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Life-Saving Kill Switch

Don’t wear your kill cord? This wireless wearable device might change that.

In 1974, the magazine Popular Mechanics featured a new technology that was just beginning to make its way into pleasure boats. In a story titled “This Kill Switch Can Save Your Life,” the author explained why the nascent lanyard ignition shutoff switch, used primarily in boat racing, was “a lifesaver every powerboat should have, and may eventually be required by law.” To dissuade earnest tinkerers from cobbling together their own makeshift switches, he warned of badly wired switches corroding from sea spray. Instead, he recommended purchasing Mercury’s Ignition Safety Stop Switch for $14.95.

Time proved the author only partially right. Today, most small boats with outboard propulsion come equipped with some type of emergency ignition cut-off device; however, only certain states mandate its usage. The problem is application. Not everyone shares that author’s enthusiasm for the kill cord, nor can we be bothered to clip it to our person. And yet, the potential for ejection is always there. The cause could be operator error or an unfortunate collision with a submerged object; dark possibilities on the brightest of days.

In a world inundated with electronics, GPS and Bluetooth, it’s almost incredible that the cord cut-off switch hasn’t been universally replaced by something smarter.

Enter Autotether, the manufacturer of wireless marine safety devices that hopes to change all that. Autotether ($235) works through the clever use of sensors. A host unit connects to the boat’s engine cut-off switch, and can connect with up to four remote sensors that, once turned on, can be attached to a PFD or stowed in a pocket. If the operator or one of the crew goes overboard and contact is made with the water, the sensor cuts off the engine and sounds an alarm. (The same thing occurs when the remote sensor is over 100 feet from the host unit.) That means less worrying about Fido taking a spontaneous plunge when the boat is underway.

When I tested the device in Florida—attaching different clips compatible with Suzuki, Yamaha, Mercury and more—the plastic broke and a wire became disengaged. I’d like to think this was a special circumstance. While the product vaguely resembles an -E-ZPass transponder (personally, I’d prefer a sleeker, sexier design), it certainly works. The Autotether has the ability to save lives, which could be why other manufacturers are quickly jumping into the fray. What’s clear is that if this technology continues to improve, those curly red cords might just go the way of the sextant.

VIDEO TEST: Autotether