New law impacts boat operators on federal waterways

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Boaters should be aware that a new federal law went into effect April 1 that requires the operator of a boat with an installed Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) to use the ECOS link while operating on all federally navigable waterways.

In Iowa, federally navigable waterways include our four flood-control reservoirs: Coralville, Rathbun, Red Rock and Saylorville as well as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

The ECOS link is usually a coiled bungee-cord lanyard clipped onto the operator’s person, personal floatation device or clothing, with the other end attached to the cut-off switch, but there are plenty of variations on the market, including electronic wireless devices.

When an operator is wearing the link while underway, the engine will cut off if the operator is separated from the operating area, which can happen if the operator is ejected from the vessel or falls within the vessel. The shutdown of the engine is essential for safety reasons.

If an operator is ejected from the vessel, the shutdown might prevent the operator from impacting the vessel’s spinning propeller and could aid the operator in safely returning to the drifting vessel.

The intent of these new laws is to improve safety for all recreational boaters by reducing the potential for propeller injuries to recreational vessel operators, other users of the nation’s waterways and marine law enforcement officers responsible for responding to runaway boats. Boats with motors of less than three horsepower are excluded from the law.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has authority to enforce federal law on the federal reservoirs, and the U.S. Coast Guard patrol has the authority to enforce federal law on the border rivers. For more information, contact Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, at 515-313-6439.

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