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HEADS UP - Kill Switch Tether REQUIRED to be worn starting 9-1-19, It's THE LAW!

‘Kali’s Law’ requiring kill switches on boats 26 feet or less in Texas begins Sept. 1

By

Will Leschper

A new kill-switch law, dubbed “Kali’s Law,” goes into effect on Texas waterways beginning Sept. 1, 2019. The kill-switch — also known as an ignition safety switch — will become mandatory equipment on motor boats 26 feet or less in length as a result of Gov. Greg Abbott signing the bill into law June 10.

Kali’s Law came about after the death of Kali Gorzell, 16, who died after being struck and killed by the propellor of a boat after being ejected in an accident near Dagger Island in the Aransas Pass area in 2012. This law complements the required use of a kill switch for personal watercrafts, making Texas one of seven states with a mandatory kill-switch law for powerboats.

Kill switches have long been among the most important safety devices on boats, right up there with lifejackets, though they weren’t legally required. Kill switches usually consist of a cord or lanyard with a clip at one end. The clip attaches to a button or a switch on the boat that must be engaged to allow the boat to start or to continue operating. The opposite end can be secured to the boat operator’s wrist, lifejacket or other personal flotation device or even a belt loop or clothing loop — something that will hold it should an operator be ejected from their running craft.

The new law also allows for the use of functional wireless attachments that have come on the market. AutoTether and FELL Marine Man OverBoard are among the most popular wireless kill switch models.

Many shallow-water saltwater fishing boats, including those with either flat decks and no railings, or both, also are prone to “end swapping,” another situation that can occur when a boat enters into a turn and loses its ability to maintain steering contact with the water, causing violent spins.

During discussion on the bill in this year’s legislative session, a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department official testified, and gave an alarming estimate: Of the 29 fatal boating accidents reported in Texas last year, the agency believes 26 might have been prevented if a kill switch had been used.

Here is the full text of House Bill 337, which passed both houses of the Texas Legislature and was signed by the governor:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Subchapter D, Chapter 31, Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended by adding Section 31.1071 to read as follows:
Sec. 31.1071. OPERATION OF MOTORBOAT WITH EMERGENCY ENGINE CUTOFF SWITCH. (a) In this section, “engine cutoff switch” means an emergency switch installed on a motorboat that:
(1) is designed to shut off the engine if:
(A) the motorboat operator using a lanyard attachment activates the switch by falling overboard or otherwise moving beyond the length of the lanyard; or
(B) the motorboat operator or a passenger using a wireless attachment activates the switch by falling overboard and submerging a man-overboard transmitter; and
(2) attaches:
(A) physically to the motorboat operator through the use of a lanyard worn by the operator; or
(B) wirelessly through the use of a water-activated man-overboard transmitter worn by the motorboat operator or any similarly equipped passenger on the motorboat.
(b) A motorboat operator may not operate a motorboat less than 26 feet in length and equipped by the manufacturer with an engine cutoff switch while the motorboat is under way and moving at greater than headway speed without first verifying that the switch is operational and fully functional and properly attaching the lanyard or wireless attachment, as appropriate for the specific motorboat, to the operator’s body or to the clothing or personal flotation device being worn by the operator.
SECTION 2. Section 31.127, Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended by adding Subsection (g) to read as follows:
(g) A person who operates a motorboat in violation of Section 31.1071 commits an offense punishable by a fine of not more than $200.
SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.

In addition to having a designated driver, Texas Parks & Wildlife stresses the following four key points to decrease boating and water-related accidents, injuries and deaths.

  • Wear a lifejacket. 70% of those who died in a boating accident would be alive today if they had worn a life jacket.
  • Use the ignition safety switch. Commonly called a “kill switch,” the ignition safety switch will stop the engine if you fall overboard and prevent you from becoming stranded or run over by your boat.
  • Learn how to swim. Formal lessons can help protect swimmers from drowning.
  • Take a Boater Education course. Anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15 horsepower rating or more.

“Some accidents are unavoidable, but if a boat operator is ejected there is only one way to shut off the engine and stop the boat from hitting someone – a safety ignition kill switch,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “It only takes a second to clip the safety ignition switch on to your belt loop or life jacket, and it could save your life or those of everyone onboard.

“Drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities, and most victims are found not wearing a lifejacket,” Jones said. “It’s not enough to just stow your lifejacket onboard because accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put one on.”

Bob Dillon, Webmaster
East Shore Estates Property Owners Association

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