Law requires switch use on newer boats
SENECA LAKE--Starting April 1 all recreational boating vessels less than 26 feet in length and produced after January 1, 2020 will be required to use an engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL). The change comes as the U.S. Coast Guard implements the recently passed Congressional law. While vessels purchased after December 2019 have been mandated to be equipped with ECOS, many older boats do not have the feature and are not required to be updated to include it. However, if it is present on an applicable vessel, it needs to be used whenever on plane or above displacement speed.
Similar to what many personal watercrafts have, an ECOS link system is commonly a lanyard worn on the wrist that attaches to a switch that can cut the boat's engine if the operator moves too far from the control station. The killing of the engine is meant to prevent a runaway boat as most boat throttles remain at the position the operator selects, much like a cruise control on a car.
"Each year, the Coast Guard receives reports of recreational vessel operators who fall off or are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown out of their boat," the Coast Guard said in the announcement of the regulation. "These events have led to injuries and deaths. During these incidents the boat continues to operate with no one in control of the vessel, leaving the operator stranded in the water as the boat continues on course, or the boat begins to circle the person in the water eventually striking them, often with the propeller."
Wireless ECOS, which have also been developed and are approved for use, remove the concept of the lanyard entirely and instead use an electronic 'fob' that senses when it is submerged in water and then sends a signal that automatically cuts off the engine.
According to the Coast Guard, the new regulations are a result of the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020. Under the act, it specifically requires individuals operating covered recreational vessels that are less than 26 feet in length, with an engine capable of 115 lbs. or more of static thrust, which equates to about 3 horsepower or more, to have an ECOS installed and in use while operating above displacement speed. ECOSL is not required when the main helm is within an enclosed cabin and under common situations such as docking or trailering, trolling, and operating in no-wake zones.
A selected number of questions and answers from the coast guard are below to help explain the law.
Q: My boat doesn't have an engine cut-off switch, do I need to install one?
A: No, unless the boat was built on or after Jan. 1, 2020. The installation requirement applies to manufacturers, distributors and dealers of "covered recreational vessels" after Jan. 1, 2020. For those boats, an engine cut-off switch must be installed and the owner is required to maintain it.
Q: My new 25-foot boat that I purchased in 2020 has an Engine Cut-Off Switch installed by the manufacturer. Do I need to use it?
A: Yes. Assuming the main helm is not in an enclosed cabin. Because your boat is less than 26-feet and equipped with an engine cut-off switch installed by the manufacturer, you will need to use it while the boat is on plane or above displacement speed.
Q: I bought my 22-foot boat many years ago and it did not have an engine cut-off device installed by the manufacturer, so last year I added a new wireless engine cut-off device. Am I required to use it?
A: Yes. If an engine cut-off switch is present, it must be used.
Q: My 22-foot boat (1995 model) had an engine cut-off switch but it was removed by a prior owner many years ago, leaving a hole at the helm. Do I need to repair it and use it?
A: No. However, the Coast Guard recommends that you repair the switch and use it when operating on plane or above displacement speed.
Additional information can be seen at https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/engine-cut-off-switch-faq.php.