AUSTIN – Game wardens are educating folks about Kali’s Law, the new mandatory ignition “kill switch” requirement for boat operators that went into effect Sept. 1.

Kali’s Law was established in response to the fatality of Kali Gorzell, a 16-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a boat propeller near Aransas Pass in 2012. An ignition safety kill switch shuts off the boat motor automatically if the operator is thrown from the helm. 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. Headway speed is defined as slow, idle speed, or speed only fast enough to maintain steerage on course.

The new law does not require the retrofitting of older vessels that are not equipped with a kill switch. It does not permit the removal of a kill switch device that was originally installed on the vessel. Wireless kill switch devices are permitted for those with concerns about the lanyard style devices.

“Game wardens will be educating the public on the kill switch requirement,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement Cody Jones said.

Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold said though the law has a purpose to maximize safety, it might receive some pushback from people, similar to the early days of seatbelt laws. The law has the ability to not only affect people in a certain boat but also people in or near the water.

“It’s probably comparable to that seatbelt [law] in that it’s common sense, you should wear it, but there’s going to be people that wouldn’t do it unless they had to do it or there was some penalty for not doing it,” Arnold said. “Really it’s a law probably created for those people that have to have some type of consequence associated with not doing something that would normally be considered common sense for you to do in the first place.”

Arnold said most people probably follow this law when boating anyways. WPD and Game Wardens perform safety checks on boaters.

In addition to wearing a kill switch, TPWD stresses all boaters follow important safety precautions while on the water, like wearing a lifejacket, checking the weather before entering the water, and knowing the rules of the waterway by taking a boater education class.

Another main concern during holiday weekends is Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) – or operating a vessel with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 percent – which doubles the risk of being killed in a boating accident. BWI is strictly enforced and carries penalties similar to driving while intoxicated penalties, including possible driver’s license suspension.

For more boating safety tips and information, visit the TPWD Water Safety page at https://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/boat/safety/safety_tips/index.phtml or visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety page at https://www.uscgboating.org/

Weatherford Democrat reporter Madelyn Edwards contributed to this article. 

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