RYA Killcord survey

The results are in

 

The RYA has a long-standing kill cord message, which was reinforced two years ago with the introduction of the Think! sticker. Following on from this, during the summer of 2015, a well-publicised survey into kill cord and kill switch failure was undertaken.  

The RYA survey had over 1000 respondents from 23 countries, from as far afield as the Falkland Islands, the USA, the Philippines and Australia, not to mention lots of responses from within Europe. However, 90% were from the UK.  

“It was great to receive a wide spread of respondents from all boating backgrounds, the three biggest sectors being RYA dinghy/windsurfing or powerboating instructors, recreational powerboaters and RYA recognised training centre principals or chief instructors”, commented Rachel Andrews, RYA Chief Instructor, Motor Cruising and Power.  

Of the 1016 responses, the over-whelming majority stated that they had never experienced a kill cord or kill switch failure. Whilst this is very good news, 33% described experiencing a failure of either the kill cord, kill switch or both. The number of failures appears high and this may have been an unintended consequence of the title of the survey.  

The aim was to analyse the failures identified and see if there was any commonality of cause. The general conclusions are as follows:

  • Problems occurred across the board in terms of engine size from sub-4hp to 150+hp
  • 73% of problems occurred in engines aged 2-10 years  

Habits

The survey revealed that over 65% of respondents kept the kill cord ashore or in a locker on the boat. However, almost 30% of respondents leave the kill cord attached to the kill switch when not in use.  

Leaving kill cords attached may lead to a number of issues, such as UV and salt degradation of the kill cord, in addition to potentially fatiguing the kill switch spring mechanism possibly reducing its effectiveness.  

The survey showed that over half of respondents are getting their engines serviced by the local service dealer for the engine.  

Just fewer than 75% of engine users are undertaking periodic maintenance checks, similar to those that you’d do prior to a long car journey. However, there were a handful of Powerboat Instructors, safety boat crew and recreational powerboaters who were either undertaking no checks, or were unsure whether any were being done.  

The reasons given for kill cord failure point to closer inspections needing to be carried out before usage to identify weakening of this vital piece of equipment:

  • Kill cord came apart because of rusty metal components - crimp or clip

  • Kill cord snapped with no inner cord
  • Kill cord lost elasticity and stretched, so difficult to keep on leg without it dropping to the floor and falling off or activating the kill switch every time the helm moves their feet

  • Kill cord outer cord perished and just left inner core exposed

There were also problems with non OEM (Original equipment manufacturer), aka after-market kill cords which are often easily available and cheaper than OEM kill cords. Problems associated with these were that the attachment jammed in the switch as it was too tight fitting, or that they were too loose in the switch mechanism and therefore did not reliably pull the mechanism apart enough to activate it.  

A further area where failures occurred were through operator error, where the kill cord was not properly attached, it slipped off the wrist or continually pulled out of the kill switch when worn around the wrist and pull-starting.  

Misunderstanding

The survey highlights some misunderstandings about the use of kill cords, such as expecting the kill cord to disconnect by walking around the side of the console (this would cause too much friction and the kill cord may not disconnect).  

Kill switch failure

66% of kill switch failures failed with the engine not stopping, the rest were that the engine wouldn’t start. When asked what the helm was doing when the failure occurred, it was heartening to read that 30% were testing the kill cord/switch at the time.  

“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”, Rachel added.  

12% noted that they were attempting to stop the engine when the kill switch failed, but it is unclear from the responses whether they were testing the kill cord or whether they genuinely needed to stop the engine.  

The switch failure could be attributed to a number of possible causes:

  • Poorly fitting kill cord toggle – meaning that it may have stretched the mechanism. By testing the mechanism each time you head afloat, it keeps the mechanism moving and can give an early indication of a sticky switch
  • Water/salt ingress into the mechanism making the mechanism stiff
  • Damaged components    

Top tip:

  • Wear the kill cord around the knee, not the wrist or clipped to clothing as these are unsecure – and it is easy for the kill cord to accidentally slip off the wrist
  • When using a kill switch that has a toggle, it is easy to accidentally press the toggle switch into the housing without the kill cord loop connected (such as Mercury or Mariner) this can be reset using the key to flick it back to the off position
  • Remember when testing the kill cord you are testing functionality, not to destruction. They are designed that simply pulling the kill cord from the kill switch should stop the engine (either by hand, or moving away from the helm position. The kill cord should break away at approximately 30lb/15kg of force  

Conclusion

The survey showed that the good practice of testing a kill cord before setting off is fairly widespread and it is important that this habit continues to be emphasised on courses.  

Data gained from the survey and previous testing suggests that owners should use OEM kill cords, rather than after-market kill cords, which can be less carefully manufactured resulting in poor kill switch connection (to tight or too loose).  

It also showed that there are areas for improvement in maintaining equipment, such as checking kill cords for signs of fatigue, discolouration, stiffening, loss of elasticity and any metal or plastic clips; and checking the actual kill switch.  

“The aim of the survey was to identify common themes; it was not intended as a statistical reference. The data captured will be used to inform the general public and guide the RYA when reviewing training syllabi in the future. The responses collated may also form the basis for future research”, Rachel concluded.  

In the UK, to date, there has not been a fatality recorded where one of the causes has been a kill cord or switch failure. The sad fact remains that more accidents could be prevented if helms remembered to use the kill cord.  

For more information about kill cords.