when it comes to keys.  For your car, you have one key and one key fob, both of which do the same thing and perform all locking/unlocking and starting functions.  Jet skis are a little different.

Most new jet skis have both a key that operates the onboard security system and a kill switch key that will stop the engine if you fall off while riding.  Although kill switch keys are universal regardless of brand/year/model, jet ski keys that operate the ski’s onboard security system are NOT universal, and they are not exactly easily replaceable either. 

Whether you have a Sea-Doo, Kawasaki, or Yamaha, make sure you understand whether or not your jet ski uses a key system (some smaller models like the Sea-Doo Spark and WaveRunner EX don’t) and what replacing a lost key would entail. Most of the time, if you lose a key, you will have to take the entire watercraft into a dealer in order to purchase a new key and have it re-programmed.

Most importantly, if you can, try to take preventative measures to avoid losing or breaking your jet ski key.  Keep all keys in a secure location when not in use, have extras on hand when you can, and consider ways that you can minimize the risk of losing them, such as investing in a key finder or registering multiple jet skis to the same sets of keys. It’s also not a bad idea to have a spare made when you take your jet ski in for annual maintenance, if possible.

Following these guidelines will prevent you from the inconvenience of having to spend a lot of money to replace and re-program your keys later on.