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Stages of grief: boating industry resists proposed safety devices

Navigator Prop Guard Down Position

Navigator Prop Guard Down Position

The recreational boating industry has long used a series of objections in their efforts to resist proposed safety devices, including propeller safety devices. The industry raises different objections during different stages of the process. Overall the process resembles the 5 stages of grief people pass though when a loved one dies.

The five stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

We have long seen this sequence of objections used against propeller guards. Some of these steps were used against kill switches long ago, and now some are being used against The Leash, a device to prevent outboard motors from breaking off and flipping into boats after striking submerged objects. PWC off throttle steering devices passed through these steps too, along with automatically limiting maximum PWC speeds.

These steps are basically the playbook the industry pulls out every time a new safety device is proposed.

Steps within the five stages are listed below, along with some examples.

The first sequence of steps occur before the device is commercially available. During this stage, the industry is in DENIAL. The industry:

  1. Says the problem this proposed device is said to prevent does not exist, we have never seen an accident like this before this one or these accidents are extremely rare.
  2. The industry breaks the accident data down to very specific types of boats with specific types and sizes of drives for one year or two at a time to make the numbers look smaller, thus denying there is a problem.
  3. Says the accidents that do happen are caused by human error, its their own fault they were hurt.
  4. Says the accidents are alcohol related.
  5. Says we already have a safety device in place to prevent these accidents, it is the boater’s responsibility to use it (like manual kill switch lanyards that almost nobody uses).
  6. Says the proposed device is not commercially available and they could not possibly construct one themselves (even if the device appears to be very simply built).
  7. Says the proposed device could have unintended consequences and portrays those unintended consequences as always being bad (even if the device has already been on the market for several years).
  8. Says the proposed device is too costly to manufacture, install, or service.
  9. Says none of our competitors are using the proposed device so why should we (the entire industry pushes back against the device).
  10. Says our products were not designed with the proposed device in mind, it could damage our products.

The second sequence of steps of denial occur after the device is placed on the market, the industry becomes ANGRY and:

  1. Says the proposed safety device is not commercially available in the exact size/configuration to fit this particular vessel or motor (when all they have to do is ask).
  2. Claims no test data exists for the device – and fails to test it themselves.
  3. Says our product meets all industry standards (ABYC voluntary standards). There is no standard requiring this device, so we cannot use it.
  4. Claims no standards exist for the device or its use so they cannot use it (even though the industry sets its own standards through ABYC).
  5. Conducts litigation testing (they conjure up a test the device is guaranteed to fail even though their own products may fail the same test).
  6. Warns potential users their marine drive or boat warranty will not or may not cover the marine drive or boat if it is altered by using this new safety device (has long been done with propeller guards).
  7. Says education is the answer not safety devices (like we need to educate boaters to connect kill switch lanyards when they have been trying that approach unsuccessfully for decades).
  8. Says warnings could prevent these accidents even though they have already warned against the hazard for decades.
  9. Says this new safety device encourages risky behavior. With the hazard now appearing less risky, people are now more likely to be injured by it because they no longer fear the hazard.
  10. Claims they are unable to determine exactly which marine drives or boats to install these new devices on because they do not know which motor will be mounted on which which new boat and how that boat will be used. (even though they are able to recommend a specific propeller of their own manufacture for almost any boat and engine combination and use).
  11. Says the manufacturer of the new safety device has a monopoly on the market and they do not want to accept a safety device they must purchase from a monopoly. (even though their is a federal law preventing monopolies from overcharging for safety devices).
  12. Maligns the safety device, the inventors, and the firms manufacturing the safety devices. (NMMA once said, In the past, there had been several “snake oil salesmen designing guards in their garage.”).
  13. Uses their legislative connections/power to dismiss the issue. For example, the industry erupted in an uproar surrounding USCG’s “Don’t Wreck Your Summer” Public Service Announcement (PSA) video about propeller safety. The industry quickly contacted legislators and threatened the USCG boating office which quickly pulled the PSA.
  14. Tries to stack up rulings in their favor like they did with the 1989 NBSAC Subcommittee on Propeller Guards and with Federal Pre-emption in the courts prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sprietsma case.

In those instances in which the Coast Guard picks up the torch and begins proposing regulations requiring these safety devices, the industry drags their feet and finally begins to BARGAIN. The industry:

  1. Says they will need years to implement the proposed regulations
  2. Says the proposed regulations are too broad. We must limit them to this small group of vessels operating in specific areas, while providing exemptions to some that even meet the industry’s proposed criteria.
  3. Says the proposed regulations will be too difficult or costly to enforce (said mandatory kill switch wear would be too hard to enforce and would require boarding all vessels)
  4. Sometimes bargains by establishing their own voluntary ABYC standard (the lowest requirements they can get everybody to agree on).
  5. Sometimes bargains by establishing a gentleman’s agreement with the government like they did in 1999 with PWC top speeds (65 mph).
  6. Sometimes tries to defeat proposed regulations by miring them down in the details (what is the definition of a houseboat?, what is the definition of propeller guard?. etc)

As for DEPRESSION and ACCEPTANCE, we rarely see these stages because the industry has been very successful at dismissing proposed safety devices in the earlier stages. Rarely is the boating industry forced to actually use some new safety device /propeller safety device.

Signs of the industry being DEPRESSED include:

  1. Losing a legal case for not using the proposed safety device and having to appeal the case and losing it again.
  2. When a large sum of punitive damages is awarded.
  3. When young children are killed (mobilizes the emotional response) or adults survive in a horribly maimed state from an accident they in no way contribute to (large payout due to sympathy they could garner from a jury)
  4. When there is no one out there to lay the blame on (on the operator for alcohol use or going too fast, on the lack of a spotter, on the injured party for use of alcohol, on the boat dealer, on a component manufacturer like the Teleflex steering cases).

Examples of the industry being in a state of ACCEPTANCE include:

  1. Them currently installing kill switches on most vessels after losing several legal cases.
  2. Accepting the proposed rudder steering design for off throttle steering of PWCs after losing several legal cases
  3. Installing finger guards on pontoon boat gates after several youth ripped off fingers in them
  4. We may soon see the beginning of acceptance of wireless kill switches with Mercury teaming with Fell Marine.

The resistance goes on

For nearly 40 years, the industry has repeatedly won the war against propeller guards.

As to The Leash, it has only been on the market for a couple years. The industry is just getting into the trenches against this one. Two major outboard manufacturers recently denied they even knew such accidents existed.


In Summary

The boating industry faces proposed boating safety devices just like individuals face the loss of loved ones. They pass through the 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

We have seen it time and time again.

Comment – At times, some of the objections raised by the boating industry against proposed safety devices may be legitimate. However it is ridiculous for the industry to raise most of these objections every time a new proposed safety device comes along.


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