TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The family of a 10-year-old Florida boy killed in a boating accident is pushing for a way to make a day on the water safer.
State lawmakers will soon take up “Ethan’s Law,” which was introduced in the boy’s honor.
“We always thought he would accomplish great things because of who he is,” Ethan Isaacs’ mother, Mindy Isaacs, remembered. “He was extremely bright, gifted.”
In November 2020, a boating accident turned into a tragedy. Ethan was taking sailing lessons in Sarasota. When he fell out of his sailboat, an instructor in a 90-horsepower boat tried to rescue him but fell on the throttle. The 18-year-old instructor, whom News4Jax is not naming, was thrown overboard with the engine in gear. The boat ran over Ethan, who was struck by the propeller. Ethan died.
Turning heartbreak into helping others, Ethan’s parents are using their pain to push for legislation that would require boat operators to wear a kill switch on Florida waters. House Bill 1099 would require the use of motorboat engine cutoff switches.
“It means a lot to us because we know in some way he would leave his mark on this world,” his father, Greg Isaacs, said. “And through this law, he has.”
The kill switch is fairly simple. A boat operator puts a lanyard onto their belt loop, life jacket or something else that’s attached to their body. The other side goes into a receptacle near the throttle or ignition. If the boat’s operator is thrown from their seat, the lanyard disconnects and the engine shuts off.
Freedom Boat Club of Jacksonville manager Ryan Brunette said it’s a good idea to wear it anytime on the water and, while it’s not a law now, most boats have the option and operators should use it. A stray boat can not only run over whoever falls out, it can keep going and crash into other boats or docks.
“It is something that we recommend. It is an easy safety feature,” Brunette said. “It doesn’t take much longer than putting on a seat belt. We don’t think that it really illuminates any of the pleasure you can get from boating, and it’s definitely a great safety feature.”
State Rep. Fiona McFarland, of Sarasota, who sponsored the bill in the Florida House, said: “I feel like our chances are good.”
Another lawmaker -- state Sen. Joe Gruters, of Sarasota -- is bringing the bill to the Florida Senate.
Starting April 1, 2021, a nationwide law goes into effect making drivers of boats under 26 feet wear one on federal waters, but in Florida, that’s miles offshore. It doesn’t include inland waterways or lakes.
“Ethan’s Law” would make it required in all public waterways across the state and the Coast Guard, wildlife officers or police could ticket anyone not following the rules.
“The good news is that boats have been required to be manufactured with this technology for quite a long time, and even before the requirement, most manufacturers were providing this anyways,” McFarland said. “Because it just makes good boating sense.”
The Isaacs family will keep pushing for the kill switch bill, hoping people pay attention to the safety features most boats have.
“It’s been so difficult to deal with not having him with us today,” Mindy Isaacs said. “So we really hope that people hear our story and know that we don’t want any other family to go through this. This is something that no parent should have to experience.”
If the proposal is passed into law, it could go into effect in Florida in July. Ethan’s parents said that regardless of if it passes or not, people should wear the lanyard like a seat belt.
If a boat is wired for one, but if it doesn’t have a kill switch, you can get a replacement for about $12 online.
There is also new technology with wireless kill switches that allow someone to walk around the boat without a cable. If they go overboard, it kills the engine. Those run around $250.