Open Letter to Fell Marine / Mob + wireless lanyard / kill switch

To: Fell Marine
15 February 2017

We were thrilled to see your entry into the wireless lanyard / kill switch market in the United States.
We recently posted coverage of your MOB+ device after which I dropped you an email asking you contact us after the Miami International Boat Show in response to a few questions we had. My email quickly received an automatic response and yeterday we were contacted by a gentleman in Norway who included a couple others in the email conversation, including a gentleman in the U.S. The email was very informative and inviting to learn more about your product.

MOB+ image from Fell Marine web site

MOB+ image from Fell Marine web site

We will visit with you after the boat show about our questions specific to MOB+, but thought of several more general topics related to kill switches we would like to share with you that might be of interest to others as well. So I posted this portion of my conversation with you here as an open letter on the topic.

Much of the content of this email will come from some of our previous posts on these topics.

History of Boat Kill Switches in the United States

In December 2011 we posted an extensive History of Lanyard Kill Switches for Recreational Boats: Inventions, Regulations, Accidents, and Trials.

Some of the major events are referenced below.

A few kill switch devices were invented in the early 1970s for the purpose of stopping runaway recreational boats. In the Spring of 1976, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) raised the issue of kill switches being used on recreational boats as a safety device. They were previously primarily used on race boats.

Three years later, in the Spring of 1979, the U.S. Coast Guard presented the results of a study based on the earlier NBSAC inquiry. The first page of the study is reproduced below.

NBSAC 1979 Kill Switch Report Page 1

NBSAC 1979 Kill Switch Preventable Fatalities Report

By the late 1970’s the industry began to be sued for not having kill switches in place.

In 1979, the State of Alabama passed a law requiring the use of kill switches on certain types of boats.

Faced with a multitude of lawsuits, the industry began widespread installation of kill switches in the early 1980’s.

In 2004-2005 Keith Jackson at MariTech made a considerable splash with their wireless lanyard, the Virtual Lifeline & CAST (the angler branded model). The ability to move about the boat without having to frequently connect and disconnect was a big feature as was the time it saved for competitive anglers. While the device is a great safety feature, it was never broadly accepted by the industry.

In April 2006 NBSAC passed two resolutions, one calling for the Coast Guard to create a proposed regulation requiring the installation of kill switches in recreational powerboats of certain sizes, and another proposed regulation requiring their use in boats in which they are installed. Marion Irving deCruz and Phyllis Kopytko of SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now) were champions of this movement.

2007 saw the birth of Autotether, a more economical wireless lanyard that could be installed very quickly by the boat owner.

In October 2008 the U.S. Coast Guard completed another study of Kill Switch Preventable Injuries & Fatalities that was remarkably similar to the one released in 1979. We suspect USCG may have actually forgotten about the 1979 study.

In 2010 we released an invention describing many ways in which the Circle of Death could be prevented. We hoped the industry or independent inventors would followup on those opportunities but have seen no evidence of it to date.

In June 2011 the Coast Guard published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the installation of kill switches in new boats and mandatory use of lanyards in boats with kill switches installed.

In August 2011 we published a series of inventions teaching how a wireless lanyard fob could be integrated with a life jacket to create a two for one safety device.

The highest profile kill switch boat propeller accident in history took place in the U.K. on 5 May 2013. Nicholas Milligan and his daughter Emily were killed. His wife and son were critically injured, two of their daughters were traumatized.

Following the Milligan accident we published History of the Kill Cord movement in the U.K.

The proposed regulations i the United States have stalled. The topic is brought up at every NBSAC meeting and the Coast Guard basically say the proposed regulations are stalled somewhere above them. Over time the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) and the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) came out in support of requiring the installation and use of kill switch lanyards. Mercury Marine announced some improvements in the lanyard itself (the clip) which was later showed.

The high profile July 4th, 2014 Dinner Key accident in Florida attracted a local journalist, Trevor Bach to the advocates for mandatory use of kill switches.

In May 2016, Marion Irving deCruz of SPIN passed away. She was and remains a tremendous force behind the kill switch regulatory effort. She spent over a decade championing this specific cause and was able to have major impact because she had already been championing propeller safety for well over a decade before then.

The new U.S. President is strongly opposed to regulations in general, making it unlikely anything will happen for years even if the proposed regulations are ever released from above the Coast Guard.

In early 2017 about six states require the use of kill switch lanyards by recreational boat operators.


The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) is the voluntary standards organization for the recreational boat building industry.

Long ago they developed the standard now known as A-33 Emergency Engine/Propulsion Cut-Off Devices. With the development of wireless devices, they were added to the standard several years ago.

As I mentioned in my email to you, ABYC is currently updating that standard.

ABYC standards are voluntary standards. The boating industry and even members of ABYC do not have to follow them.

Several years ago, National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) developed a certified boat builder program in which most major U.S.boat builders currently participate. Among requirements to be an NMMA Certified boat builder is building their boats according to ABYC standards.

ABYC standards only refer to the emergency cut-off switch, its installation, and function, not to its mandatory use by boat operators.

Concentrations of Kill Switch Accidents

Two modern day applications account for many of the propeller injuries resulting from boat operators not using kill switches.

        Bass Boats

In 1973, Vernon Fowlkes of my own state of Oklahoma was killed following being ejected from a bass boat in Bassmaster Classic III in South Carolina. Mr. Fowlkes was an industry supplier there teamed with a local angler and a well known outdoors journalist from Tulsa. This accident triggered the bass tournament industry to immediately require mandatory use of life jackets and mandatory use of kill switch lanyards when underway in major tournaments. Those requirements have since spread to most bass tournaments.

Bass boat operators continue to be ejected from their boats due to increasing horsepower (speeds), the haste of bass tournaments, low gunnels, and other variables. In March 2014 we created a list of accidents in which bass boat operators were ejected underway in open water.

        Tiller Steered Outboards

If for any reason the operator removes his or her hand from the tiller while underway at speed, tiller steered outboards often quickly flip to one side, driving the boat in a circle, ejecting the passengers, and running over them repeatedly. Their lower horsepower, slower speeds, and duller, smaller diameter propellers improve the survivability of these accidents compared to those involving larger, high horsepower, faster outboards in the Circle of Death, but none the less, many people have been terribly maimed by tiller steered outboards.

Related Safety Devices

In February 2014 we publishes a post titled, Foot Throttles: boat propeller safety devices. Foot throttles have specific application to bass boats, and especially to tournament bass boats. While they do not stop the engine if the operator is ejected, they slow the engine to an idle which drastically slows the speed of the vessel after the operator is ejected. If the boat is in the Circle of Death, those in the water have a much better chance of avoiding being struck by the propeller of the very slow moving boat.

The Circle of Death

The industry hides from this phrase like it has the plague. One of their leading defense expert witnesses once noted they were offended by it in an email to the Coast Guard about a pending regulation.

The operator being ejected from a boat creates multiple problems, but the most immediate one is the operator and others ejected being ran over by an outboard motor powered boat in the Circle of Death, as seen in the video below of a 2014 death not far from where I grew up.

2014 Claremore Lake accident

2014 Claremore Lake accident

The industry often encourages you to wear your lanyard, but rarely elaborates on the consequences of not wearing one.

To escape the phrase Circle of Death, one boat manufacturer called it the Circling Phenomenon in their manuals in the early 1980s.

The phrase in favor right now is “Continuing Operation”. They use that phrase with total disregard boaters not understanding that means the boat is circling, running over them, and repeatedly striking them with its propeller.

What is it’s Name

Similarly, the industry refuses to call kill switches, kill switches. Over the last decade they have come up with countless substitute phrases. The one in favor this week is “Emergency Engine Cut-off Switch”. ABYC’s kill switch standard itself calls them by several different phrases in the same standard, but none of them are “kill switch”.

Among the phrases seen in recent years are:

  • stop switch
  • safety lanyard
  • emergency stop lanyard (ESL)
  • emergency stop switch
  • self-circling switch
  • safety ignition stop switch
  • lanyard stop switch
  • emergency engine cut-off switch
  • emergency engine stop switch
  • ignition interruption switches

Boaters know them as kill switches. The industry confuses boaters in their manuals, instructions, and warnings by trotting out a new phrase every other full moon.

Legal Cases & Warnings

Kill Switch cases have continued to be filed against the boating industry. In today’s era, most of them focus on the industry knowing few boaters attach their lanyards because of the hassle of attaching, disconnecting, and re-attaching them to use to the boat. Some who purchase used boats and do not receive product literature say they did not know kill switches even existed and were not warned to attach their lanyard. Some who may have received product literature say they did not read it and there were no related warnings on the vessel.

In recent years the industry is instructing or warning on vessel to attach the lanyard, but often not informing those on board the consequences of not doing so.

For example, the consolidated warnings announced by ABYC in May of 2015 would place this warning at the helm, “Wear safety lanyard at all times while operating boat to prevent unmanned boat operation.”

In October 2015, we published a couple examples of how warnings could be created to increase awareness of the dangers of not attaching a lanyard. One is below. We hoped they would encourage the industry to develop similar warnings of their own but we are still waiting.

Example of a Circle of Death warning

Example of a Circle of Death warning

Just recently, NBSAC is talking about warning non-operators of boating hazards. Seems a little weird to wait 40 years to think about the safety of passengers that are often also ejected, but I guess that is inline with Coast Guard studying the problem since 1973.

Please note, we mean the Coast Guard no disrespect. USCG was plucked from the Department of Transportation, and placed in the Department Homeland Security. They were assigned several new, difficult, very important roles. All the while USCG’s lower profile boating safety division remains underfunded and understaffed. We appreciate their efforts and the things they are still able to accomplish for boating safety during these troubled times. Plus we sincerely appreciate all USCG on water and airborne water safety patrol / rescue personnel.

The industry’s defense in most modern cases is there was a kill switch on the boat, the operator should have used it, we told them to use it in the outboard and boat operators manuals, and sometimes in an instruction on the vessel or on a tag attached to the lanyard.

The Unasked Legal Question

Is a safety device really a legal defense if its non-use can result in serious injury or death, and the manufacturer knows nobody is using it?

Just like seat belts, prior to mandatory wear laws, few boaters attach kill switch lanyards.

We are not saying mandatory wear is the answer, we are just pointing out the boating industry’s defense is lame. They are trying to hide behind a safety device they know nobody is using.

Its time to move on.

Is sort of like if a producer of beer started writing “Dont Drink Me” on the side of all their beer cans in fine print. They know they keep selling cans of beer, just like the industry knows these Circle of Death accidents keep happening.

They know their warning is not changing behavior.

So does the boating industry.

“Official” USCG Wear Rate Data is the Key to Progress

Circle of Death accidents continue to happen because boat operators are not attaching lanyards because of the hassle, and some because they are not aware of the consequences. Many of those boaters are not aware of wireless alternatives or do not have easy access to their installation on an existing boat.

We have been pushing the need for kill switch “wear rate” surveys for several years. When pressed in court cases the industry says we think most people wear them. They say they have no kill switch wear rate surveys and have never collected such information themselves. They wait the for Coast Guard to furnish such data, but have never asked them to do so.

However, in safety meetings and elsewhere the industry (including some of the same individuals) note there are significant problems with wear rate. has collected considerable information on this topic and will be posting it in the future. Here we will furnish one example provided by the Coast Guard to a Freedom of Information Act request we filed. The Coast Guard supplied a letter from the State of Nevada responding to a USCG request for kill switch wear rate information from them before and after the enactment of their mandatory kill switch wear law.

While Nevada did not have actual survey data, they estimated initial compliance (boat operators attaching kill switch lanyards) at 2 percent when the law went into effect in 2007. By 2012 they were happy their efforts had raised compliance rates to an estimated 10 to 12 percent of boat operators attaching kill switch lanyards after their mandatory use law had been in effect over four years.

In 2012 I wrote a post in which I estimated kill switch wear rates from the percentage of boat operators reported to have been wearing them in U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) by year. My study estimated recent annual kill switch wear rates of 13 to 30 percent. I noted life jacket wear rates based on the same data are far higher than field observations.

I suspect actual kill switch wear rates are of the nature of life jacket wear rates by adults in open motorboats, about 5 percent.

The Coast Guard funds an annual large scale on water observation study of life jacket wear rates across the United States. We have tried to encourage USCG to at least fund a pilot kill switch wear rate study at the same time.

Way back in 1979, when the Coast Guard was initially investigating the use of kill switches, they chose two possible wear rates for use in their economical calculations: 7 percent for voluntary use and 25 percent for mandatory use. Nobody but me mentions those figures anymore.

If USCG ever releases observed kill switch wear rate data, the boating industry’s defense will crumble.

The industry will be forced to (1) make current lanyard kill switches more user friendly, (2) move to passive kill switches (such as wireless lanyards), (3) encourage use of foot throttles in some applications, and/or (4) pursue alternative methods to prevent these accidents.

We can only hope they won’t solely turn to education. The Coast Guard has been spending millions of dollars for decades on encouraging life jacket wear rates that are still hovering near 5 percent for adults in open motor boats.

The Other Alternative is a High Profile U.S. Accident like the Milligan Accident in the U.K.

A multiple fatality accident involving a young prominent family out with their children, not involving the use of alcohol, wearing life jackets, and not breaking the law, could stimulate change in this field as well.

A Testimony to Attaching Your Kill Switch Lanyard

Just this year, two collegiate anglers were ejected in a bass tournament. Their GoPro camera caught the video below.

Two Collegiate Anglers Ejected

Two Collegiate Anglers Ejected

The combination of a kill switch lanyard with a foot throttle brought the boat to a halt after one 360 degree circle.

We are in process of analyzing the video.

Additional Information

More information is available on topics related to kill switches from the “kill switch” tag in the word cloud along the right side of our web site.


Thanks again for entering the market and good luck with your MOB+ wireless lanyard. I look forward to visiting with you directly in the future. Meanwhile, I thought your people and others might find my ramblings and prior work on this topic useful in your efforts to improve and market your product. Hope you have a great boat show in Miami this week.

I will drop you an email after the boat show.

Have a Great Day!

gary polson

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