VIDEO: New Emergency Cut-Off Switch Law Explained


The US Coast Guard has announced a new federal law regarding your boat’s emergency cut-off switch, or kill switch.  We spoke with officials of the US Coast Gard, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and NC Marine Patrol and here’s what we’ve learned. 

As of April 1, 2021, operators of recreational boats less than 26’ in length are required to use their boat’s engine cut-off switch or kill switch.  This means you need to have the emergency cut-off switch lanyard attached to the operator while the boat is above displacement, or no-wake speed.  This new requirement is aimed at protecting occupants of the boat and other vessels from runaway boats. 

Here’s how an emergency shut off switch works.  While styles vary by manufacture, for the past couple of decades Grady-White Boats have been equipped with a Yamaha emergency cut-off switch key and lanyard.  The tab must be inserted around the switch base to allow the engine to start and remain running.  The lanyard should be attached to the operator.  When enough force is applied the tab will release from the emergency cut-off switch and shut down the engine. 

If you’re new to wearing the emergency cut-off switch, please be mindful as you move around the boat.  Activating the switch at speed may cause you and your passengers to lunge forward unexpectedly. 

There are a few exemptions to the law: 

  • Operators of boats 26’ and larger are exempt.
  • Operators running boats at displacement speed or no-wake speed aren’t required to use the emergency cut-off switch.  This means you won’t have to worry about it around the dock, at the boat ramp, or while trolling. 
  • Operators who are using a helm located in a fully enclosed cabin are exempt.
  • Operators of government and commercial vessels.
  • Operators of boats built prior to January 2020 that are NOT equipped with an emergency cutoff switch are exempt.  However, it’s important to point out if your boat was built prior to January 2020 and IS equipped with an emergency cutoff switch, you must use it. 
  • Operators of boats with an engine that produces less than 115lbs of static thrust, or about 3hp, are exempt.

As of the date of this article, April 2021, according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina has not adopted this federal law, and so the USCG will be the primary agency responsible for enforcement. 

Although the law is enforceable now, USCG Station Wrightsville Beach said they will spend the first several months focused on educating boaters about the law.  When enforcement begins, penalties will start at a $100 civil penalty for a first offense and go up from there.

We encourage you to reach out to your federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies with questions on this new law.