Reading Time: 4 minutes
As any captain in the US should know by now, you need a boat kill switch. Well, not quite. But, as of April 2021, each vessel shorter than 26 feet needs a kill switch. And they’re also recommended for larger vessels! Why? Well, they enable captains to stop the boat automatically in the event of an emergency.
Pretty important, right? Right. That’s why we’re here today to tell you all about boat kill switches. We’ll talk about their practicalities, how to fit them, and much more – including why we think it’s important you keep it tied to your person at all times. So let’s dive in.
What is a boat kill switch?
First things first. A boat kill switch is a lanyard connected – at one end – a captain’s wrist, life jacket, belt, or any other fixed part – to your body; and – at the other end – to the boat’s engine. Also known as an engine cutoff switch (ECOS), it looks like a long keyring of sorts, thanks to its heavy-duty coil. And it ensures that your engine will shut off automatically in the case of an emergency.
What kind of emergency? Well, any emergency that includes you (the captain) being taken away from the driving position. This includes being yanked overboard or having to rush to the deck to help someone who may be struggling in some other capacity.
How does a boat kill switch work?
It works, as we’ve already mentioned, by way of linking the captain to the engine directly. If you move too far from the engine, such as in the examples above, the lanyard will disconnect – acting as a switch – to turn the engine off automatically. This makes sure that anyone in the water is safe from the propellers, and makes sure that you can focus on the emergency at hand, without thinking about controlling the boat.
You can set the lanyard at a certain distance from the engine so that you can still move. But you should make sure that it’s short enough to work in the event of any potentially disastrous issue.
While these are the most common boat kill switches, there are new wireless models available. These work effectively in the same way, with a distance set electronically to the lanyard from the engine. Expect the same results but at a higher price, if you opt for a wireless boat kill switch. Having said that, they’re certainly the more comfortable option!
How can you fit a boat kill switch?
While any boat (under 26 feet) built after 2020 should have the kill switch installed, there’s a good chance that you’re fishing from a vessel built long before this requirement. That means you’ll need to get down to a bit of DIY to make sure you’re complying with the law.
Thankfully, fitting a boat kill switch isn’t too difficult – especially on smaller outboard motors. With these, you can mount a switch on the front of the casing, take a wire each from the ignition and the lanyard, and then connect it to the switch on the outboard casing.
On larger vessels, you should already have a push-button stop switch. Here, you’ll want to swap the connection from the button to the kill switch, thus connecting it to your lanyard. In both cases, you’ll want to take extra care to ensure that no wires get caught in the flywheel. This will not only break the kill switch, but will also damage your engine.
Boat Kill Switches: The Law vs. In Practice
While kill switches must be fitted, the law doesn’t require them to be worn by captains. You’ll probably notice this when you see fellow captains sailing out from the marina. But we don’t suggest you follow suit. By not connecting yourself to the kill switch, the switch is effectively useless, so nobody on board is any safer!
Likewise, the law also states that they only need to be active when at planing speed. Even so, we suggest you keep it attached as well as when docking or floating on the water. These days, with throttles becoming lighter and lighter, the chances of something happening are greater than ever before – imagine a kid running around and playing with the controls. Or an adult who hasn’t quite got their sea legs falling over. Why take that risk?
Before we let you go, we just want to remind you to keep a spare lanyard somewhere accessible on the boat. While your existing one is almost foolproof and will act to cut the engine in the event of an emergency, you’ll eventually want to restart the boat. If the captain is overboard – lanyard in tow – someone on board will need to retrieve the spare and start the engine again. Think of it like having a spare key to your home!
Boat Kill Switch: Safety First
Boat kill switches are effectively seatbelts for boats. Another level of security without any hassle. Why wouldn’t you want to use one? At the end of the day, it helps make sure you and everyone on board have that extra bit of comfort that everything’s going to be fine.
And don’t forget, charter passengers always appreciate captains that go the extra mile. Why not talk them through the boat kill switch and its functions? You’ll make sure your customers end up with a smile on their face!
And there you have it! How did you manage to fit your boat kill switch? Any tips or suggestions for your fellow captains? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Looking for some more advice on how to keep your boat hospitable to customers? Check out our Captain’s Corner for plenty of tips and tricks!