Boater safety law requires engine cutoff devices be worn starting April 1
A new federal boater safety rule few people know about is set to go into effect April 1.
The new law stipulates that the operator of any powerboat less than 26 feet in length must wear the boat's engine cutoff switch when traveling on plane.
U.S. Coast Guard officials say too many boat captains leave the lanyard to the switch dangling uselessly unattached, and that becomes a safety hazard.
The engine cutoff devices are designed to prevent a boat-strike injury and runaway boat if an operator is accidentally ejected overboard. The device attaches the vessel operator to a switch that shuts off the engine if the operator is thrown from the helm. When a person falls overboard, the cord disengages and the motor is automatically shut down.
Some vessels have a wireless fob that turns off the engine when the fob is submerged in water.
Low-speed activities such as trolling or docking are exempt and so are boaters that have a helm in an enclosed cabin.
Boaters and marina managers say it’s a good law; they just have not been told about it.
Tibe Larsen, marina manager of Bonita Bay Marina, didn’t know much about the rule.
“I am going to research this and come up with a nice email blast to all our boaters with the information,” Larsen said.
Petty Officer Ayla Hudson of the U.S Coast Guard Public Affairs unit in Tampa Bay says her department is trying to get the word out to boaters.
“We have it on our site,” she said. “We put out stuff on our social media.”
She said a news release has been set out, and she expects to share more information this week.
Hudson said the law is also geared toward boat manufacturers that are now required to install the cutoff switch.
She suggests that boaters go to the Coast Guard website for more details on the new law.
Hudson said enforcement will be on a case-by-case basis. She said she believes the first offense will simply end with education.
“After you keep doing it, you will have fines,” she said. “Fines start at $100.”
Officials at the local Coast Guard Auxiliary at Wiggins Pass in North Naples say it’s a good rule that will save lives. Boaters often go into the Gulf of Mexico without a life vest and without wearing the cutoff device, and that can be deadly if the captain falls overboard.
The local auxiliary will not be educating or enforcing the new rule right now. Officials there say all Coast Guard Auxiliary activity has been suspended until the pandemic is over. There are no patrols, no classes and no public boat inspections.
Auxiliary members say that is unfortunate at a time when more people than ever are buying boats and heading out on the water.
Those that rent boats locally or belong to a boat club will start getting the information. Vendors are putting plans in place to educate their customers.
Pure Florida Naples rents 19-foot Hurricane deck boats so the owner is adding the new law to the orientation renters go through before taking out a vessel.
“We have a checklist, and we are going to add that to our checklist,” said Merry Kaufmann, public relations and marketing manager. “Our employees go through the checklist with each renter.”
Kaufmann said Pure Florida recently finished a new safety video she hopes to update with this additional rule.
Harry Julian, owner of Pure Florida, says safety is the company's utmost concern and that following this new rule won’t make a difference in the boating experience his customers will have on the water.
Adam Botana, vice president of Bay Water Boat Club, says it is all part of the education his staff gives boat club members and renters.
“We already tell them to wear them,” Botana said. “We will definitely remind our customers. It is smart boating especially when you are by yourself. A kill switch saves lives. It is just common sense.”
U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Hudson hopes this new rule will save lives.
“It is an important rule for boating safety,” Hudson stressed. “While it is not as frequent as someone running aground or taking on water, we do have cases where people do fall overboard and the engine keeps on running and that becomes another danger in the water.
"It is dangerous for the boater, and it is dangerous for boaters trying to assist," she said. "This will make a dangerous situation more manageable. It takes that extra danger out.”
For more information: uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/engine-cut-off-switch-faq.php