State law affecting boat operators

State law affecting boat operators

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law into place to cut down on deaths on the water.

Kali’s Law went into effect Sept. 1, 2019. While enjoying the Brazos River or any of the three Brazos River Authority reservoirs, it is important boaters brush up on state boating laws.

The mandatory ignition “kill switch” requirement was passed by the Texas Legislature to ensure more people get home safely. An ignition safety kill switch shuts off the boat motor automatically if the operator is thrown from the helm, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The device is typically a lanyard with a special clip at the end that the boat operator wears. The idea is if the driver is thrown from the boat, the lanyard goes too, causing the boat to automatically disengage, and keeping the propeller from harming anyone in the water.


The law requires operators of boats less than 26-feet in length, that are equipped with an ignition safety kill switch, to use it whenever the vessel is moving at greater than headway speed, which is considered speed only fast enough to maintain steerage on course.

Older boats that don’t already have a kill switch are not required under the new law to be retrofitted, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Boats originally built with a kill switch device are not permitted to have them removed. Wireless kill switch devices are permitted for those with concerns about the lanyard-style devices, according to the department.

“Game wardens will be educating the public on the kill switch requirement,” said Cody Jones, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department assistant commander for marine enforcement, in a news release.

The new law was established in response to a San Antonio teenager’s death in 2012.

Kali Gorzell was struck and killed by a boat propeller near Aransas Pass on the Texas Coast. She was 16.

Most vessels turn circles under the torque of a spinning propeller with no one on board to control the boat, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News. Dubbed the “circle of death,” those thrown over are more at risk of being run over by the out-of-control boat or struck by the sharp propeller blades.

In 2017, there were 172 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller, resulting in 31 deaths, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2016, there were 171 accidents and 24 deaths.

The BRA encourages everyone to enroll in a boater education course, which are offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The course is mandatory for children under 18 years of age and required for anyone born after Sept. 1, 1993.

For more boating safety tips and information, go here.