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New US Law Mandates Use of Kill Cords on Recreational Vessels

14th March 2021
A kill cord attached to an engine cut-off switch A kill cord attached to an engine cut-off switch Credit: RYA

In the United States, all operators of recreational vessels under 26 feet in length will soon be required to use an engine cut-off switch and kill cord under newly passed legislation.

Kill cords are essentially safety tethers that cut power to a boat’s engine when its operator is displaced from the helm, whether by being thrown overboard or some other circumstance.

There are also now ‘wireless’ versions that use an electronic fob instead of a physical cord, and activate when submerged in water in a similar manner to an EPIRB.

According to the USA’s National Safe Boating Council, the new law — which comes into force on 1 April — was prompted by regular reports of boaters who fall or are unexpectedly thrown from their vessels which then run out of control.

“These dangerous runaway vessel situations put the ejected operator, other users of the waterway, and marine law enforcement officers and other first responders in serious danger,” it adds.

However, the US Coast Guard understands that the “overwhelming majority” of recreational vessels produced for decades have had an an engine cut-off switch installed “so this new use requirement simply obligates recreational vessel operators to use critical safety equipment already present on their boat”.

In the UK, the RYA already recommends the use of kill cords, and in Ireland they are also recommended in the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft.

Published in Water Safety
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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