EDITOR’S NOTE: Under the approved legislation, the law “does not require the retrofitting of any vessel that has not come equipped with an (emergency cut off switch),” according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials.
A new boating law goes into effect in Texas on September 1 that requires all watercraft less than 26 feet in length to have an emergency cutoff switch, whether lanyard or wireless attachment.
The device, often referred to as a “kill switch,” is a clip or similar device that attaches to the driver of the watercraft on their lifejacket, around their wrist, or on another secured article of clothing. The other end attaches to the engine ignition switch or other button that turns on the watercraft’s engine.
Then, if the driver is tossed overboard or off their feet, the kill switch would disable the engine. The new law aims to prevent boaters or passengers from getting struck by a watercraft or its propeller if the driver is thrown into the water or off their feet.
Kali’s Law is named after 16-year-old Kali Gorzell of San Antonio, who died July 20, 2012, after being thrown from a boat then struck by the propeller. Her parents, who lobbied for the law, believe if the boat’s driver had been wearing a kill switch, it would have saved their daughter’s life.
In 2018, Congress passed the U.S. Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which requires, as of January 1, 2019, “manufacturers, distributors, and dealers” to put engine cutoff switches on all new boats less than 26 feet in length.
Under the state law, the kill switch must be worn “when the motorboat is moving at greater than headway speed,” which is defined as a “slow, idle speed, or speed only fast enough to maintain steerage on course,” according to Texas Administrative Code.
While the law goes into effect September 1, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department informed the Texas Legislature it would “spend the first year of implementation of the legislation educating the public on the requirement and only enforcing it when absolutely necessary to give the public time to conform,” according to a TPWD statement.