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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 25, 2021

Recreational boat engine cut-off switch law will improve maritime safety

By Janki Patel, MyCG Writer

Beginning April 1, 2021, operators of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length will be required to use the engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL), as the U.S. Coast Guard implements a new boat engine cut-off switch law passed by Congress. 

“This new requirement will improve safety for millions of Americans who take to the water each year,” said Verne B. Gifford, division chief of boating safety. “The engine cut-off switch will better protect vessel operators as well as all other marine vessels, operators, and maritime law enforcement officers on the water who are at risk when encountering a runaway vessel.” 

Vessel operators on boats that either have a functioning ECOS or were manufactured beginning January 2020 must wear an ECOSL. 

The ECOSL attaches the operator to a switch that shuts off the engine if the operator is displaced from the helm. The ECOSL is typically a lanyard that attaches to an ECOS at the helm or on the motor. When strong tension is applied to the lanyard, the ECOSL activates the ECOS, resulting in the shutdown of the motor.  

Additionally, wireless technology allows for an ECOSL that activates if a fob is immersed in water, which would happen when someone falls overboard. The fob is carried by the operator and/or persons on board. Some manufacturers have begun to install these wireless ECOSL as optional or standard equipment. 

Effective April 1, the new law applies to all federally navigable waterways. As this is a federal law, states do not have the ability to enforce the new ECOS regulation — though seven states (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas) currently have their own ECOS laws.  

The ECOSL is not required to be worn if the main helm of the vessel is in an enclosed cabin or the vessel is not operating on plane or at displacement speed. Low-speed activities such as fishing or docking do not require use of an ECOS. The vessel operator is also exempt if the boat’s motor produces less than 115 lbs. of static thrust – or about the size of a three-horse powered engine. 

The U.S. Coast Guard’s initial focus will be education, so all boaters are safe on waters. 

Additional information on the function, need for ECOS, ECOSL, other safety regulations and recommendations may be accessed here

For more detailed information, view the news release here.