TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new boating safety law is now in effect, requiring the use of engine cut-off switches (ECOS) in all recreational boats under 26 feet long.

The United States Coast Guard is implementing the new law starting Thursday after it was passed by U.S. Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act.

The new regulation, part of the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020, requires an ECOS switch or ECOS link while in operation. With some exceptions, boaters that do not have an ECOS could face penalties up to $500, depending on how many times they’ve been found violating the new law.

Law enforcement vessels and other government-owned boats will not face the same requirements.

According to the USCG, ECOS and EOCSL prevent runaway vessels and their potential threats. By having an ECOSL, boat operators are able to shut off the engine if they’re displaced from the helm. Typically the ECOSL is a cord attached to the cut-off switch, or on the outboard motor if the boat is tiller-operated.

The USCG says a typical three-blade propeller running at 3,200 r.p.m. can inflict 160 impacts per second. They encourage boaters to be aware:

  • People in the water may not be visible from the helm
  • Account for passengers before starting the engine
  • Inform passengers about propeller hazard areas
  • Be alert in congested areas and near swimming zones
  • Take extra precaution around towed watersports
  • Never permit riding on the bow, gunwale, transom, seatbacks, or other locations where an occupant could fall overboard
  • Children should be watched carefully at all times – it only takes a second to fall overboard
  • You would childproof your home so think about childproofing your boat
  • Establish rules for swim platform use, boarding ladders, and seating
  • If someone falls overboard, STOP the boat; once clear begin recovery procedures
  • Warning – Never put your boat in reverse to pick someone up out of the water, always circle around going forward while keeping the person in the water visible to the boat operator at all times.

If you don’t have an ECOS or ECOS link, penalties start at $100 for the first offense, then increase to $250 on the second instance, before rising to the $500 mark for continued violations.

According to the law, some exceptions to the rule apply if:

  • The main helm of the covered vessel is installed in an enclosed cabin
  • The vessel does not have an engine cut-off switch
  • The vessel was built before Jan. 1, 2020

Additionally, “vessels less than 26 feet with an engine capable of producing 115 pounds or more of static thrust, which is approximately three horsepower (HP) or more, the operator must wear the ECOSL if the vessel has an ECOS installed,” according to USCG officials.

You can read the full language of the law in Section 8316: