Own a vessel less than 26 feet in length? Prepare to be safer out on the water.
A decision that will no doubt have far-reaching boating safety implications has finally been announced: An engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and accompanied ECOS link (ECOSL) is now a must for recreational boaters. The U.S. Coast Guard shared the new mandate, which involves vessels less than 26 feet in length and becomes effective April 1, 2021. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 spells out the mandate, which is found in Section 8316.
Any captain can tell you that the ECOSL has the potential to save lives. Attaching the vessel operator to a switch allows the engine to immediately shut off in the event that the vessel is displaced. Instead of engines churning an out of control vessel into danger, the captain with an ECOSL has the ability to right the craft and potentially prevent disaster. It’s a preventive measure; many have argued for years that it’s a vital one.
Here’s how it works: A cord fixed to an ECOS close to the helm or even affixed to the motor itself senses tension. If that tension occurs, the ECOSL released itself from the ECOS. This means the motor ceases to run, and this happens automatically. This is a vast improvement upon the other way a driver of a boat would respond to an out of control situation. And it’s so easy to operate; all it takes in most situations is for the driver of a vessel to don a lanyard that triggers an engine shutoff when overstretched.
Imagine the implications of this safety protocol: You’re driving a vessel and navigating through beautiful blue water – until something happens and the boat spirals out of control. In that quick moment, it is possible that the captain will be able to shut off the engines. It’s also possible that the panic may cause that person to freeze, or that the sudden turbulence or rogue wave has swept him/her off the helm. Such situations arise often out on the water, where conditions can morph from predictably calm to turbulent in a moment.
Now, engine shutoff in such a situation is a foregone conclusion. The ECOS and accompanying ECOS link ensure it. And that captain, who may have otherwise been scrambling to reach the steering counsel, no longer needs to worry. The craft will immediately halt its forward motion, thanks to the engine cutoff device that is now mandatory. It’s no over-exaggeration to say that it’s a potential lifesaver.
Boats included in the mandate
So who absolutely has to have (and use) that engine shutoff switch? Answer ‘yes’ to the below specifications, and you are required to not only have one on board, but to use it.
- The vessel measures less than 26 feet long and is capable of greater than 115lbs static thrust.
- The vessel was built January 2020 or later.
- Yours is a recreational vessel. Only such vessels fall under the mandate. Therefore, vessels for other use are not required to feature the engine cut-off switch
Boats not included in the mandate
Your vessel is not required to have the ECOS if:
- The primary helm is housed in an internal cabin.
- The vessel was constructed prior to January 2020.
- The vessel is earmarked for law enforcement. These vessels, and other vessels owned by the government, are not required to have the switch.
Should I use a shut-off switch even if I’m not required to?
- It stands to reason that vessels manufactured before 2020 need a shutoff switch as well. The alternative is just too disastrous to ponder. Should you fall into the water while driving, the boat could maneuver its way toward you, creating a real hazard – or it could simply keep motoring away into the sunset, sans passengers.
- Therefore, YES – you should use a shut-off switch (or some sort of engine kill mechanism) even if the law does not require you to. That kill switch has a double meaning, to be sure: by killing the engine, it maintains your own safety (and those of your passengers).
What other options are available?
- Like so many advancements, the shut-off switch has also gone wire-free. Using a wireless engine cut-off device frees the driver from having to deal with a lanyard-type scenario, but it does offer some limitations. If the driver is somehow tossed from the helm, for example, it will not offer protection. Also, passengers must carry their own connected fobs if they wish to extend the protection to themselves.
Is anything else required in tandem with the shut-off switch?
- Maintenance of the switch is required for the boat’s lifetime. And though it must be in good working order, it is not necessary to employ it during docking or idling. After all, the scenario it is designed to prevent involves an out of control vessel that could potentially pose a danger to passengers or others who are out on the water. Keep in mind also that though the cut-off switch can quickly resolve what could have been a dangerous situation, it is also extremely simple to reengage the switch and resume normal boating operations.
What else can I do to foster a safe boating environment aboard my vessel?
- Take full responsibility for the safety of your passengers by adhering to Coast Guard safety recommendations. That means a life vest for everyone on board, never driving a boat while inebriated, completing boating safety courses and having your vessel inspected annually by the U.S. Coast Guard, United States Power Squadron or vessel examiners who work through your state’s boating agency.
- Oh, and embrace the shut-off switch requirement and adhere to it religiously. This requirement has been a long time coming. Accidents caused by wayward, out of control recreational vessels will hopefully soon be a distant memory.
Find information about why ECOS and ECOSL are now safety measures that are required for many waterway vessels here. Whether you use an ECOS and ECOSL or not, be safe out there on the water. And before you ever leave the dock, contact your marine insurance advisor at W3 Insurance to make sure you’re covered.