Get Connected—It’s the Law!

By Brian Gordon, Last updated: March 30, 2021

Effective April 1, 2021, operators of certain boats under 26 feet long are required to use an emergency cutoff switch (ECOS) device. 

West Marine founder shortening sail

Console-mounted kill switch with lanyard in use. (Photo courtesy BoatUS.) 

If your boat (like most) is equipped with an emergency engine cutoff switch (ECOS) and you are not in the habit of connecting yourself to it, consider the following incident, which occurred in Lee County, Florida and was reported by ABC7 News. The article has been abridged for brevity.


“Around 7 a.m. the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) responded to the report of an unmanned boat that was running in a circle, according to FWC. Two people on a 25-foot vessel were thrown off the boat when the driver took a sharp turn to avoid hitting a “fixed object” that was difficult to see due to limited visibility, investigators said. Both people escaped the incident uninjured and were picked up by another boater. LCSO was able to stop the runaway boat safely. FWC is still investigating the boating accident.”

West Marine founder shortening sail

Outboard kill switch lanyard in use. (Photo courtesy BEP Marine.) 

Fortunately, the people involved in this accident escaped unharmed—but that is not always the case. Every year, runaway boats inflict serious injury and sometimes death when they strike another boat or overboard crew. In an effort to curb boat strike injuries, on January 1, 2021, the United States Congress enacted new engine cutoff switch requirements.

The following three points summarize the new law:

  • Effective April 1, 2021, operators of certain vessels under 26 feet long MUST use either a helm or outboard lanyard or wireless ECOS when traveling on plane or above displacement speed.
  • Boats manufactured January 2020 or later MUST have a functioning lanyard-style ECOS installed at the helm or on an outboard engine or have a functioning wireless ECOS device AND the vessel operator MUST wear it.
  • Operators of boats manufactured before January 2020 MUST use an ECOS device—provided it is installed and functional.
West Marine founder shortening sail

Some lanyards come packaged with a replacement kill switch. 

The new law exempts the following boats:

  • Boats whose main helm is located in an enclosed cabin.
  • Boats not operating on plane or at displacement speed.
  • Boats engaged in low-speed activities such as docking and fishing.
  • Boats that produce less than 115 pounds of static thrust, roughly equivalent to a 2-horsepower engine.

The law applies to all federally navigable waterways. For a more detailed description of this law, see the BoatUS Press Release, provided with permission of BoatUS. For additional questions, check the USCG ECOS Law FAQ.

Lanyard-style ECOS devices provide boaters with an inexpensive means to increase safety and satisfy the law.

Inexpensive lanyard-style engine shut down devices offered by West Marine are designed to comply with all federal and state boating laws; and meet the American Boat and Yachting Council's A-33 standard for Engine cut-off devices.

West Marine founder shortening sail

West Marine's Emergency Kill Switch Lanyard includes six different kill switch clips to fit a variety of kill switch designs.

When shopping to replace a lost or misplaced ECOS lanyard, make sure you select a model with a kill switch clip that fits to the existing kill switch on your boat. Choices include kill switch lanyards by West Marine, Sierra, BEP Marine and Mercury Marine. West Marine’s kill switch lanyard includes six different kill switch clips that fit to a variety of engine kill switches. If you happen to have an older boat that was never fitted with a kill switch—or if the kill switch on your boat is broken, West Marine’s offers lanyards that include a replacement kill switch.


West Marine heartily supports the use of ECOS devices. The slight inconvenience of wearing a kill switch lanyard is well worth the margin of safety they provide. Whether you prefer a traditional lanyard-style or wireless ECOS device, for the safety of ourselves and others, it is imperative that we always “get connected” by making use of the device. Shop our selection of engine cutoff switch devices here.