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.
Understanding “Ethan’s Law”
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.
Ethan’s Law addresses an important aspect of water safety by requiring boat engine cut-off devices. The law aims to enhance boating safety and prevent accidents on the waterways. One of its key objectives is to mandate the use of engine cut-off switches, also known as kill switches, in boats to ensure that the operator remains tethered to the boat. This safety measure is crucial in preventing runaway boats and accidents caused by operators falling overboard. By requiring the use of these devices, Ethan’s Law seeks to reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities associated with boating accidents, ultimately promoting safer recreational boating practices in the state of Florida.
Ethan’s Law, also known as House Bill 701, introduces a critical safety measure that can potentially save lives. Mandating the use of engine cut-off switches ensures that operators remain securely connected to their vessels, reducing the risk of accidents caused by operators being ejected from boats. While some boaters may initially view this requirement as an inconvenience, the greater emphasis on safety is likely to result in a positive long-term impact by preventing accidents and injuries. Additionally, for the maritime community as a whole, Ethan’s Law demonstrates a commitment to safety and responsible boating practices, enhancing the overall reputation of Florida as a safe and attractive destination for boating enthusiasts and tourists.
The law directs the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) to include certain components to their boating safety education campaigns and educational materials, while also requiring instructors of water sports and activities to use engine cut-off switches under specific conditions.
The Tragic Story of Ethan Isaacs
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” that would require boat operators to wear a kill switch while traveling in Florida waters.
The Importance of Safe Boating
According to the Florida Wildlife Commission, there were 735 boating accidents in 2022, resulting in sixty-five deaths. The leading cause of fatal accidents is falling overboard and drowning. Eighty percent of drowning victims were not wearing a lifejacket.
The risks of unsafe boating practices include drowning, electric shock, collisions, and other injuries such as slip and fall accidents and boating through unsafe weather. It is important to make boating safety a priority when heading out on the water. The following are a few boating safety tips:
- 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, a first aid kit, whistles, ropes, fire extinguishers, 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 of 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.
Responsible boating plays a pivotal role in preventing tragedies in Florida, a state renowned for its extensive waterways and recreational boating opportunities. As highlighted by Miami-Dade County’s safety guidelines, adhering to responsible boating practices is essential to ensuring the safety of both passengers and the surrounding environment. These practices encompass crucial aspects such as maintaining proper safety equipment, educating oneself on navigational rules, and understanding the importance of life jackets. By following these guidelines and demonstrating responsible boating behavior, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and tragedies on Florida’s waters, fostering a safer and more enjoyable boating experience for everyone.
The Provisions of “Ethan’s Law”
Effective April 1, 2021, a nationwide regulation mandates the use of cutoff devices by operators of watercraft shorter than 26 feet when navigating federal waters. Referred to as “Ethan’s Law,” this statute extends its jurisdiction to encompass all publicly accessible water bodies within the state of Florida, encompassing inland rivers, lakes, and the extensive offshore expanses connecting the shoreline to federal waters. Under this prospective legislation, individuals failing to adhere to these regulations may be subject to citations issued by the Coast Guard, wildlife enforcement officers, or law enforcement personnel.
Advocacy and Awareness
Advocacy groups and lawmakers have played a pivotal role in championing boating safety in Florida, with the parents of Ethan Isaacs serving as a poignant example of this commitment to change. Organizations like the Florida Boating Improvement Program and lawmakers in the state have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and push for legislation that enhances boating safety standards. The tragic loss of Ethan Isaacs in a boating accident catalyzed change, inspiring his parents and other advocates to lobby for stricter regulations, improved education programs, and the enforcement of safety measures such as the use of engine cutoff devices. Their efforts underscore the vital partnership between advocacy groups and lawmakers in promoting boating safety, ultimately making Florida’s waterways safer for all residents and visitors.
Through the FWC, boaters may access water safety education campaigns and initiatives, including boater safety courses. Interested individuals may visit their website at myfwc.com/boating/safety-education. Raising awareness about responsible boating practices in Florida is of paramount importance. Educating boaters about responsible practices, such as wearing life jackets, avoiding alcohol consumption while operating watercraft, and adhering to navigation rules, is crucial in preventing accidents, injuries, and even fatalities on the water.
Impact and Results
“Ethan’s Law” has had a significant impact on boating safety in Florida by introducing crucial safety measures to prevent accidents and enhance the overall safety of boaters. One of the primary impacts of the law is the requirement for the use of boat engine cut-off devices, also known as kill switches. These devices help prevent runaway boats if the operator is ejected or falls overboard, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.
“Ethan’s Law” also sends a clear message about the importance of responsible boating practices, including safe vessel operation, proper equipment maintenance, and adherence to safety regulations. This heightened awareness has contributed to a culture of safety among boaters in Florida.
Additionally, the law empowers law enforcement agencies like the Coast Guard, wildlife officers, and the police to enforce safety regulations and issue citations to those who do not comply. This enforcement mechanism enhances compliance with safety measures, further improving boating safety.
The sponsor of Ethan’s Law, State Rep. Fiona McFarland of Sarasota, said to the Herald-Tribune, “The more we peel the onion, there is not only good sense behind this bill but a ton of support. Even from the group we are worried about, fishermen, it just makes sense to them. If you fall off your boat, not only does your boat drive away from you and you have to swim to it, it becomes a hazard. We are talking about property damage and injuries, and as we saw in Ethan’s case, there are incidents of death.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Safe boating practices in Florida carry a profound ethical responsibility, as they are intrinsically tied to the protection of the well-being of fellow boaters, swimmers, and wildlife. Florida’s abundant waterways, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean and countless lakes and rivers in between, make it imperative for boaters to adhere to ethical standards that include obeying speed limits, refraining from reckless behavior, and properly disposing of waste to prevent water pollution. Such responsible practices ensure the preservation of Florida’s unique biodiversity and guarantee that everyone can continue to enjoy the state’s stunning waters safely and harmoniously.
Balancing personal enjoyment with public safety on the water can be achieved by adhering to a set of crucial guidelines. Boaters must prioritize the safety of all waterway users, including swimmers, kayakers, and wildlife, by maintaining a responsible speed and vigilance, refraining from alcohol consumption while operating a vessel, and respecting no-wake zones. Additionally, carrying essential safety equipment such as life jackets and first aid kits should be non-negotiable. By embracing these practices, individuals can relish their time on Florida’s waterways while also ensuring the well-being of others.
Recreational and commercial boat operators may comply with Ethan’s Law by wearing a kill switch while boating in Florida’s waters. Currently available on the market, these devices typically function by securing one end of a lanyard to the boat operator’s belt loop, life jacket, or another item affixed to their person, while the other end connects to a control unit located in proximity to the throttle or ignition. In the event the boat operator is ejected from their seat, the lanyard disconnects, triggering an automatic shutdown of the boat’s engine. Furthermore, there are wireless cutoff systems in the form of wearable tags or fobs that transmit a signal to a central hub, effectively halting the boat’s engine if the operator goes overboard or moves beyond the range of the steering console.
When boating in Florida, it is essential to prioritize safety by equipping a vessel with the necessary gear and taking precautionary measures. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission emphasizes the importance of life jackets, stressing that one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be readily accessible for each passenger. Additionally, carrying distress signals, such as flares, is crucial for emergency situations on the water, as outlined by the “Boating Safety Resource Center” of the U.S. Coast Guard. Furthermore, boaters should always have a well-maintained fire extinguisher on board, adhere to posted speed limits and no-wake zones, and refrain from alcohol consumption while operating the vessel, in compliance with Florida boating regulations. The responsibility of educating passengers and fellow boaters about water safety
As avid boating and fishing enthusiasts, we at Panter, Panter & Sampedro urge you to make safety a priority when you are on the water. 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 and speak to an experienced boating accident attorney.
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/