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Boat kill switch law prompted by teen's death goes into effect

Kali Gorzell, killed in 2012 by a propeller, basis for 'Kali's Law'

SAN ANTONIO – "Kali's Law," which requires the use of "kill switches" on motorboats in Texas waters, went into effect Labor Day weekend, more than seven years after the death of its namesake.

Kali Gorzell, 16, was struck and killed by a propeller after she was thrown from a boat off the Texas coast in 2012. Her parents pushed for years to require the use of safety devices known as "kill switches," which immediately shut off a boat's motor with the pull of a lanyard cord, saying the use of one might have saved Gorzell's life.

The state legislature passed Kali's Law this session, and it went into effect Sunday. It requires the operator use a kill switch in any boat less than 26 feet long that is traveling faster than headway speed — a slow speed only fast enough for the boat to maintain course.

The lanyard switches are normally either clipped onto the operator or tied onto their wrist. So if the person driving the boat is thrown from the helm, the lanyard would activate the switch. A quick tug on the lanyard in an emergency would similarly kill the boat engine.

That quick shutoff of the engine could prevent a tragedy caused by an unmanned, runaway boat.

"Basically, what happens is the prop turns a certain way, and because of that torque, it turns that boat and it comes back. And it'll hurt, you know, it'll hurt somebody or maim somebody, kill somebody," Texas Game Warden Jorge Tamayo said.

Older boats without a kill switch are not required to have one installed, but the switches cannot be removed from boats that come equipped with them. Wireless kill switches are also permitted if someone does not like the lanyard style devices.

Failure to comply with the law can result in a fine of up to $200, though Texas game wardens told KSAT they are more focused on education for the time being.