USCG Implements New Engine Cut-off Switch Law

USCG Implements New Engine Cut-off Switch Law

Attention boaters in America! The USCG has passed a new boat engine cut-off switch law that will go into effect on April 1, 2021. Operators of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length will be required to use an engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL). 

What does this law mean?

The engine cut-off switch and ECOS link prevent runaway vessels and threats they pose. The ECOSL attaches the vessel’s driver to a switch that shuts off the engine if the driver is displaced from the operation controls. 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 releases from the ECOS and the engine is automatically shut down. Recently, wireless ECOS have gained popularity and are also approved for use. These devices use an electronic fob that is carried by the operator and senses when it is submerged in water, activating the ECOS and turning the engine off. Wireless devices are available on the aftermarket and are beginning to become available as manufacturer-installed options.

(Photo: Chesepeake Bay Magazine)

Why is the law being implemented?

The USCG implemented this law to reduce or eliminate the amount of accidents recreational vessel operators get involved in. For decades, the USCG received reports of recreational vessel operators who fall or are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown off their boat. Events like these cause many injuries and can even lead to deaths. During these incidents, after the operator is in the water, the boat will continue to operate with no one in control. As the boat continues its course the operator and passengers, if any, are in serious danger and can be easily struck. 

Section 503 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 required manufacturers of covered recreational boats (less than 26 feet in length, with an engine capable of 115 lbs. of static thrust) to equip the vessel with an ECOS installed as of December 2019. Owners of recreational vessels produced after December 2019 are required to maintain the ECOS on their vessel in a serviceable condition. It is recommended that recreational vessel owners regularly check their existing ECOS system to ensure it works, following manufacturer’s instructions says the Coast Guard website. 


The Coast Guard believes that the overwhelming majority of recreational vessels produced for decades have had an ECOS installed, so this new use requirement simply obligates recreational vessel operators to use critical safety equipment already present on their boat.

Seven states currently have ECOS use laws for traditional recreational vessels, and 44 states have ECOS use laws for personal watercraft (PWC).

Boaters are encouraged to check the U.S. Coast Guard website for additional information on this new use requirement and other safety regulations and recommendations.


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