2021 Engine CutOff Switch (ECOS) Law
Starting April 1, 2021, the US Coast Guard will begin enforcement of the use of vessel engine cutoff switches. There has been some confusion surrounding the newly announced enforcement of the use of ECOS devices, so we thought it might be helpful to provide some clarity as to which boats and when are you required to use an ECOS device.
With regard to ECOS devices, there are really three laws at play:
Section 503 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 required manufacturers of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length, with an engine capable of 115 lbs. or more of static thrust (3HP) to equip the vessel with an ECOS installed as of December 2019. Owners of recreational vessels produced after December 2019 are required to maintain the ECOS on their vessel in a serviceable condition.
Section 8316 of the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 requires individuals operating recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length, with an engine capable of 115 lbs. or more of static thrust to use ECOS “links” while operating on plane or above displacement speed. Using the ECOS is not required when the main helm is installed within an enclosed cabin. Common situations where ECOS use would not be required include docking/trailering, trolling, and operating in no-wake zones.
Furthermore, in Washington State RCW 79A.60.190 requires the use of ECOS on all personal watercraft (PWC), both privately owned and “for hire”.
The federal law (46 CFR 43.12) was adopted from ABYC A-33 first published in 2009 and is yet another example of how ABYC voluntary, industry-developed recommendations have led to the creation of sensible legislation.
Bottom line on the 2021 engine cutoff (ECOS) law for Washington State boaters:
If your boat is less than 26’ and you are operating your boat on a plane or above displacement speed from an outside helm or flybridge you must use an ECOS device if your vessel is equipped with one. Most open boats and outboard motors have been equipped with ECOS devices since 1990 (although they are rarely used because until now there was no law requiring their use). Of course, if you are operating a PWC, you have been required to use an ECOS since 1993. If your vessel or motor was not equipped with an ECOS device from the factory and your vessel is older than 2019 model year, you are not required to install an ECOS.
-Jim Merrick, USCG Master, SAMS, ABYC, IAMI
-Delaney Couvrette-Merrick, USCG Master, USCGAUX, IAMI