Vessel Cutoff Law Now In Effect

OCEAN CITY — New federal requirements on engine cutoff devices, or kill switches, went into effect this week, impacting the resort’s boating and fishing community.

Starting April 1, the U.S. Coast Guard recently announced it will begin enforcing a new federal regulation included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act on engine cutoff switches (ECOS) for certain smaller vessels in federal waters. ECOS, commonly referred to as kill switches, will be required for all operators of boats under 26 feet in length with three or more horsepower.

The new federal law requires the operator of a boat with an installed ECOS to use a link, typically a coiled bungee-style lanyard clipped to the operator, a personal floatation device or other clothing.

When an operator is wearing a link while underway, the engine will cut off if the operator is separated from the helm for any reason. For example, if the operator is ejected from the vessel or falls within the vessel, the engine would stop. The law change is rooted in safety.

Serious injuries or death can occur when an operator loses control of a vessel for a variety of reasons and the propeller or propellers continue to operate when an operator or passengers end up in the water. ECOS prevent runaway vessels continuing on course with no one at the helm, or from running in circles and striking an ejected operator or passengers.

For example, in 2019, a woman and a child were ejected from a small power boat near the Indian River Inlet and the vessel continued circling in a high-traffic area with people in the water until Delaware Natural Resources Police were able to board it and shut it down.

Most vessels for years have been equipped with ECOS, which are typically located at the helm or on an outboard motor that connect the operator to the kill switch. Some ECOS eliminate the lanyard connected to the operator and rely on wireless devices to effectively shut down the vessel if the operator is separated from the helm.

Exceptions to the new ECOS requirement is if the main helm of the vessel is in an enclosed cabin or the vessel is not operating on-plane or at a displacement speed. For example, low speed activities such as fishing, traveling in “no wake” areas or docking do not require the use of an ECOS. Though the Coast Guard promises to enforce it, education and outreach will likely be the focus before civil penalties, including a potential $1,000 fine, are meted out.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.