The boating industry has long objected to propeller guards. One of their frequent objections is the possibility that someone might become entrapped in the propeller guard (physically caught on the prop guard). We find their objection interesting considering we frequently encounter reports of boat propeller accidents in which people were entrapped in open propellers.
Swimmers and those who fall overboard can have their clothing or life jackets caught in the propeller. Others have their bodies impaled by the propeller and remain caught on the propeller somewhat like a fishing hook with the propeller embedded in their leg or trunk. Still others have been trapped between twin propellers.
These accidents are sometimes referred to as propeller entangled, propeller entanglement, propeller entrapment, entrapped by a boat propeller, and a host of other phrases.
A list of some of the occurrences of boat propeller victims being caught on propellers, entrapped by propellers, impaled on propellers, or having their leg embedded by a propeller follows:
- Idea From Movie Saves Girl’s Life. The Globe and Mail. April 15, 1985. At Lake Oroville in California, a man’s 8 year old daughter became caught in the propeller of a houseboat. The man had seen the movie, Sometimes a Great Notion, and emulated the act of carrying his own lungs full of air to his daughter trapped underwater until she could be freed.
- Emilio Cruz dove from the top of the stern of a rented houseboat with a friend on Lake Havasu on March 21, 1993. The boat was started and backed up shortly later. He was entrapped on the propeller and died on a life flight to the hospital.
- Christine Hingley fell from a rental houseboat on Shuswap Lake in Canada while stepping to a SeaDoo on 2 July 1993. She was pulled into the propeller of the reversing houseboat, entrapped on the propeller, and died from her injuries.
- Philip Eugene Hurley went off the back of a houseboat in New Zealand on 28 April 2001. He became entangled in the propeller and was killed. His jersey was tightly wound around the propeller and those onboard had to cut him free. Taranaki Daily News. 9 February 2002.
- 26 May 2001 accident on Lake Thunderbird here in Oklahoma. Tamra Carpenter, 19 year old woman, had her right thigh embedded on a boat propeller and needed her head held above water. Rescue personnel were very worried about the femoral artery being struck as she was already loosing large amounts of blood. One line from the coverage sounds very similar to the Virginia Beach accident, “Tamra would scream out in pain every time the boat was rocked by waves.” Rescuers gathered onlookers from the beach to form a human wall around the boat in shallow water to reduce wave action while others located tools to remove the propeller. Emergency services were called and the ambulance was 30 to 45 minutes away. Once it arrived, she was taken by ambulance to Norman Regional Hospital with the propeller still embedded in her leg. A June 14, 2002 report said her first surgery lasted eight hours. She had undergone 17 surgeries to date and still faced more surgical repairs.
- Propeller Victim Thinks Man Who Helped Save Her is a Hero. Times Journal (Russell Springs Kentucky). June 7, 2007. (May 27, 2007 accident date). A man’s girlfriend’s leg was caught between the propeller and anti-cavitation plate. Her shorts were also wrapped around the propeller. The man had to hold her head above water while others helped him try to free her. A Doctor said, they “had never seen anyone with a wound such as hers live to tell about it.”
- Man Injured in Boat Accident on Lake Susan. KARE11 (Minneapolis – St. Paul Minnesota). June 12, 2007. The report includes an actual video of rescuers moving the boat and paramedics trying to extricate the 21 year old male impaled on the prop. Rescuers similarly had to move the boat to shallow water and try to keep the victims head above water.
- Child Hurt in Boating Mishap. The Bracebridge Examiner and Gravenhurst Banner. September 9, 2009. Canada. A 6 year old girl had a 10 hp outboard propeller lodged in her leg on Wood Lake near Vankoughnet. A firefighter that happened to also be a marine mechanic with his tools with him removed the propeller from the outboard to free the girl. She was life flighted with the propeller still embedded in her leg.
- Man Gets Leg Stuck in Propeller. TVNZ (New Zealand). January 28, 2010.
- Fire Department Hands Out Annual Awards. Maryland Gazette. June 18, 2010. Rescue workers spent about 20 minutes trying to free a man’s legs tangled in a propeller. The incident was written up in an award to the rescue crew.
- Boating Accident and Hyrum State Park Sends Man to Hospital. KSL (Utah). July 4, 2010. Includes a VIDEO. AND Inner Tuber in Hospital After Leg Caught in Boat Propeller. Salt Lake Tribune. July 4, 2010.
- Boy, Dad Injured in Lake Conroe Boating Accident. Houston Chronicle. July 31, 2010. The father was also injured by the propeller blades as he tried to pull his son free of the propeller.
- Elderly Man Falls From Boat and Dies at Lake Taneycomo. KSDK (Forsythe Missouri). October 6, 2010. The man’s shirt became entangled in the propeller and prevented him from surfacing.
- Guide Freed Dr From Propeller. The Marlborough Express. December 14, 2010. New Zealand. A dolphin tourist got her wetsuit caught in a tour boat propeller and she suffered several lacerations to her legs.
- In a particularly high profile propeller accident, on June 30, 2011 Alexis Angelopolous, a twelve year old girl, was impaled between twin propellers in a propeller accident on Virginia Beach Virginia. Rescuers held her head above water while the propellers were removed from the boat. The process took about 90 minutes. We covered this accident at Virginia Beach Propeller Accident Impales Girl’s Leg.
- Another young girl was entrapped in a propeller on September 3, 2011. Bobbie Jo Brooker, a ten year old girl from Lee’s Summit Missouri was riding on a pontoon boat on Pomme de Terre Lake in Missouri. The pontoon boat slowed, she fell over the bow and was struck by the propeller. The 9 Sept 2011 Kansas City Star report tells how her father held her head above water while others tried to cut her entangled life jacket from the propeller. She was very severely injured.
- A Korean teenager swimming behind a large boat in Sydney Harbour (Australia) was some distance from the stern of the 40 footer, the boat operator reversed the vessel to get closer and the teenager became entrapped in the propeller on 19 September 2011 per an article in 21 September 2011 Sydney Morning Herald. He had chest and leg injuries, and later died. His friend had been trying to hold his head above water when emergency crews arrived.
- Daniel Enox was fishing on Waurika Lake in Oklahoma on May 10, 2012 in a 14.5 foot aluminum boat with an 8hp outboard. He fell overboard when the drive was in neutral, his friend jumped in to help him and must have knocked the drive into gear as he exited. The boat began to circle. Enox was struck 5 times by the boat as it circled, four times by the propeller in the head, once on the foot, then his shorts became entrapped in the propeller and killed the engine per the May 25, 2012 Express Star of Grady County Oklahoma. Enox was rescued by another boater, but his friend’s body was recovered later.
- James Goodman jumped into Kaw Lake near Ponca City Oklahoma on May 19, 2012 to rescue a friend. While trying to reboard, his legs were entrapped by the propeller and killed the engine. He was Life Flighted to a Tulsa Hospital. Authorities were still searching the Lake for his friend several days later.
- A 14 year old boy on Lake Powell (Arizona) had his shorts entrapped in a rotating propeller while boarding the boat after knee boarding on 18 June 2012. He was life flighted to a hospital in Page Arizona with two serious lacerations to his right leg per a 21 June Arizona Daily Sun article.
- A 13 or 14 year old girl fell from a boat on on Pleasant Bay near Orleans Massachusetts and became entrapped in the propeller on Saturday July 7, 2012. Her swimsuit became entangled in the propeller and firemen had to cut her free. She suffered life threatening injuries per the July 8, 2012 Cape Cod Times and was life flighted by a Coast Guard helicopter.
- July 17, 2012 in the U.K., a teenage boy on a school outing building rafts became entrapped in a boat propeller on a lake in Fairlop Waters. Authorities arrived and found the boat it shallow water, but his leg entangled in the propeller by his shoelaces. They cut him free and he was life flighted to a Major Trauma Unit of a London Hospital per an 18 July 2012 report on London24.com.
- 20 July 2012 Charlie Hutton, 14 year old UK boy, was washed off a RIB by a large wave and entrapped on its propeller near the Needles off the Isle of Wight. He died from his injuries.
- 27 Jan 2013 a 14 year old girl fell from a tube in Florida on Biscayne Bay, then she became entrapped in the propeller of the tow boat. Rescue workers freed her. She had deep cuts to her leg and was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital along with a young boy injured at the same time.
- 18 June 2013 a 14 year old Tuscon Arizona boy was on Lake Powell in Navajo Canyon (Arizona end of the lake) about 9:30am on Monday 18 June. As he was re-entering a boat after wake boarding, his shorts became entrapped in the moving propeller causing cuts to his upper right leg and side. He was life flighted to Page Hospital.
- 1 July 2013 three youth were pulling a tuber near the Fairhope Alabama Yacht Club. The boy being towed became entrapped in the propeller. Several at the club were watching events unfold as a SkiDoo rider took an officer out to the boat, gave him his life jacket for use with the boy as the officer cut him from the propeller. The propeller cut his leg, but officials thought he would be able to keep his leg.
- 23 August 2013 Aaron Tepfer, 10 year old boy in New York in Reynolds Channel near Cedarhurst Yacht Club off Long Island. He had been tubing. Rescuers had to hold his head up, while others tried to free his leg.
- August 2013 Accident Date (exact day not certain) United Kingdom (UK) – an RNLI crew at Teddington rescued two men on the Thames River after their boat capsized. One man’s shirt had become entrapped in the boat’s propeller.
- 17 July 2014 Ryan Batchelder, 7 of Florida, ejected from bow of a rented boat on Lake Burton Georgia, his body was entrapped on the propeller that took his life. They had to get a crane to lift the boat to remove his body from the propeller and driveshaft.
- 18 October 2014 Ruby Kelly Causey, 77 of Efland North Carolina was visiting Okefenokee Swamp (in Georgia) with her husband. They stopped the boat to view something, when they restarted it, the boat stood up and they were both ejected. Her husband tried to help her, but “she had apparently become entangled with the boat’s propeller.”
- 11 July 2015 Mark Coen, 56 of Gales Ferry Connecticut, was swimming in Gardiner’s Bay in New York. Returning to his boat, he was at the swim ladder when his shirt became entangled in the boat propeller. He received severe lacerations to his upper right thigh from the boat propeller.
- 8 August 2015 Edyta Regnowski and friends were on a peer to peer boat rental in New York when the 19 foot Bayliner backed over her. She was entrapped in the propeller about 25 minutes. Her right leg was later amputated. The accident later evolved into a lawsuit against Boatbound (rental group) and others.
- 13 August 2015 Costa Rica – Won Ah, a 30 year old tourist from the United States, was on a fishing charter with his brother and 5 other tourists. They were on a 30 foot boat, about 3 miles off Los Suenos Marina in Playa Herradura. The tourists asked the captain to stop the boat, he left the motors idling, some tourists jumped into the water to swim. The captain heard a loud noise, and stopped the engines. Won Ah was apparently entrapped in the propeller by his bathing suit. He died at the scene.
- 30 January 2016 – 7 year old boy and another person were ejected from 12 foot foot boat when it hit a submerged object on Upper Manatee River in Florida. The young boy was entrapped on the propeller and received serious injuries.
It seems to us, that by the boating industry’s own logic (people might get caught on a propeller guard so we should not use them), they would be banning propellers as well.
What to Do When Someone is Caught / Entangled on a Boat Propeller
In terms of what to do when someone is embedded on a propeller, a summary of what others have tried is below. This is NOT professional advice.
- Make sure the person’s mouth is above water so they can breathe. Someone may need to hold their head above water.
- There have been instances of people breathing in air, swimming down under water and exhaling that fresh air into the victim.
- You can be of the most help if you remain calm and collected. Plus you will be better able to communicate with those providing assistance. One of the leading problems is providing location information to the rescuers. Be sure you can very clearly give the location of your vessel. You will often be visiting with people that are not familiar with the area, so be exact and use several local landmarks plus any mile markers, buoys, nearby marinas, or things of that nature.
- Call 911, use a marine radio to request help, yell and scream for assistance or somehow make sure the authorities and rescue personnel have been alerted to your problem and your exact location. Try to remain calm when relaying the situation and your location so they can best help you. If you can relay the make and model of the marine drive at this time, they might be able to bring the appropriate gear to remove the propeller or contact someone who can.
- Be alert to the oncoming rescuers and guide them to your boat.
- Rescue workers may be able to use a snorkeling mask or scuba gear to aid the person in breathing. Sometimes several life jackets have been used to help float the person higher in the water.
- If the person is only caught by their clothing or a life jacket, they may be able to cut them away from the propeller and begin more normal rescue operations.
- Address the person’s immediate medical needs as best as possible, try to keep them calm, you may need to apply pressure or a tourniquet to prevent extreme loss of blood. Wet towels are often used to apply pressure or as tourniquets.
- Find something to wrap the person in after they are extracted as they may be cold. Also they may remain calmer if you have something to cover their body if their clothing has been cut away.
- Often other boaters come to the rescue as well. Their boats can be positioned to help calm the water where the person is caught on the propeller (it is very painful to the entrapped person every time the boat bounces on a wave).
- Rescue personnel may find it necessary to tow the boat to shallow water or less rough water to work on extracting the person.
- In shallow water, bystanders have been assembled in the water to act as a human shield to help block the waves from the person caught on the propeller.
- Professional marine mechanics may be required to remove the propeller, including the special tools that may be required
- If you have access to a phone and cell service, contact family members and alert them to the accident, your location, and where the victim may be taken.
- On several occasions, once the propeller is removed from the boat, it is left impaled in the person. If it is removed, several blood flow or other problems could result. It is removed from the person later in a hospital.
- Once the person has been removed from the marine drive, it becomes a normal propeller accident rescue operation.
Again, the above ideas are NOT professional advice. They are just a summary of what others have tried in the past. It is our understanding, the Virginia Beach Virginia firefighters and police are going to be offering some training based on a 2011 propeller entrapment rescue there. You might be able to contact them for professional advice.