Starting in 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,” the law was created 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. It does allow for the use of functional wireless attachments which activate the engine cut-off switch electronically if the boat operator falls overboard.
“Other states are also taking a close look at this legislation and the safety benefits it provides,” says Paul Petani of FELL Marine. “Sentiment for such laws is growing, and with good reason. According to the Coast Guard’s report, there were 172 accidents nationwide in 2017 involving a person being struck by a propeller,” he notes. “Those accidents resulted in 31 deaths and 162 injuries. Some could have been prevented if an engine cut-off switch had been in use.”
An engine cut-off switch usually is a lanyard that connects a boat operator to a special clip.
The clip attaches to a button or a switch on the boat to allow the engine to start and keep running. If the clip is pulled off, the engine will shut down. The lanyard is typically attached to a PFD, belt loop, or wrist. “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. The risk to anyone who ends up in the water is significant and real.”
In 2018 the federal government passed the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act. The Act includes a provision requiring boat and engine manufacturers, distributors, and dealers to install engine cut-off switches on new boats less than 26 feet. Unfortunately, that law does not compel boaters to actually use the devices. Currently, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, and Texas have mandatory engine cut-off switch laws in effect.
“Whether your state has an engine cut-off switch law or not, we recommend you have one on board and that you 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 it’s 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.”