According to a new federal law, the use of a safety lanyard and engine cut-off switch (aka a kill switch) is now mandatory on recreational powerboats under 26 feet operating in federally regulated waters, unless your boat has a helm inside a cabin or creates less than 115-pounds of thrust (about three horsepower).
Safety lanyards, which clip to a cut-off switch (also sometimes called a “kill” switch or an ECOS, for “engine cut off switch,”) and attach it to the boat driver’s clothing or PFD, are designed to yank the clip free and automatically shut off the boat’s engine if the driver is ejected from the helm. While the switches themselves have previously been found on virtually all modern powerboats under 26 feet, up until now, there’s never been any regulation stating that a captain had to actually use them.
This new regulation was included in the Elijah E. Cummings US Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020, which passed through congress on January first, and includes wording putting the measure into effect on or about April 1, 2021. Exclusions include vessels that were not built with a safety cut-off switch, and when a boat is being operated at displacement speeds.
Along with standard-issue lanyards, electronic cut-off switches have been deemed acceptable. These link the cut-off switch with an electronic key-fob style device, which the driver can put in her or her pocket, wear on a wristband, or wear around their neck on a lanyard. If the driver is ejected from the boat and the fob is submerged or goes more than 50 feet from the cut-off switch in the boat, it will automatically shut the engine(s) off.
Many boaters are unhappy at the prospect of wearing the cut-off lanyard as it can cause inadvertent shut-downs (particularly when the captain moves too far from the helm without first removing the lanyard). The lanyard can also potentially become tangled in gear and clothing and the clips on some can be frustratingly difficult to get on and off of a belt loop or ring. However, supporters of the new law believe that the use of safety lanyards could significantly reduce the number of boating injuries and fatalities. Seven states have previously initiated use requirements, though many more (44) require their use for PWCs only, rather than powerboats.
See the USCG FAQs on ECOS use.