Florida boaters will soon face two laws requiring the use of emergency kill switches while underway. The first law passed by the Federal Government will take effect on April 1st of this year. The other is a proposed Florida law that takes effect on July 1st (if passed). Here are all the specifics.

 

WHAT IS A KILL SWITCH?

An emergency kill switch, also know as an emergency cut off switch, is a lanyard that the operator of a boat wears or attaches to himself/herself so the motor will shut off if they are thrown overboard. They can also be wireless. Kill switches are very common on most boats however, most operators rarely wear them. This simple device can make a huge difference.

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CIRCLE OF DEATH

When the operator of a boat is thrown from it, the boat often spins in a circle due to the propeller rotation of the motor. This circle is often the reason why boaters suffer significant propeller injuries or death. Here’s an example.

 

FEDERAL LAW

Back in 2018, the Federal Government passed a law requiring all boats 26 feet and less to be outfitted with emergency kill switches. That law didn’t seem to make much of a difference because most boats had kill switches, to begin with. However, the new law was passed at the end of 2020 as part of the military budget and takes effect on April 1st of this year. This law requires that the operator of a boat 26 feet or less wear an emergency kill switch when “operating on plane”. The exemptions to this rule are boats that produce less than 115lbs of thrust or have an enclosed pilothouse.

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FEDERAL FINES

Fines of between $100 and $500 can be assessed if you violate this law. The law applies on all “Navigable Waters of the US”.

 

ETHAN’S LAW

Ethan’s Law is a proposed Florida law (HB 1099) that has been introduced by Rep. Fiona McFarland. The law is in response to the tragic death of a 10-year old Sarasota boy who was struck by a boat propeller during a sailing regatta. The law proposes that boat operators be required to attach a kill switch to themselves while “making way” in Florida waters. Similar to the Federal Law, it would apply to boats less than 26 feet but wouldn’t apply to boats with enclosed pilothouses or being powered by a trolling motor. Unlike the Federal Law, Ethan’s Law would apply at slow speeds and would cover anywhere in Florida (not just offshore). If passed, HB 1099 will take effect July 1st, 2021.

***MAY 2021 UPDATE***

As of 4/30/21 both the House and Senate bills died in their respective committiees. See the link HERE.

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