Before we all go out and enjoy this perfect fall weather, we need to take a moment and read up on one of the most important parts of boat safety. Part of basic boating safety is using your boat’s engine cut-off switch, known as an “ECOS,” and this device has taken on new importance since the U.S. Coast Guard mandated its use beginning in April 2021.
ECOS devices have been required equipment on boats since 2018, but most outboard-powered boats, personal watercraft (PWC), and many sterndrive boats have been outfitted with them for decades. They’re particularly important on small boats which don’t have enclosed cabins, where there’s a possibility that the captain could be thrown away from the helm.
For those of you that might not know what a boat cut-off switch or ECOS is it’s a small C-shaped clip attached to a spring-loaded button at the helm station, usually located in very close proximity to the ignition switch. The clip is attached to a lanyard, and the lanyard has a hook-clip on its far end. It can be clipped onto a stout ring on a life jacket or foul weather gear, a belt loop, or another secure article of clothing.
If for some reason the person operating the boat leaves the helm, the lanyard pulls the C-clip out from under the spring-loaded button, which then triggers the cut-off switch and immediately shuts the engine down. That way, if the captain falls or moves away from the helm station for any reason, pulling the lanyard until it jerks out the C-clip, the boat immediately stops all by itself.
There are also digital ECOS switches, which can be worn as a bracelet or on a lanyard. These communicate with a unit wired in at the helm and are triggered by proximity. Some people prefer these since they don’t restrict your movement around the boat the same way a physical lanyard does. One should note, however, that they’re more expensive than standard ECOS switches and usually require custom installation done by a pro.
Do I Have to Wear My Boat’s Engine Cut-off Switch Lanyard?
Mandatory use of an ECOS doesn’t apply to all boats. Here are the critical elements determining whether you must use one:
Your boats was built with an ECOS system.
Your boat is under 26 feet in length.
The helm is not enclosed by a cabin.
The power system provides 115 pounds of thrust (about three horsepower) or more.
The boat is operating at or above planning speed.
If your boat checks all of these boxes, any time you advance the throttle enough to get on plane you need to be using the ECOS system.
Remember that while this new regulation is a federal law, many states already have ECOS laws of their own on the books and it’s always your responsibility to understand the local laws and regulations.