A kill cord is a vital piece of safety equipment on any small powerboat (see Use a kill cord: prevent injury or death). In 2015, the RYA undertook a survey to investigate the causes of kill cord and kill switch failure. The survey pulled together input from more than a thousand respondents in 23 countries around the world, from the UK and continental Europe to the Falkland Islands, the USA, the Philippines and Australia – and the results are now in.
While the majority of respondents said they had never experienced any difficulties, a third described a failure of either the kill cord, the kill switch or both, with problems occurring across the board in terms of engine size, from less than 4hp to more than 150hp - and with 73 per cent of failures reportedly occurring in engines from two to 10 years old.
Many of the reasons given for failure appear to point to the need for closer inspection prior to usage. Common issues included the cord snapping due to rusty crimps or clips; a loss of elasticity, causing the cord to fall off the wearer’s leg; and the perishing of the outer cord, leaving the inner exposed. And with nearly 30 per cent of participants leaving the cord attached to the switch when not in use, it seems clear that UV and salt degradation are playing a key role in that.
There were also problems with after-market kill cords from non-OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) suppliers. Though easily available and cheaper than OEM kill cords, some were either too tight or too loose in the switch mechanism, either jamming or failing to activate it. And as you might expect, operator error also appears to be central. Most common issues involve incorrect attachment or a cord slipping from the wrist or exiting the kill switch when pull-starting.
However, 30 per cent of reported incidents occurred while testing the kill cord or kill switch mechanism – and RYA Chief Instructor, Rachel Andrews, is plainly heartened by this trend: “It has long been in the RYA Powerboat Level 2 syllabus to test the kill cord before setting off and it is great to see that not only is this practice embedded, but that it is picking up issues early before an emergency situation occurs.”
However, according to Rachel, the primary areas for improvement include: checking kill cords for signs of fatigue, discolouration, stiffening, loss of elasticity and weakening of any metal or plastic clips; and checking the actual kill switch.
For more on kill cords and why you should use them see: Kill cord reminder: RNLI video of runaway powerboat and The kill cord MENSA test.