Boat laws not on hold

Boat laws not on hold

Closeup picture of a kill switch

As many find themselves attempting to social distance on boats on Texas’ waterways, it’s important to remember a relatively new law and an old adage. 

In September, a law signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott went into place to cut down on deaths on the water. Kali’s Law is a relatively new mandatory ignition “kill switch” requirement passed by the Texas Legislature to ensure more people get home safely.

So while enjoying the Brazos River or any of the three Brazos River Authority reservoirs, it’s important to make sure you have one.  An ignition safety kill switch shuts off the watercraft’s 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.

The 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.

Another safety tip to remember when planning for a trip to a reservoir or a river is life jackets. You’ve heard it hundred times before, but it’s worth repeating, wearing a life jacket can save your life.

There are many types and styles of life jackets, which are also referred to as PFDs or personal flotation devices.


Remember that in Texas:

•    Children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable PFD while underway.
•    All vessels under 16 feet (including canoes and kayaks) must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V for each person on board.
•    Vessels 16 feet and longer, in addition to the Type I, II, III or V for each person on board, must have one Type IV throwable device which must be readily accessible. Canoes and kayaks over 16 feet are exempt from the Type IV requirement.

The BRA encourages everyone to enroll in a boater education course offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The course is mandatory for children under 13 years of age and required for anyone born after Sept. 1, 1993.

Stay safe while on the water. None of us are invincible and everyone’s life matters.

For more boating safety tips and information, go here.