Three boys in a sailing class at Centerport Yacht Club on the north side of Long Island, New York were out sailing in Northport Harbor Tuesday afternoon 18 July, 2017. Their boat was capsized on purpose as part of a man overboard exercise. Two of the boys stayed with the sailboat. The third boy was picked up by an 18 year old sailing instructor on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat).

When the boat operator began to gradually accelerate the boat, the boy fell overboard and was fatally injured by the propeller.

Details are still sketchy, but some accounts say his life jacket was entrapped in the propeller and he was struck in the chest by the propeller.

The 18 year old instructor was able to get the boy back in the boat and performed CPR on him.

One news report mentioned the yacht club instructors were all trained in CPR.

The injured boy, from Northport, was taken to Huntington Hospital where he died.

Propeller guards are sometimes used to prevent youth sailing propeller accidents such as this one. We talk further about their use near the bottom of this post.

The instructed that performed CPR on the boy suffered shock and was taken to the hospital.

The boat was a Zodiac powered by a Yamaha outboard motor.

Centerport Yacht Club RIB involved in the accident

Centerport Yacht Club RIB involved in the accident
An Associated Press image

We enlarged the image of the motor from the image above and sharpened it to create the image below.

Centerport Yacht Club RIB outboard motor involved in the accident

Centerport Yacht Club RIB outboard motor involved in the accident

The enlargement of the RIB’s outboard motor shows it to be a Yamaha.

The logo on the RIB sleeve confirms the boat is a Zodiac.

The accident has been widely covered in the New York press. Local news stations have posted some excellent video coverage as seen below.

CBS WLNY

CBS WLNY

News reports mentioned many parents rushing and running to the yacht club to retrieve their children.

A News12 video noted there are thousands of Long Island kid in sailing camp and boating camp every year.

Aerial photos of the water near the yacht club show the water crowded with boats.

Map of the Yacht Club and area

Youth Sailing is a close knit community. We have already been contacted today by several people with ties to sailing clubs in the U.S. and abroad with concerns about this accident. We suspect the governing bodies of U.S. sailing organizations are already agonizing over it and wondering how to proceed.

Propeller guards are frequently mentioned as a way to prevent these accidents. Below we discuss some of the aspects involved with respect to this specific accident and the organizations (yacht club providing youth sailing instruction) and manufacturers involved (Yamaha and Zodiac). Not mentioned here is US Sailing, the national sailing body that has generally been silent on the issue of propeller guards and “Rather than mandate propeller guards on all boats, the (US Sailing Government Relations) Committee supported customized solutions based on the situational marine environment.”


Could a Propeller Guard Have Prevented This Accident?

Propeller Solutions Propeller Guard

Propeller Solutions Propeller Guard

Propeller guards are a complex issue. The investigation into this accident is not complete. No formal findings of exactly what happened have been released.

The purpose and uses of the RIB in question, the speeds at which it is used, and the environment in which it is used are more variables to consider.

While it is still very early, we do know (or at least think we know) a few things.

  1. The boy fell from the RIB when it was beginning to accelerate.
  2. It is very hard to be fatally injured by a propeller when you fall off a boat moving forward slowly with a propeller guard on it.
  3. Gowrie Group Insurance manages a company that provides insurance to many yacht clubs. Gowrie recommends “that propeller guards be installed on all outboard motors used for teaching junior sailing, coaching sailing, running races, and supporting recreational water sports.” Gowrie issued a press release to that effect back in 2013.
  4. Propeller guards are widely used by youth sailing clubs in Australia.
  5. Zodiac sells their boats with propeller guards on them for use as yacht tenders (they double as life boats for the yachts).
  6. Yamaha has sold their outboards with guards on them and even stated in a press release, “When operating in flooded environments the likelihood of swimmers/diver/casualties being in the water means that a prop guard is essential.”
  7. Over time we have seen many boat propeller accidents involving coaching boats / escort boats with youth sailing, rowing, sculling, open water swimming, canoe racing, and other similar activities.
  8. A range of propeller guards are available to fit most mid-sized outboard motors, like the one involved in this accident.
  9. Propeller guards are available at what seems like a reasonable cost (in the price range of $200 to $600 for outboards typically used on boats like this one).

That said, we cannot say the boat should have had a propeller guard on it, because all the facts are not in. However we can say that if that boat was regularly used in the youth sailing environment as a coaches boat or escort boat, we would likely not be writing this post if a safety analysis with access to the information above had been performed on the boat to see if its propeller should have been guarded or not.

For those wishing to learn more about propeller guards, we have pages listing the benefits of propeller guards and the objections raised against prop guards, and a list of links to propeller guard manufacturers.

As to propeller guard manufacturers with considerable experience with youth sailing applications, Midcoast Marine of Australia has long been tied to this market and to Surf Lifesaving (small RIBS used as rescue boats). MidCoast Marine’s guards are stainless steel with vanes down the sides of them. Here in the U.S., PropGuard is likely the best known in youth sailing. They made some ground with Gowrie when Gowrie was promoting guards in youth sailing applications. PropGuard’s guards are made from polypropylene (a high strength plastic). Midcoast Marine has the most “hands on” experience with youth sailiing because they work directly with sailing clubs and other organizations (predominately in Australia) while PropGuard sells through distributors. MariTech has been building steel “cage type” propeller guards for houseboats. rescue boats, and applications like escort boats in the U.S. for many years. MariTech’s guards can provide protection from both the front and from the rear.


What Yamaha Said in 2012

Yamaha UK Pro Outboard

Yamaha UK Pro Outboard with Yamaha propeller guard

In March 2012, Yamaha announced a stainless steel propeller guard for use on flood rescue boats and swift water rescue boats in the United Kingdom (UK).

In October 2012 we became aware of Yamaha’s new propeller guards and several statements they made about the effectiveness of these guards and how they were necessary when people were in the water.

While Yamaha started with small guards for small outboard motors (25 horsepower), they quickly jumped up to providing larger guards and some Yamaha publications said propeller guards were available for all of Yamaha outboard motors.

These statements were starkly different to previous negative statements made by the boating industry about propeller guards, so in mid October 2016 we published a series of three posts announcing Yamaha’s guards and saluting them for making these guards available on their outboard motors. A few days later, Yamaha became aware of our posts and erased all references to their propeller guards. It was as if they had never existed.

We plead with Yamaha to repost their materials, but when they failed to respond, we published several clips from their materials we had previously archived.

Those materials are now visible at Yamaha Possible Coverup of Propeller Guard Documents Exposed.

Interestingly, at the same time Yamaha was posting information telling everybody how great their propeller guards were in the UK, they were testifying just the opposite about propeller guards in a U.S. legal case as seen below.

It seems a bit odd that Yamaha could make all the denials about the hazards of propellers below in a legal case in the United States, while simultaneously making claims about how great their guards were in the UK and how they were essential when people were in the water around the boat in flooded conditions. YMUS in the image below refers to Yamaha Motor Corporation USA.

Yamaha Motor USA v. Coxe

Yamaha Motor USA vs. Coxe Propeller Case


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