Nautical cutoff switch regulation begins April 1


A new boating regulation meant to prevent the injury or death of people accidentally cast overboard will take effect April 1. Operators of recreational boats shorter than 26 feet in length will be required to use an engine cutoff switch (ECOS) and engine cutoff switch link (ENOSL). 

“The ECOSL attaches the vessel operator to a switch that shuts off the engine if the operator is displaced from the helm,” a U.S. Coast Guard press release states. “The ECOSL is usually a lanyard-style cord that attaches to an ECOS either in close proximity to the helm or on the outboard motor itself, if the vessel is operated by a tiller. When enough tension is applied, the ECOSL disengages from the ECOS and the motor is automatically shut down.”

The regulation is meant to prevent an ejected mariner from being struck in the water.

“During these incidents, the boat continues to operate with no one in control of the vessel, leaving the operator stranded in the water as the boat continues on course, or the boat begins to circle the person in the water, eventually striking them, often with the propeller,” a release states. 

The regulation also is a preventive measure against runaway boats in general, which can cause all sorts of havoc. 

Such a situation occurred in Vineyard Haven in the summer of 2016, when two people were hurled from a 25-foot boat. The runaway boat went on to create terror in the harbor, striking three sailboats, including one it T-boned that had a family onboard. The boat eventually slammed against a dock in Eastville, and hung itself up on rocks. Nobody was seriously injured.

“It’s just a miracle that nobody died,” Tisbury Harbormaster John Crocker told The Times after the incident. “It’s a miracle.”

The new Coast Guard regulation specifically covers boats less than 26 feet, with a three-horsepower engine or greater. The operator of such a boat is only required to employ an ECOS if their boat has such a switch, or if their boat was built after January 2020. 

“Wearing the ECOS is required only when the boat is operating above certain speeds (on plane or above displacement speed),” a release states.

Some boats are equipped with a wireless ECOS system, and in that case the operator is connected through an electronic fob instead of a lanyard. 

Boaters found in violation of the new regulation can face a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense, and a $500 fine for a third offense.