Boat engine cutoff switch law takes effect April 1

boat engine cutoff switch
There are new engine cutoff device wear requirements for recreational boat operators as part of the National Defense Authorization Act

There are new engine cutoff device wear requirements for recreational boat operators as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that included a U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization. Effective April 1, 2021, the new law requires a vessel operator to use either a helm or outboard lanyard or wireless ECOS on certain vessels less than 26 feet when traveling on plane or above displacement speed.

Engine cutoff devices can be located at the helm of the boat or on the tiller or body of an outboard engine and typically connect a boat’s operator to the cutoff switch with a lanyard. Some ECOS devices eliminate the lanyard and rely on wireless proximity devices to shut down an engine if the operator goes overboard.

These vessels include boats that have a functioning engine cutoff device installed at the helm or on an outboard engine or have wireless ECOS, or boats manufactured beginning January 2020. The Coast Guard increased the number of boats required to have ECOS installed after this date in an effort to reduce boating accidents and fatalities.

Exceptions to the ECOS requirement include if the main helm of the vessel is in an enclosed cabin or the vessel is not operating on plane or at displacement speed. Low-speed activities such as fishing or docking do not require use of an ECOS. The vessel operator is also exempt if the boat’s motor produces less than 115 lbs. of static thrust – or about the size of a 2-hp engine.

The new law applies to all federally navigable waterways. As this is a federal law, states do not have the ability to enforce the new ECOS regulation — though seven states (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas) currently have their own ECOS laws. BoatUS expects most states to amend their regulations to match federal law over the coming years. While boat operators who fail to follow the new requirement could face a $100 civil penalty for the first offense, BoatUS expects the U.S. Coast Guard’s initial focus will be education.

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.

“BoatUS supports responsible use of cutoff devices and wants to get the word out to boaters to be aware of this new requirement so they can prepare,” said BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “We believe the new requirement allows recreational boaters to operate their vessels in a practical manner while increasing boating safety.”


  1. Should be a no brainer along with the life jacket on and zipped while big motor is running

  2. what about older motors that do not offer this the retrofit would be cost prohibitive…..I have a 1970 Johnson 5 1/2 horse and a 76 Johnson 20 horse…used on a 14 ft lund…….no way that will fly.

    • I put a kill switch with lanyard on my old Johnson for less than $20 bucks! You can get them on Amazon even local tackle shops have them !

  3. I operate a 1988 22′ Islander Hardtop.
    Do they even make any type of cut off for a motor that old?

    Also, do I need one being in an enclosed cabin?

    • If you are in an enclosed cabin you are exempt from wearing one, and if you have a boat made before 2020 that does not have an engine cutoff switch. You do not have to get one installed.

  4. Go on e-bay and purchase one for about $15. All you have to do is ground out your ignition points when the lanyard is pulled. should be a simple 2 wire connection to the points. one to the point set and one to the engine to ground. I used to make them years ago using an old 110V extension cord. Male plug with a loop on lanyard and female plug to ignition system. Easy. Wore it when I raced my old hydroplane back in the day.

  5. I have a 1954 Gruman 14′ aluminum boat with a 4 hp motor… difficult to comply without a wireless connection. Hope that does not cost more than the boat & motor?

    • The ECOS are only used for newer ecm controlled engines in newer boats. A mechanical lanyard will be required for older boats, including my 1969 Glasstron. The lanyards are relatively inexpensive and they wire inline with ignition + wire from the ignition switch. I think they also make versions,that ground the kill switch circuit on smaller mag ignition outboards

      • No. If your boat has an ECOS and you are not in an enclosed cabin you are required to use it. However you are not required to install a switch on older boats.

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