Coast Guard officials have implemented a new law effective nationally for the 2021 boating season requiring operators of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length to use an engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL).
The new rule was announced by Coast Guard officials in Seattle, who said these emergency cut-off switches will protect all members of the boating public.
Each year, the Coast Guard receives reports of recreational vessel operators who fall off or are unexpectedly thrown out of their boat. During such incidents the boat continues to operate with no one in control, leaving the operator stranded in the water while the boat stays on course, or the boat begins to circle the person in the water, eventually striking them, often with the propeller. Such dangerous runaway vessel situations put the ejected operator, other boaters on the waterway, marine law enforcement officers and other first responders in serious danger, the Coast Guard said.
In the Pacific Northwest in 2019, 26 boating accidents involved boat operators being ejected from the vessel or falling overboard, said Lt. Collin Gruin, the Coast Guard Sector Columbia River boarding team supervisor. “An engine cut-off switch, when used properly, prevents the runaway vessel from causing more harm in these types of accidents.”
“In the last two months, we’ve experienced two known incidents involving runaway vessels in Alaskan waters,” said Cmdr. Byron Hayes, Sector Juneau response department head. “One of those resulted in a death, so we want the public to understand the importance of using engine cut-off switches and an attached link.”
The ECOSL attaches the vessel operator to a switch that shuts off the engine if the operator is displaced from the helm. The ECOSL is usually a lanyard-style cord that attaches to an ECOS either near to the helm or on the outboard motor itself if the vessel is operated by a tiller. When enough tension is applied, the ECOSL disengages from the ECOS and the motor automatically shuts down. Wireless ECOS have been developed and are also approved for use.
These devices use an electronic “fob” that is carried by the operator and senses when it is submerged in water, activating the ECOS and turning the engine off.
Boaters may check for additional information on this new use requirement and other safety regulations online at https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/engine-cut-off-switch-faq.php.