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New law to help decrease boating accident injuries, fatalities

| Apr 14, 2021 | Maritime And Admiralty Law

The polite name for the life-saving device is “engine cut-off switch” (ECOS). In common usage, however, it’s known as a kill switch. Both names describe the switch’s function: it immediately turns off a boat’s engine.

The ECOS or kill switch can save the life of the boat operator or a passenger who unexpectedly falls overboard while the boat’s moving. The danger is immediate: the person in the water can be struck by the boat or its moving propellors, or both.

Boating accident injuries in these situations can be severe and even deadly.

Out of control

An uncontrolled, still-running powerboat winds up going in a circle – known as the Circle of Death – until it runs out of fuel or hits another boat or dock.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently announced a law requiring an ECOS and engine cut-off switch link (ECOSL) on all recreational vehicles less than 26 feet long.

Two attachment spots

According to the Coast Guard, the ECOSL attaches the operator to a cut-off switch close to the helm, usually with a lanyard-type cord. If the boat’s operated with a tiller, the ECOS is attached directly to the outboard motor.

It should be noted that there are now wireless engine cut-off switch links that are legal to use instead of a lanyard. Boat operators using a wireless ECOSL carry an electronic fob that senses when it’s submerged in water. It then activates the ECOS, which turns the engine off.

Annual accidents

The Coast Guard says that every year there are recreational boat operators who fall off or are unexpectedly thrown out of their boats – incidents that end in injuries and deaths.

In some cases, the boat continues on its course, and in others, it “begins to circle the person in the water eventually striking them, often with the propeller.”

The runaway boats can put a number of people in danger:

  • The ejected operator in the water
  • Other waterway users
  • Marine law enforcement officers
  • First responders

A look at the law

The 2018 Coast Guard Authorization Act requires makers of recreational boats less than 26 ft. in length to equip the vessels with an ECOS. The most recent Authorization Act requires individuals operating recreational vessels less than 26 ft. in length to use ECOSL while operating on plane or above displacement speed.

In simpler terms, the ECOS “doesn’t need to be attached when the vessel is idling or performing docking maneuvers,” the Coast Guard says.

The new law will hopefully decrease the number of boating accidents that result in terrible injuries and tragic fatalities to operators, passengers and other boaters.