Parents of a boy killed in a boating accident are working to turn their heartbreak into a way to help others with a new law that they say could make boating safer. “Ethan’s Law,” named in his honor, will soon come before state lawmakers that would require a safety shutoff device on most boats.
In November 2020, Ethan Isaacs was taking sailing lessons in Sarasota when he fell out of his sailboat. An instructor in a 90-horsepower boat attempted to rescue the boy, but fell on the vessel’s throttle. The boat ran over Ethan, who was struck by the propeller and later died.
Mindy and Greg Isaacs, Ethan’s parents, have helped create “Ethan’s Law” (House Bill 1099) that would require boat operators to wear a kill switch while traveling in Florida waters.
Boat Engine Kill Switches Help Prevent Accidents
Wearable kill switches for boats are available on the market today and are currently an optional safety device when operating a personal watercraft in Florida. The devices generally work by attaching one end of a lanyard to the boat operator’s belt loop, life jacket, or something else attached to their body. The other end of the lanyard attaches to a monitor near the throttle or ignition. If the boat operator is thrown from their seat, the lanyard will disconnect and the boat engine will shut off. There are also wireless cutoff devices in the form of wearable tags or fobs that transmit a signal to a hub that will stop a boat’s engine if an operator falls overboard or is out of range of the steering console.
As of April 1, 2021, it is a national law for drivers of boats less than 26-feet long to wear a cutoff device on federal waters. “Ethan’s Law” would cover all public waterways in Florida, including inland waterways, lakes and the miles of offshore water between the coast and federal waters. Under the proposed law, the Coast Guard, wildlife officers and police could ticket anyone not following the rules.
Boat manufacturers, dealers and distributors have been required to install engine cut off switches on boats of 26 feet or less and whose engines are capable of more than 115 pounds of thrust since 2018. “Ethan’s Law” would be similar to a seat belt law, in that most boats have the cut off safety device and now drivers would be required to use it and penalized if they are caught not following the rules.
Make Safety a Priority on the Water
As summer approaches, it is important to remember these boating safety tips before going out on the water:
- Use a wearable kill switch. While it is not currently required by Florida law, it is still a good idea to use one of these devices when boating. The wireless options can attach to passengers’ life vests or wrists for added safety.
- Have a boat safety kit. Be prepared for emergency situations with an onboard safety kit. Include essential items such as flashlights, duct tape, first aid kit, whistles, ropes, fire extinguisher and life jackets.
- Wear life jackets. By law, all boats must have a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. In Florida, children under six must wear a life jacket at all times while on a vessel less than 26 feet long.
- Check the weather and water conditions before going out. Storms can be unpredictable and bring dangerous wind and choppy water that may create dangerous situations.
- Stay under your boat’s capacity restrictions. Know the requirements for your boat and do not overload it with people or equipment as it could put you at greater risk for capsizing.
- Take a boating safety course. Up to 70% of boating accidents are caused by operator error, according to the US Coast Guard. There are a variety of paid and free boating safety courses offered in our area, consider resources on this list from the US Coast Guard.
- Schedule a boat check-up. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons offer free Vessel Safety Checks and there are no consequences if your boat does not pass.
As avid boating and fishing enthusiasts, we at Panter, Panter & Sampedro urge you to make safety a priority when you are on the water this summer and all year round. If you or a loved one are injured on the water because of the negligence of another, please contact our team for a free consultation to discuss your legal options. Call (305) 662-6178 today.
Micolucci V. (2021 March 25). Parents of boy killed in boating accident push for Florida bill that would require safety device. Retrieved from: https://news4jax.com/i-team/2021/03/26/parents-of-boy-killed-in-boating-accident-push-for-florida-bill-that-would-require-safety-device/
Lind B. (2018, December 14) USCG Requires Engine Cutoff Switches On More Boats. Retrieved from: https://passagemaker.com/trawler-news/uscg-requires-engine-cutoff-switches-on-more-boats
Nationwide (2020, May 5). 10 Essential Boat Safety Tips. Retrieved from: https://blog.nationwide.com/boating-safety-tips-checklist/