Most modern Sea-Doo PWCs use a digital key, called DESS, to lock your jet ski, and it doubles as the kill switch in case you fall off.
A super common question, often out of frustration, is if you can bypass the Sea-Doo DESS key system? Bypassing the DESS key is not possible, and there is a good reason for it that I’ll cover.
Can You Bypass A Sea-Doo DESS Key?
If your Sea-Doo jet ski has a DESS key, you cannot bypass it or force it to start without having that key.
Do keep in mind that not every Sea-Doo has a DESS key. The lower-end Sparks don’t have a DESS key, and any key with a magnet can power them on.
There is no magic button or wiring you can pull to trick a Sea-Doo into starting. Even jumping the contacts on the starter relay won’t work because the DESS key is needed to power on the fuel pump.
Swapping out the computer or MPEM won’t always work, as those need to be programmed to each machine and match up with the other computers on board.
You simply can’t bypass a Sea-Doo key if you don’t have the programming hardware and software from BRP.
If you have a CanDoo programmer, you could make a new key:
What Is A DESS Key?
A DESS key is a Digital Encoded Security System made by BRP for their line-up of power sports machines.
This key is digitally programmed to your Sea-Doo, and only it can start your Sea-Doo.
Most models of Sea-Doo’s allow you to have up to 8 keys programmed to it, and they can only be programmed by a certified Sea-Doo dealership. Or anyone with the 3rd party programmer that have reverse engineered Sea-Doo’s system.
How Sea-Doo Keys Work?
The design of the key is very simple and has been through a few changes.
The first key was a magnet with metal contacts that went to a ROM chip. The magnet triggered the jet ski to power on and read the key from the metal contacts. The magnet also works as a kill switch, in that once it’s removed, the engine shuts off. The latest design still use a magnet as a kill switch but now use an RF signal as it’s more reliable.
The key itself has a number assigned to it when it was made, stored inside its chip. When the jet ski is programmed, the software BRP gives to dealers tells the jet ski that key’s number is allowed to start this engine. Sea-Doo even allows you to program a normal, learning and a rental key to the jet ski.
All DESS keys are the same, but some have different colors or labeling to help owners know which keys do what. You can make your slow or learning key into a fast key if you want.
Can You Start A Sea-Doo Without The Key?
To have the engine running on a Sea-Doo, you need the correct key. The correct key is one that has been programmed to your Sea-Doo beforehand.
A Sea-Doo can be powered on to check the gauges and run the radio if you press the start button once with no key on it. But without the correct key, the Sea-Doo’s engine will not start.
If you have a Sea-Doo with a non-DESS key, any key with a magnet will start it.
What Year Did Sea-Doo Start Using DESS Keys?
Sea-Doo started releasing and using DESS keys in 1996.
Sea-Doo also released 4-stroke models in 2002, so there are several 2-stroke Sea-Doo that have a DESS key and every 4-stroke has one, except for a few lower-end model Sparks.
What’s interesting is that a few older Sea-Doo’s with the older DESS system may not be programmable by every dealership. Some dealerships still use a handheld system that was needed for the early DESS models. Sea-Doo later went with a PC software setup with a USB adaptor. Don’t be put off if a dealership says they can’t or won’t program your older Sea-Doo key, as many don’t have the programmer that is not made anymore. Some aftermarket programmers can still program these older machines, so you may need to avoid dealerships and go with your local repair shop instead.
In 2015 Sea-Doo moved to the claw style DESS key instead of the round plug with the metal connectors. This was mostly to do with many customers having trouble with the old style, they had a hard time attaching and getting it to read. The metal would wear out, break, or people just didn’t put it on hard enough. The new claw style works a lot better and is more reliable.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Sea-Doo Key?
Every dealership is different, but the general rule is that it cost about $200 to replace a Sea-Doo key. This includes the cost of the key and the labor to program it. It usually takes 10 minutes to program a Sea-Doo key, the software can be slow sometimes.
Some dealerships may do the programming for free if you buy the key at full price, but it depends on the dealership.
The price of the Sea-Doo DESS key has risen quite a bit and may be hard to come by due to chip shortages. The prices may even continue to increase, so be on the lookout if they do.
How Many Keys Does Sea-Doo Give You?
Before 2020, it was common to get two DESS keys with every Sea-Doo. One was the normal key and the other was a learning key.
Now it’s common to only get one key with your Sea-Doo, which is the normal key.
You can still get a learning key or rental key if you want, but Sea-Doo has deemed it not needed to give you multiple keys. To be honest, most people lose their learning key anyway, as no one wants to use “the slow key”.
The learning key is a great selling feature but with the rise of different driving modes like touring and ECO people tend to rather use that instead of swapping keys.
Can Sea-Doo DESS Be Deactivated?
It is possible to deactivate your Sea-Doo DESS key system so that any Sea-Doo key can start your jet ski.
This requires going to the dealership and having them hook it up to “BUDS” and deactivating it.
You will lose the security the key provides, but you’ll still have a kill switch that will turn the engine off if you fall off and the key was properly attached.