HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As temperatures heat up, more people will be outside and enjoying the breeze from a boat. However, there’s a new federal law that boaters need to be aware of.
The law goes into effect on Thursday and will require certain boats to have an Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) or ‘kill switch’ to keep operators safe on the water. Those boats include vessels that are less that 26 feet in length, that generate more than 115-lbs of static thrust (3HP) and were built beginning in January 1, 2020.
Boats older than that date are not required to install an ECOS under the new federal law. The legislation was passed by Congress and will be enforced by the Coast Guard. Current state law in Virginia only requires the switch for personal water crafts like jet-skis, however ECOS are highly recommended.
An ECOS is linked to the boat operator by a lanyard. If the lanyard becomes detached from the operator at any point, the engine will shut off.
“If the boat made an invasive maneuver and you were thrown overboard, which unfortunately this does happen, this allows the motor to be shut down,” said Officer Roy Morris.
Morris is a Conservation Police Officer with the Department of Wildlife Resources and has been patrolling waters for sixteen years. He says an ECOS has saved his life in the past and many boaters are unexpectedly thrown overboard. Morris goes on to say the chance of things turning deadly increase, without an engine cut-off switch.
“They call it the death spin because usually once the operator goes overboard, the boat starts circulating the operator and it’s going to close in eventually,” Officer Morris told 8News. “There’s been few instances where the individual was able to get away without being injured or unfortunately no longer able to be here with us.”
In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security released its annual report detailing boating statistics across the country. According to the findings, the Coast Guard reported 171 incidents where someone was hit by a propeller. Of those, 35 resulted in death and 155 were injured.
The Coast Guard will be patrolling federal waters educating boaters of the new law, but also violators could be fined. Online documents show, operators who fail to follow the new requirement can face civil penalties up to $100 for the first offense.
Officer Roy says most bodies of water in Virginia are considered federal waters, including the James River, Lake Anna, Smith Mountain Lake, Swift Creek Reservoir, and several others.
If you need to purchase a lanyard, most marine supply stores sell them for $10 to $15. The actual system and installation, may cost around $300.
More further details about the new legislation click here.