Below is an article I wrote for a magazine over here in Ireland on the subject. This would represent the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) position on Kill Cords.
Kill Cords Save Lives
One of the more sobering aspects of my job is the investigation of accidents involving small and fast craft. Generally I am acting as an expert witness for the courts. Very often, these accidents have left the victims severely injured.
In almost every serious powerboat accident that I have studied, death or injury could have been prevented in nearly every case if the driver had worn a Life Jacket and a Kill Cord.
The benefits of life jackets are fairly apparent to all but it constantly amazes me how few people seem to realise that wearing Kill Cords on fast or open boats does save lives. Even the Department of the Marine here in Ireland seem to have ignored the value of Kill Cords within their new and welcome Fast Water Craft safety legislation.
Check out the ads in many boating magazines today. Glamorous pictures of open boats being driven with not a life jacket in sight and the kill cord flapping loosely from the throttle box
A Kill Cord or Safety Lanyard is the small red lead that connects the driver to a switch located on the engine or sometimes the dashboard of the boat. The general idea is that if the driver gets knocked overboard, then the lanyard comes with him closing the electric switch that the engine end of the cord was attached to .The closed switch grounds the ignition and immediately stops the engine.
A typical accident happens as follows. The inexperienced or untrained powerboat driver is travelling too fast for the sea conditions. He hits a wave hard and gets flicked out of the boat. With no kill cord connected to the driver and no hand on the wheel, the boat continues under power. The boat then circles around at speed in ever decreasing circles until it invariably hits the driver in the water with horrific results.
If the driver had been wearing a kill cord and life jacket, then the engine would have stalled as soon as he fell out. His life jacket would deploy allowing him to swim the few metres back to reboard the boat and consider some revised driving practices!
I hope that we have convinced you to always wear a kill cord, so how about some Professional Tips!
Connect your Kill Cord around your leg or to your life jacket harness rather than to your wrist. Kill cords have been known to slip off of wet wrists and also, when worn on the wrist can get tangled in throttles etc. It is far better to wear it around your thigh or knee so that there is no way that you are coming out of the boat without the kill cord coming with you. You can also attach it to your lifejacket harness. But be sure that it is attached to secure webbing or a lifting loop rather than a flimsy plastic buckle, which might give way as you are chucked out.
Check your kill cord regularly. Check it for signs of cuts, nicks or fraying and give it a good pull from either end. Check frequently that it is working by removing it while the engine is idling. It should immediately stop the engine. If it doesn’t, have the engine checked by a specialist before using it.
When leaving the boat, bring the kill cord with you. As well as being an anti theft measure, it also ensures that you must refit the kill cord before you can restart the engine. It is common enough for some one climbing aboard a boat with a connected kill cord hanging loose to forget to attach it to them selves before driving away. Our Instructors here in Lough Ree Power Boat School generally leave the kill cord attached to their leg and shove the engine end into their trouser pocket when going in for lunch. If you have to take off the kill cord while the engine is still running but in neutral, wrap the driver end of the cord around the steering wheel so that there is no way you can accidentally drive off with re-attaching the kill cord to your leg.
Never attach or tie the kill cord to the ignition key. Ignition keys generally cannot be removed while in the on position. I have seen at least one case where a faller was being towed through the water by his kill cord still firmly attached to the ignition switch.
Check that your Kill Cord is genuine. Within the last year it has come to my attention that many reputable chandlers have been innocently selling dodgy or spurious kill cords. A true kill cord is made with a strong wire or string core, which is then coated with a red plastic protective cover. Spring clips and fastenings should be strong and made from metal. The dodgy or spurious Kill cords are pure plastic with no core and the clips are usually made of plastic. Very often these spurious cords fail by merely being pulled off of the engine or throttle box.
Carry a spare kill cord in your toolbox. Kill cords sink so it pays to have a spare aboard just in case. The spare can also be used by another qualified driver to save you a swim back to the boat if you have been silly enough to take a dive. Many of the Professional Boat Squads we train equip every qualified Coxswain aboard with a personal kill cord allowing some one else to quickly regain the helm after an accident.
So there you have it. If you want to make your powerboating safer and more enjoyable:
• Get professional training at an Irish Sailing Association recognised Powerboat School such as Lough Ree Power Boat School.
• Drive safely and responsibly.
• Always wear a Kill Cord and Life jacket
• Always drive with one hand on the throttle so that you can you can kill the power before something goes wrong
• And finally Have Fun !
Stuart is the owner of Lough Ree Power Boat School www.powerboat.org
at Hodson Bay in Athlone. He is also the Irish Sailing Associations National Motorboat and Powerboat Trainer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
c Stuart McNamara 2005