Kali’s Law signed by Texas Governor: boat kill switch law

Kali Gorzell

Kali Gorzell

Greg Abbot, Governor of Texas, signed Kali’s Law on Monday June 10, 2019 per a Soundings Trade Only report dated 11 June 2019.

Named for Kali Gorzell, the law will require mandatory use of kill switch lanyards on certain vessels.

Kali’s Law will go into effect September 1st, 2019.

Kali's Law signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbot, 11 June 2019<br> image courtesy KSAT12 San Antonio

Kali’s Law signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbot, 11 June 2019
image courtesy KSAT12 San Antonio

Special thanks to KSAT San Antonio for their coverage of the signing of the bill and the image above.

The basics of the law require the use of a kill switch lanyard or wireless kill switch by the boat operator on motor boats less than 26 feet in length when underway if it is equipped with one by the manufacturer. The boat operator is also required to first verify the switch is operational and fully functional. If using a wireless system, the bill requires a wireless man overboard transmitter be attached to every person on board.

Kali’s Law

Actual text of the bill as signed is below:

SECTION 1. Subchapter D, Chapter 31, Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended by adding Section 31.1071 to read as follows:
Sec. 31.1071. OPERATION OF MOTORBOAT WITH EMERGENCY ENGINE CUTOFF SWITCH. (a) In this section, “engine cutoff switch” means an emergency switch installed on a motorboat that:
(1) is designed to shut off the engine if:
(A) the motorboat operator using a lanyard attachment activates the switch by falling overboard or otherwise moving beyond the length of the lanyard; or
(B) the motorboat operator or a passenger using a wireless attachment activates the switch by falling overboard and submerging a man-overboard transmitter; and
(2) attaches:
(A) physically to the motorboat operator through the use of a lanyard worn by the operator; or
(B) wirelessly through the use of a water-activated man-overboard transmitter worn by the motorboat operator or any similarly equipped passenger on the motorboat.
(b) A motorboat operator may not operate a motorboat less than 26 feet in length and equipped by the manufacturer with an engine cutoff switch while the motorboat is under way and moving at greater than headway speed without first verifying that the switch is operational and fully functional and properly attaching the lanyard or wireless attachment, as appropriate for the specific motorboat, to the operator’s body or to the clothing or personal flotation device being worn by the operator.
SECTION 2. Section 31.127, Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended by adding Subsection (g) to read as follows:
(g) A person who operates a motorboat in violation of Section 31.1071 commits an offense punishable by a fine of not more than $200.
SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.

We Covered the Kali Gorzell accident and related events as they happened:

  1. The Kali Gorzell accident
  2. The Coast Guard investigation into safety of flats boats like the one in the Gorzell accident
  3. The first introduction of this bill back in 2013
  4. Beautiful but Gone, a TWPD Boating Safety video featuring the Gorzell family
  5. Errors in the statistics being used by those promoting Kali’s Law
  6. We looked back on the event every few years in conjunction with the fatality of a teenage boy in the UK within hours of Kali Gorzell’s death


  1. As an avid boater for over 30 years, spending hundred of hours every year in a boat, my concern with the new law is this: what studies have been done that show the number of deaths and or injuries will occur when a boat operator that is wearing a kill switch inadvertently moves far enough that the switch is engaged, the motor is suddenly killed, the boat comes to an abrupt stop and passengers are thrown around in the vessel or even thrown out.
    My personal opinion is that this is a ridiculous law and will result in many more accidental injuries and deaths.

    • You bring up a good point. Most safety devices are not perfect in every situation (life jackets prevent you from being able to dive under an oncoming unmanned boat in the Circle of Death) however safety devices are supposed to prevent many more serious accidents than they contribute to. In your instance I “suspect” that if your issue was considered, “they” (whoever they is) felt the bulk of the incidents would involve minor injuries or broken bones of individuals being thrown around the boat vs incidents in which someone was in the water exposed to an circling oncoming boat propeller with no one at the helm. As to us, we purposefully remained out of the emotionally charged mandatory kill switch wear issue. While we encourage attaching lanyards and raising awareness of what can happen to you, we stay out of the mandatory wear issue. As to your wondering if studies have been done about inadvertent operation, one problem is lanyard wear rates are so low now it would likely be challenging to find several of those who were wearing and had an incident like you speak of that was serious enough to be reported and actually did get reported. I seem to recall Dick Snyder of Mercury pointing out the issue a few times long ago but nothing since. One place to look would be the few states that do have mandatory kill switch lanyard wear laws in effect. It would take a lot of bruises and broken bones to equate to the cost of a propeller strike (not just the monetary cost). Boat and marine drive manufacturers strongly encourage wear of kill switch lanyards in their manuals and safety materials and have generally come on board recently promoting proposals requiring mandatory wear. Back to your point, wireless lanyards provide much more freedom about the boat without inadvertently tripping the switch. You might consider one of them. We anticipate continued new product developments in this field. Thanks again for your comments.

    • It says it is required when the vessel is underway. I suspect the operator of the vessel should not be moving that far away from the controls when the boat is moving. Does not say it has to be worn when anchored and floated, only when vessel is underway.

      • My understanding is the restriction is a little tighter than just when underway. It is more specifically when the boat is moving at more than headway speed, meaning faster than the minimum speed at which you can steer/keep your boat on course, basically faster than a slow idle. However, we default to the actual text of the law which we just posted above.

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