A wireless kill switch never gets in your way

Here’s a hassle-free substitute for that kill-switch lanyard you stopped wearing because it was always in the way.

One of the most helpless feelings in the world has to be floating in the water as your boat cruises away from you. One of the scariest feelings in the world has to be floating in the water watching your boat circling under power and wondering if one of those circles is going to include running over you.

If the engine on your boat is less than two decades old, it probably came with a kill switch activated by a lanyard that you clip onto your life jacket or other clothing. If you troll using downriggers or multiple rod holders beyond the reach of your helm seat, you probably disconnect the kill-switch lanyard while you work those rods. And, if your boat has an autopilot, you probably don’t keep the lanyard connected as you wander around the boat while the autopilot does the steering.

My boating experience spans more than 50 years, and I have never fallen out of or been ejected from a boat. But even my limited imagination can come up with hundreds of scenarios, all beyond my control, that could end with me in the water.

Boats with hydraulic or no-feedback cable steering will hold their course when you let go of the steering wheel. They would hold the boat’s course as it cruised on without you. Boats equipped with “standard” cable steering often auto-steer over to full left or right when you let go of the steering wheel because of the natural steering torque of outboard engines. These could come back and run over you.

A new product called AUTOTETHER shuts off your engine within one-and-a-half seconds if you fall in the water or sound an alarm if one of your passengers falls in. The system uses radio-frequency technology to replace the bothersome lanyard but still connects directly to the engine’s factory kill switch just like the clip on the end of your factory lanyard. You simply mount a waterproof box near your existing kill switch and snap Autotether’s clip to the switch. Its clip comes with adapters to fit the factory kill switches for most engines. Then you and up to three passengers (including pets) are protected just by wearing a small, wireless sensor.

If the driver falls overboard, the engine stops, and an alarm sounds. If a passenger falls overboard, the alarm will sound, but the engine keeps running so you can go back and pick him up.

If the driver falls in the water while wearing a conventional kill-switch lanyard, the lanyard and clip go with him and the passengers can’t start the boat to rescue him unless they can find a spare lanyard clip onboard. With Autotether, you press two buttons on the box, reattach the clip, and you are ready to go. In an emergency, the passengers’ transmitters also have a manual button that can kill the engine if necessary. The system is built in the USA and designed for trouble-free operation in freshwater or saltwater. Thanks to double-sided sticky tape and hook-and-loop patches, the box installs in seconds without tools.

An air-horn adapter is available that doesn’t kill your engine but triggers one of those hand-held horns operated by a canister of compressed gas. One possible use for this would be on a large boat towing a dinghy at night. A “passenger” sensor could be attached to the dingy and if the small boat’s towline lets go, the horn warns you to go back and get it while it’s only 150 feet behind you. We’d all like to think it wouldn’t happen, but the same warning would sound if a thief were trying to steal your dingy while you were anchored for the night.

The system can also be used to monitor kids or pets on the beach — even if they stay dry the alarm will sound when they get more than 100 to 150 feet from the boat. Or you can remove the box from the boat and take it with you on the beach. Then, when the kids get more than 100 to 150 feet from the box or go into the water, the alarm will sound.

The box monitors signals from each of the personal remote sensors and activates the kill switch and/or alarm depending upon which sensor suddenly loses contact. Indicator lights on the box even show you which remote sensor is activating so, if you’ve planned ahead, you know whether to look for Johnny, Sara or Fido. The short-range transmitters in the sensors are engineered to maintain contact only within about 150 feet (maximum) of the box and lose contact when submerged because radio waves can’t travel through water.

The main box and remote sensors are powered by AAA batteries that you can get practically anywhere, and your first set comes with the kit. Typical battery life is 100 to 150 hours, and an indicator light changes color when it’s time to change batteries. A typical retail price for the basic kit is just under $300, and the price goes up about $60 for each of up to three passenger sensors that you can add. Autotether systems are available at West Marine and other outlets, and you can find more information at autotether.com.

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