A new engine cutoff switch law that went into effect Jan. 1 is not likely to affect boaters on Lake Martin this season, but changes could be coming this fall if the U.S. Coast Guard revises Alabama’s 24-foot rule. Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Marine Patrol Division Deputy Chief Matt Brooks said any changes probably would come in October.
“There are two different laws in question. The State law requires that the operator of any vehicle less than 24 feet and more than 50 horsepower has to wear the cutoff switch. The new federal law says all vehicles on navigable waters less than 26 feet and more than 115 pounds of thrust – essentially a 3 horsepower motor,” Brooks explained.
“From a State perspective, we can only enforce the State law, but we do look into the future to bring our law in line with the federal law,” he said.
A section of Alabama House Bill 238 would align the State mandate with the new federal law, Brooks said, but the U.S. Coast Guard will contact states that have navigable waters and review areas to determine what action, if any, might need to be taken. One question for Alabama is the definition of a navigable waterway, as the Army Corps of Engineers also works with a navigable water definition that differs from the Coast Guard’s.
“We have reached out to the Coast Guard as to what they would determine to be navigable waters. In the meantime, we will continue to enforce our existing law, but with an eye toward the Coast Guard revising our law or giving us an exemption,” Brooks said. “If the house bill passes, it would not be effective until October.”