Starting this September, Texas boaters aboard vessels measuring 26 feet or more in length will be operating under a new engine cut-off switch law. Called “Kali’s Law” in recognition of 16-year-old Kali Gorzell who died in 2012 after being struck and killed by the propeller of a boat from which she had been ejected, the new regulation requires boat operators to be physically connected to a vessel’s emergency shut off switch. The law also allows for the use of functional wireless attachments which activate the engine cut-off switch electronically if the boat operator falls overboard. Texas already had a similar law for PWC on the books.
“Other states are also taking a close look at this legislation and the safety benefits it provides,” says Paul Petani, sales director at FELL Marine (www.fellmarine.com),a Norwegian developer and manufacturer of marine electronics that specializes in wireless safety technology and offers a variety of wireless man overboard systems. “Sentiment for such laws is growing, and with good reason. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics report, there were 172 accidents nationwide during 2017 in which at least one person was struck by a propeller,” he notes. “Those accidents resulted in 31 deaths and 162 injuries. Some could have been prevented if a kill switch had been in use.”
An engine cut-off switch (aka: ignition safety switch, man overboard device, automatic engine cutoff), usually sees a lanyard used to connect a boat operator to a special clip that attaches to a button or a switch on the boat in order for the engine to start or continue running. Should the clip be pulled off the button or switch, the engine instantly shuts down. Drivers typically attach the lanyard to their PFD, belt loop or wrist. Wearing an engine cut-off device eliminates the possibility of being hit by the boat or PWC - or struck by a spinning engine propeller as was Gorzell - if the driver is ejected.
“If the driver is thrown overboard for any reason, most boats will end up turning in circles,” notes Petani. “That puts the person in the water at great risk of being run over. Flats fishing boats designed for operation in shallow water may also turn in circles, but if a driver falls overboard at medium to high speeds, these vessels might spin violently out of control. Just as with a vessel turning in circles, the risk to anyone who ends up in the water is significant and real.”
Interestingly, the federal government in 2018 passed the Frank Lobiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act, which included a provision requiring boat and engine manufacturers, distributors and dealers to install engine cutoff switches on new boats less than 26 feet in overall in length and capable of developing 115 pounds or more of static thrust. Unfortunately, that law does not compel boaters to actually use the devices, thus state statutes like the new Texas law. Currently, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas have mandatory engine cut-off switch laws in effect. It is surprising that more coastal states have yet to put a similar law on the books.
“Whether your state has a engine cut-off switch law on the books or not, we recommend you have one on board and use it whenever operating your vessel,” says Coast Guard operations unit controller John Olsen. “It just makes sense for your engine to shut down if you’ve been removed from the helm. Whether a traditional lanyard-style or a wireless model, engine cut-off switches save lives. Always wear your life jacket, boat sober, take a boating course before assuming helm duties – and attach that engine cut-off switch. Follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a safe day on the water.”
This video is a great example as to why. Watch here.
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