The kill cord was brought into sharp relief by the Camel Estuary tragedy in May 2013, which resulted in the death of a man and his eight-year-old daughter when a family of two adults and four children were ejected into the water while manoeuvring the boat at speed. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) Safety Bulletin concluded that the 8m-long rigid-hulled inflatable boat was fitted with a kill cord but it was not attached to the driver at the time the accident happened.

Speaking at the PYA Sea Changes seminar earlier this year, Richard Falk of the Royal Yachting Association noted that the organisation was concerned with the lack of vigilance regarding kill cord use in the industry. “Thirty per cent of surveyed superyacht captains and crew stated that kill cords are not used in their tenders,” he revealed, adding that the worrying statistic has to a plea for the industry to help. “There is no good reason not to wear a kill cord – it’s a no-brainer. Captains make a huge difference by providing on board familiarisation training to new joiners and leading by example.”

Credit: Ivor Wilkins

The RYA has since released a safety notice reminding powerboat users of the basic essentials when is comes to using a kill cord. “The RYA recognises that it is not always easy to identify hazards and how we might be vulnerable to events that might go badly wrong,” the notice states. “That is why there is great merit in learning lessons from accidents and the experience of others if it gets us thinking about our own attitudes and behaviour when out on the water. The RYA Safety Advisory Notice brings together critical safety issues, including those that have arisen from incidents in the past year.”

“The kill cord serves only one purpose, to stop the engine when the driver moves away from the controls,” explains the notice. “To ensure that tragic accidents are not repeated it is essential that all owners and drivers of open powerboats, PWCs and RIBs ensure their boat is fitted with a kill switch and kill cord and that it is correctly used. Always attach the cord securely to the driver, ideally before the engine is started, but certainly before the boat is put in gear where safe to do so. Stop the engine before transferring the kill cord to another driver. On a powerboat the kill cord should be attached securely around the thigh and on a Personal Watercraft it should be attached to the buoyancy aid.”

"Kill cords may become stretched or brittle if stored open to the elements."

But the advice does not stop at use, as the notice points out the maintenance and repairs also plays an important role in tender safety. “Kill cords should be protected from the elements,” the notice points out. “Over time extremes of temperature and UV light will harm the lanyard. Kill cords may become stretched or brittle if stored open to the elements. Monitor the kill cord for signs of wear, rust and reduced elasticity (the kill cord should not droop excessively) and replace it in good time.”

Furthermore, when replacing kill cords, the RYA advises users to purchase a good quality lanyard with a strengthening cord through the middle. Most good chandlers will stock kill cords to suit the different engines, but if in doubt contact the engine manufacturer to source the correct replacement.

Look out for issue 156, the Captain’s Issue, of The Superyacht Report (out August 2014 - to subscribe please click here) where we look at safe tender operations and ask whether kill-cord use is a concern in the superyacht industry. To read the RYA Safety Advisory Notice in full, please click here.

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