That Pesky Dinghy Kill Switch

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Wearing the outboard kill switch is important. If you're the driver -- particularly if you're alone -- and happen to fall out, it's likely that the dinghy will travel in a circle and hit you. Tips to wear the kill cord without having it interfere with your hands.

Wearing the outboard kill switch is important. If you’re the driver — particularly if you’re alone — and happen to fall out, it’s likely that the dinghy will travel in a circle and hit you.

Believe me, you don’t want to be hit by a prop. As a teenager, twice I helped rescue someone who had been hit and I never want to see injuries like those again (one was a diver and one a water-skier; dinghies weren’t involved).

I know of one incident in the Bahamas about 5 years ago where one boater was killed after falling out of his circling dinghy and a rescuer was seriously injured. I’ve recently heard of a couple more very serious injuries, and numerous near-misses. In another case, the dinghy went straight and the driver was left over a half mile offshore . . . a long swim not to mention needing to replace the dinghy.

The kill switch instantly stops the motor when the lanyard is pulled. So the dinghy doesn’t circle back to hit you or head out to parts unknown. It simply stops right near you.

But the kill switch only works if you wear the leash. And that’s the problem.

Driving the dinghy? Wear the kill switch! No excuses.People generally wear the lanyard around their wrist, as in the photo at right. If you reach to grab something out of the water, or grab the dog who’s about to jump overboard, you’ll probably pull the clip out. And then the motor stops, you have to put the clip back in, start the motor and then go on your way . . . maybe to have it all happen again.

So people don’t wear them.

Here’s a better idea if you need your hands free: slip the lanyard around your ankle.

If you go overboard, it’ll still stop the motor, but you’re not as likely to kill the motor just by reaching for something.

Most of the time, I do wear the kill switch (some call it a deadman) on my wrist. At our sailing club, however, I often pull the marks after races using our dinghy. And that means coasting up to the mark, standing up and grabbing it and pulling it into the dink.

And yeah, it used to be that I wouldn’t wear the deadman because in reaching for the mark, I’d inevitably kill the motor. I knew I should wear it, but it was just too annoying.

Here I was, running full speed from one buoy to another, standing in the boat, leaning over and pulling buoys, and I wasn’t wearing the kill switch? Dumb, dumb, dumb.  One day it hit me that nothing said I had to loop it around my wrist  . . . why not my ankle? Works for me!

Do you make it a habit to wear the kill switch? Got any tips for remembering to always put it on?

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  1. Jonathan says:

    Thank you for the reminder and the perfect suggestion. Especially when I am alone, I will do it, I will fashion an extension line with a velcro loop on the end.

  2. We also added a key float to ours after watching a couple mucking about in a pretty foul harbor bottom looking for theirs.

  3. Carolyn,

    Great idea. Thanks for sharing. I have always worn it on the wrist and it truly is a pain in the rear. But, I had always thought better safe than sorry. I found an extension for it and added that but, I really like the ankle idea better.

    I also wear a life jacket, especially when I am alone in the dinghy, and especially at night. I find myself in the minority here.


    Mark and Cindy – s/v Cream Puff

  4. james Shell says:

    One problem we have had is getting the kill lanyard fouled with something and would not pull off the engine. Be sure to have a clean pull away at all times. It is very important for the engine to stop!

  5. Rob on Avant says:

    Changing out the tiny clip for a bigger one (like a carabiner) makes it easier to use too. Then you can clip to a regular belt, wider strap on a PFD, etc. with ease. Adding a float is a must, as is having a spare aboard (just in case).

  6. An evil necessity. Thank you so much for posting again.

  7. I teach safe power boating and for the last 3 years that is where I teach people to put it

  8. Plus 1 for the caribiner. i always clip to the belt on my shorts. Get to destination, kill cord comes with you, put it in pocket and you never lose it !

  9. A very dear friend of ours was assisting another boater in February, who had fallen out of his 14′ dinghy w/ 50hsp at full throttle. John got the other guy out of the water, only to watch the runaway dinghy bounce off another boat and head right towards them, hitting them 4 times. John lost his lower left leg in this accident. The kill switch on the runaway dinghy was attached to the key, in the ignition, but NOT on the driver. We’re very glad to have our friend still with us, and we ALL wear our pretty red kill switches!

  10. After the first time we saw a runaway dinghy we started wearing our kils switch lanyard. Without it you could easily kill yourself, your passenger, or some other innocent person.

  11. I clip mine to one of the straps of my life jacket. And I replaced that pesky clip with a larger aluminum carabiner. Its easy to get on and off.

  12. You may have read of the British woman whose whole family were thrown out of the RIB – her husband and one daugher were killed by the RIB when it circled and the propeller hit them. The wife also a leg amputated at the knee. Tragic.

  13. I’m with Mike, when jet skiiing i always clip it to my buoyancy aid.

  14. With my RiB I find its convenient to simply snap the lanyard to a (secure) belt loop on the side of my pants that faces the stern. Both hands are free, I can move about easily. When I get to my destination it stays attached and is dropped into my pocket preventing loss or an unplanned swim.

  15. LOL

  16. Brian Ross says:

    I snap mine to one of the belt loops on my shorts. I can stand and move a little, and no issues. When we reach shore it comes with me – never lose it.

  17. …buuut…my brand new yamaha outboard doesn’t have a kill switch…

  18. Add me to the list of those who use a belt loop. This presupposes of course that you HAVE a belt loop. *grin*

    Your best friend in responding to a runaway dinghy is a length of dockline. Throw it so it uncoils across the path of the dinghy and when it coils around the prop the engine will stop.

  19. That IS a great idea. Cruising in a temperate region I just clip the switch to a belt loop. But on those rare hot days when swim suits are in order, I’ll definitely try this. Thanks for sharing, Sheryl! We shared, too…

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