Foot Throttles: Boat Propeller Safety Devices

Hot Foot throttle from TH Marine

Hot Foot throttle from TH Marine

Many may not even be aware of foot throttles for boats, let alone their role as a propeller safety device.

Foot throttles are connected to the engine by a cable similar to the current hand throttle/shifters. It usually takes a longer cable to reach further forward to the foot throttle. Some DIY installers are leaving the old cable in place in case they ever want to change back.

When a boat operator is ejected by the boat striking a wave, wake, floating log, submerged object, etc., the unmanned boat will often begin to circle resulting in the operator and others in the water being struck repeatedly by the boat and/or propeller. Circling unmanned boats are often said to be in the “Circle of Death”. Bystanders, officials, and emergency responders often risk their own lives while trying to rescue those in the water as the boat continues to circle. Sometimes they, or the operator, are injured or killed while trying to re-board the spinning boat.

You can see an example in this news story;

Unmanned boat runs out of fuel

Unmanned boat runs out of fuel

Kill switches (kill cords, safety lanyards) received a tremendous amount of attention in the United Kingdom (UK) following the Milligan family accident at Padstow Harbor in May 2013.

Nicholas Milligan family

Nicholas Milligan family

The Milligan family of six (shown above) was ejected from a RIB, the boat circled and repeatedly struck family members with its propeller in view of many onlookers, The father and the daughter he is holding were killed, the mother and son were very severely injured, the two other daughters were traumatized and received minor injuries.

UK online boating forums and RIB forums were awash with comments about the accident and about proposals making the wearing of kill cords mandatory.

Motor Boat & Yachting, a UK boating magazine, ran a feature article in their September 2013 issue on kill cords and the alternatives. In that article, foot throttles were promoted as another tool to help prevent such accidents. When your foot leaves the spring loaded foot pedal, the throttle returns to idle and the boat slows to a stop, or almost to a stop.

Foot throttles have long been used on bass boats in the U.S. A major manufacturer of foot throttles, TH Marine, manufacturer of the Hot Foot says they are the original boat foot throttle and have been on the market for over 30 years. A major safety feature is being able to keep both hands on the wheel at bass boat speeds. Another feature is bringing to boat to a stop, or nearly to a stop if the operator is ejected.

Powerboat and RIB (PBR) magazine ran a feature story on foot throttles in their July 2013 issue. This specific issue received considerable press for including a kill cord warning decal with each copy for affixing to your boat. The three page article by Jim Russell of Aeromarine Research was titled, “Step on it”.

Step on it. PBR foot throttle article.

Step on it. PBR foot throttle article.

The PBR article says foot throttles have been used in performance boating for over 40 years. Keeping two hands on the wheel greatly improves safety. Jim Russell says this of foot throttles:

“foot throttles … are the safest way to control the engine throttle and boat speed in any kind of hull.”

Standard OEM side mounted throttles/shifters and even performance aftermarket side mounted throttles/shifters do not usually return to idle if the operator takes his hands off the control (such as when he might be ejected). Foot throttles return the throttle to low idle as soon as you pull your foot away. Jim Russell still recommends wearing a kill switch lanyard to immediately kill the engine.

Russell does not specifically address the “Circle of Death”, but he says this of spring loading the foot throttle to idle:

“This feature alone is a significant advantage that reduces the potential of serious accidental collisions or the possibility of the boat taking off on an overboard driver that is left alone in the water.”

Russell notes that performance hulls need constant attention to steering, throttle, trim, jack plate (height) while driving through varying conditions. Keeping two hands on the steering wheel really helps (note some boats allow controlling jack plate height and trim from buttons on the steering wheel).

The use of foot throttles requires the operator to be sitting in their seat, the safest place to drive from.

Foot throttles are not for use on boats designed to be operated by while standing up or while kneeling.

Having been in use for 40 years and recently gaining in popularity has allowing many features and versions to emerge.

  • Some versions now have a toe clip to aid in pulling the throttle back to idle if it should ever stick – see the Hot Foot throttle at the top of this page, it has a toe clip.
  • Some units can be used in conjunction with hand throttles (use whichever one you want at that time)
  • Some units can be used to control multiple drives (two pedals close to each other allowing one foot to control both, or either of them)
  • Some units have “slide plates” allowing quick adjustment of throttle position for those of varying leg lengths
  • Some have covers for the pedal making it less hot on bare feet
  • Recently, fly by wire foot throttles have become available
  • Hot Foot is now available with electronic cruise control and push button shift

While a cruise control option is contrary to our hope of the foot pedal serving as a backup kill switch, at least the cruise control option is pretty expensive at this time which will limit it’s market.

Among the more widely know suppliers of boat foot throttles are:

Bass Boat Foot Throttles

While foot throttles may take a little getting used to in some boating applications, they are flying off the shelves for use on bass boats. Some bass boat builders offer them factory installed as an option.

With bass boats continuing to go faster and with an ever increasing amount of debris and obstructions in the water, we specifically encourage bass anglers to consider putting one on their boat or ordering one on their new bass boat.

We found a nice YouTube video of DIY’r Kevin Calhoun installing a Hot Foot on his Triton bass boat. He cautiously proceeds and does a nice job. Its nice the way he credits his “beautiful wife” for giving him his drill set for Christmas.

Hot Foot Install on Triton

Hot Foot Install on Triton

While foot throttles are far from new products, many boaters are unaware of the availability of foot throttles and unaware of their ability to serve as a backup kill switch. Therefore, we placed this post in our “new products” category.


  1. great article on foot throttles by Jim Russell.

  2. excellent article by Jim Russell. He seems to have a knack for telling it like it is.

  3. Professional article by Jim Russell. His performance boat articles are always with reading. I copy and file all of mine for reference.

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