Texas: Boater Safety Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

Contact Kent Keene, Lower Midwestern States Coordinator

On May 25, the Texas Legislature passed HB 337 (nicknamed “Kali’s Law”), which would require boaters to wear emergency engine cutoff switches (commonly referred to as a kill switch) when operating recreational motorboats less than 26 feet in length.

This legislation was co-sponsored by Texas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Lyle Larson and Senator Donna Campbell.

HB 337 was introduced in response to pleas from James and Donna Gorzell, whose daughter Kali was killed in a boating accident in 2012 when she was thrown over the bow of the boat and struck by the propeller.

Motorboat accidents involving propeller strikes are a serious threat, especially when operators lose control of vessels with outboard motors. Due to torque created by the propellers, uncontrolled vessels often turn into the direction of the propellers, entering what is referred to as the “circle of death.” Overboard passengers who fall within the circular path can be struck by the propellers as the boat moves past. Emergency engine cutoff switches can help prevent this danger by halting power to the motor when the operator loses control of the vessel.

Today, emergency engine cutoff switches are required in most states for boaters and passengers operating personal watercraft, but traditional vessels with outboard motors are often exempt from these requirements. Due to these exemptions, many boaters do not wear the provided emergency engine cutoff switch during operation, often citing discomfort or inconvenience as a primary reason.

Many manufacturers currently offer a variety of cutoff switch designs to fit the needs of the operator and passengers. These include lanyard attachments that halt engine power when the operator moves too far from the connection point, as well as wireless sensors that transmit a signal when submerged. These wireless sensors can be worn by all passengers, ensuring that motor operations cease when a passenger falls overboard.

After failing to pass out of the legislature during the 2017 session, HB 337 will now move on to Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Greg Abbott for approval. If signed, Kali’s Law will take effect on September 1, 2019.

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