Propeller Guard Information Center

Outboard Motor Struck Submerged Object And Flipped Into Boat: Exemplar Outboard Boat Accidents

The Storm Lake Iowa Laass v. Brunswick case has focused attention on outboard marine drives striking submerged objects and flying back up into the boat. In the Storm Lake accident, a ten year old boy, David Paul McFarlin was killed on May 31, 2010. A 175 HP Mercury outboard struck a submerged dredge pipe, flipped back up into the boat, and the boy was killed by its propeller.

First, a point of clarification. The U.S. Coast Guard does not recognize accidents in which people are on boats or otherwise not in the water when they are struck by propellers as propeller accidents, so this is “officially” not a propeller accident.

Marine drive manufacturers use relief valves and check valves in the trim systems of stern drives and larger outboards to cushion the blow and absorb the energy of striking submerged objects. The relief valves allow the cylinder rod to extend (drive to swing up as it dissipates energy), then the check valves allow the cylinder piston to settle back down to a “memory” piston. Mercury Marine is well known for conducting log strike tests which we discuss on our Laass v. Brunswick page, and supply an early video near the bottom of this page.

We often see U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) reports in which an outboard was torn from or broke off the transom. Some of these outboards sink, while others remain attached by cables, hoses, and/or fuel lines. In some portion of these instances, the outboard strikes a submerged object and actually flies up / flips up and lands in the boat. As a result, people in the boat can be struck by the outboard or cut by its still rotating propeller.

We decided to investigate BARD and some other sources to gain some greater understanding of these types of accidents and perhaps some insights into their frequency.

During this process we also found some interesting comments about these outboard “flipped into boat” accidents in online boating forums. In one forum discussing a report of a “flipped in” accident, members were discussing if this was even possible or not.

To get some quick results we focused on 2008, 2009, 2010 Public BARD because they contain the redacted narrative of the accidents (verbal description of accident with people’s names and personal information redacted).

In addition we were able to spot a few outboard “flipped into boat” accidents in legal cases, online boating forums, and news reports.

The spreadsheet below summarizes our findings. Please do NOT make any estimates of frequency of these “outboard motor flipped into boat” accidents until you read our accident frequency comments later on this post, as well as the section on how we identified the outboard boat accidents in the spreadsheet. You can download a pdf of the spreadsheet by clicking on it. It is best viewed on a 24 inch or larger monitor.

NOTE – the downloadable pdf chart is newer and has more accidents listed on it than the one visible in the image below.

Outboard Motor Flipped Into Boat chart

Outboard Motor Flipped Into Boat chart

Updates

As we continue to focus on this topic we have developed some tools to help those working on the problem:

Additional Accidents

As we encounter more accidents we list them below until we update the chart again:

  • A post in the TidalFish.com forum, dated December 8, 2009. The post is in a discussion of the 2009 Maryland accident listed in the chart above.

    “I remember a similar story in the Potomac River I think coming back into Mattowoman Creek to weight in fish at Smallwood. They were flying when they hit a stump, which broke the outboard off and it came flying in the boat and killed someone. This would have been my first year in college so I think it was in 2001.”

    The accident below is listed on the chart above. We just provide this information as additional details since it does not exactly agree with the BARD listing.

    4 May 2012 Note – we just tracked down the above Mattowoman / Mattawoman Creek accident to BARD# 2001-MD-0213 a October 27, 2001 accident on Mattowoman Creek. Is labeled as “Falls in Boat”, excessive speed, hazardous waters, was on a Saturday. BARD lists it as an injury (Broken Bone(s) and Back injury) that was not hospitalized (instead of as a fatality). Two people on board, 21 foot Triton TR21PDC with a 225 hp outboard going 61-80 mph. Boat built in 1999. BARD does not say the motor flied in, but it may well have. We will continue to search for other reports of this accident.

  • A post titled “Another Sad Boating Death” on Bayliner Owners Club includes a May 31, 2010 post recounting an earlier accident. A portion of that post is reproduced below.

    I was in Miners Bay on Maine Island many years ago and noticed a runabout tied up to the dock that had half of it’s transon (and engine) missing. I enquired as to the circumstances and the gas barge jockey told me that it was his boat. He was travelling about 30 knots through the water when he struck a submerged log with his outboard, and the motor (transom and all) flipped into the back of the boat. He was spinning about 3500 rpm’s at the time and the only thing that saved his life was the fact that the motor (c/w spinning prop) was 2 feet behind him.

  • A thread titled, Ky Lake Accident, on Bass Fishing Home Page about the October 2007 David Young accident, includes mention of another:

    buzzed bait from RobShaw 10/25/2007
    the same thing happened on the James/Appomattox River here in Va not long ago. A Gambler hit something IN THE CHANNEL and brought the outboard up into the cockpit severing or nearly severing the passenger’s arm.

  • A 28 April 2012 thread titled “Careful Please” on Bass Fishing Home Page discussing the Archusa Lake accident in Mississippi includes a 1 May 2012 post from SMS that includes “Same thing happened several years ago at Rend Lake in IL during a BFL.” BFL refers to a bass fishing tournament. SMS also refers to the 2006 KY Lake fishing tournament accident.
  • 25 September 2006 thread in Bass Boat Central about the 2006 KY Lake accident titled “Pictures of the Boat” mentions several other similar accidents we do not yet have specifically identified.
  • A post titled “Close Call” in Louisiana Sportsman Magazine talking about an accident that happened several years ago:

    … bass fishing with his father at Toledo Bend and were on their way back to the launch. …. They were up on step in a boat with something like a 250 horse outboard, so they were “movin’ on”. They were in one of the marked channels when apparently they hit a either submerged log or tree stump. The outboard flipped up out of the water, broke off the transom, and the spinning prop landed between them. Nobody had a scratch.

  • A 26 May 2012 post by FIN at Crappie.com:

    A few years ago a man got killed at horseshoe (Horseshoe Lake in Mississippi) when running at high speed and hit a log. It through the motor over and the prop cut him. That was a small outboard with out T&T.

  • Outboard Boating Engine Accident: Mechanical Failure Analysis by Gerald Davis (profile on expertsdotcom) cites a 75 HP outboard coming into the boat while approaching a dock at 20 mph when the jackplate failed. The outboard amputated the right hand of a male passenger. He sued the boat owner, jackplate manufacturer, and outboard manufacturer. No location, date, or name is provided.

Call for Help in Identifying Accidents

If anybody is aware of any boat accidents in which an outboard flipped into a boat not listed above, please drop us a note using the Contact Us tab in the menu, and we will add it to our list.

How We Identified the Outboard Boat Accidents Above

We started with the Public versions of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD). Those three years include the redacted narrative that helped us identify some accidents in which the outboard flipped into the boat. We began in the Accidents table and sorted Event 1 accident types alphabetically, then individually read the narratives of those labeled as “Collision With Floating Object” and those labeled as “Struck Submerged Object” looking for tips that the drive flew / flipped into the boat. We also used the same process for sifting through Event 2 accident types. We did not check Event 3 accident types because we felt it unlikely anyone would strike a floating or submerged object hard enough to knock a drive into the boat as the third event in the sequence of an accident, plus few accidents list 3rd events anyway. Once we identified boat accidents of interest, we went to the Vessel table for information about the boat and drive / outboard.

NOTE – our process above missed some 2008, 2009, 2010 “flipped into boat” accidents we were later able to identify from other sources. USCG does NOT have any indicators, categories, etc. to identify accidents of this nature (not even to identify the outboard ripped off the transom category). We are left to whatever was written in the redacted narrative. The same goes for them being struck by the propeller after the outboard flipped in. The redacted narrative of these “flipped into boat” accidents may say they were struck by the propeller or it may not. No mention of being struck by the propeller does not mean they were not struck. The bottom line is, it would be very difficult to impossible to determine how many of these accidents are recorded in BARD because BARD did not specifically identify them. Correspondingly, it would be even more difficult to say anything about the frequency of those in which the outboard flipped in and someone was struck by its propeller.

We also did some word searching of our own databases, some news databases, and some legal databases and found several additional accidents. We backtracked into BARD using their date and location to find the associated BARD reports for some of them.

Later on we went back and reviewed some earlier BARD data (1995- 2001) that had some spotty data in it (not all years provide a verbal accident description, and the years that did often only provide a verbal description for a fraction of the accidents). We were able to identify a few more relevant outboard accidents from this earlier BARD data. We also undertook a separate venture to identify some Boat or Marine Drive Struck Dredge Pipe Accidents. During that process we also identified at least one more accident in which the outboard landed in the boat. We updated the spreadsheet above to included these findings on March 15, 2012.

Some Statements About Frequency of Outboard Motors Flipping Into Boats

As mentioned above, BARD had no category or markers for these accidents making it impossible to directly identify from BARD data only if an outboard flipped into the boat or not, if the redacted narrative does not mention it.

Other areas of our site address the issues of under reporting of accidents and accidents being misclassified in BARD.

In addition to the issues already mentioned, we identified two possible subcategories of these accidents we had not previously anticipated.

  • Cowling previously removed from outboard motor to gain access to work on it, when the outboard strikes something it rocks into the boat, people (especially a tiller outboard operator) could be injured by the rotating flywheel or other moving parts normally under the cowl.
  • Outboard jackplate fails, bolts fail, not tightened, other jackplate issues may lead to outboard sliding off the jackplate up into the boat. – a jackplate is a bracket mounted to the transom that allows the height of the outboard (sometimes called the “X” dimension) to be adjusted.

Its also difficult to say anything about the relative frequency of “flipped into boat” accidents vs. other kinds of accidents categorized by BARD. With no way to specifically identify all the “flipped in” accidents in BARD we cannot easily compare the relative frequency of “flipped in” accidents to other BARD accident categories.

Plus approaching half the states withheld their data from 2010 Public BARD citing privacy issues.

The multiple possible causes, accident report forms not collecting information about “flipped in” or not, under reporting, states not reporting, and other issues make it difficult to make any statements about the frequency of these accidents. Therefore we elected to just identify some of them as exemplars of “outboard flipped into boat” accidents.

Our examples illustrate the range of ways these things happen and a cross section of the types of vessels they occur in.

Outboard Motor Flipped In AND Flipped Out

In at least one of the accidents, (Oct/Nov 2008 Australia), the outboard flipped in, then as the boat came to rest, it fell back into the water (per the operator’s description as posted on ausfish.com.au). We suspect this may happen more frequently than it is specifically reported (outboard breaks mostly loose, flies up onto stern of boat, then falls back into the water).

Hydraulic Trim Systems and Log Strike Tests

We talk some about the trim systems and log strike tests in our coverage of the The Laass v. Brunswick case.

We originally posted a 1950’s Mercury log strike test video here. That video has been moved to, Log Strike Testing – 1950’s Mercury Video.

Potential Sources of Additional Information

As always, additional information is available on the accidents we identified from BARD and typically even more is available from a copy of the accident report filed with the respective state boating office.

We noticed Louisiana appears to be over represented in our sample of accidents. They were similarly over represented in BARD “Collision With Floating Object” and “Struck Submerged Object” categories. We suspect that is due to lots of shallow water with lots of stumps, roots, and floating logs in it, combined with lots of people in small boats. If anybody wanted to start researching outboard “flipped in” accidents, Louisiana looks like a good place to start.

We also noted the presence of at least two outboard “flipped in” fishing tournament accidents and one more in the discussion of anecdotal accidents. High horsepower outboards racing around in a fishing tournament may also provide a venue for these accidents. Or they may just generate more media coverage because the media is already present.

A 1956 Sports Illustrated article titled “Stump Jumpers” indicates many communities held shallow water boat marathons that included stump fields. Coverage of those races may include some early examples of outboards flipping into boats.

Our Additional Posts on This Topic

We have since written numerous posts on this topic. Many of them can be viewed from Outboard Flipped into Boat.

References

We briefly cite several legal cases in our spreadsheet listing similar accidents. More complete citations are below:

  • Mr. & Mrs. Yves Percle v. Lawrence P. Ordoyne and the Travelers Indemnity Company. 150 So.2d 902 (1963). No. 5753. Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit. February 22, 1963.
  • Lawrence P. Hebert v. Ourboard Marine Corporation, et. al. No.83-5095. United States District Court, Eastern District, Louisiana. July 10 1986.
  • Robert, Marilyn, and Kevin (a minor) Ravenscroft v. Washington Power Co. No. 65945-1. Supreme Court of Washington,En Banc. December 24, 1988.
  • Scott Douglas v. Mercury Marine. No. 96-1089. Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit. 692. So. 2d 673. La. App. Lexis 472. Decided March 5, 1997.
  • Estate of David Paul McFarlin represented by Jamie Laass v. City of Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Lake Improvement Commission, Brunswick Corporation dba Mercury Marine and Lund Boat Company, Harry Foote, Randy Redig, Russell Harrington, and David Botine. U.S. District Court Northern District Iowa Western Division. No. C 10-4092-MWB. September 7, 2011.

We also briefly cited some news reports and forums on the spreadsheet. More complete citations are below:

  • Boater Killed in Accident: Dislodged Motor Flies Into Boat. Florida Times-Union. June 5, 2000. (original paper included photos, but they are not in the online version).
  • Mississippi Man Killed in Boating Accident”. AP News June 10, 2003. Available on Lexus Nexus.
  • “50HP Outboard Motor Flipped Upsidedown Into Boat”. Ausfish (Australian Angling Forums) has photos of damages including motor brackets. To view the report you must join/register for the forum at: http://www.ausfish.com.au/, then word search for the title of the article.
  • Boy Dies in Moruka River Mishap. Stabroek News. July 8, 2009.
  • Check Your Outboard Jack Plates!. iBoats forum. December 6, 2009. (includes several photos)
  • Boating Accident on Flats. Tidal Fishing forum. December 7, 2009. Includes a report from the fishing tournament spokesman on the accident and their very extensive injuries. Another BCAC report indicated Willie had over 300 stitches in his hand and arm alone.
  • Anglers Choice Boat Accident. Bass Fishing Home Page. December 7, 2009. We did not cite this page that also covers the Maryland 2009 accident. It includes several excellent photos.
  • There are additional news reports or forum discussions on several of the accidents listed above. We just cited one for each for brevity (except for the December 2009 accident in which several sources supplies images and descriptions).

We found a historical reference that may lead to identifying some accidents back in the 1950’s:

  • Stump Jumpers: Michigan Marathoners Dodge Hull-Tearing Snags in 50-mph Outboard Test. Sports Illustrated. August 6, 1956.
  • We also suspect Mercury Marine has extensive reports on their early outboard log testing efforts.

During our research we identified some “key words” that might be of use to others researching this area:

  • boat
  • outboard, “outboard motor”
  • “flipped into”, kicked, jumped
  • flip$ $=wildcard
  • submerged
  • log
  • floating debris
  • stump(s)
  • driftwood

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Comments

  1. This was my mother that was injured in the Archusa Creek accident and I saw your posting on the WTOK website. I had never heard of an accident like this before it happened to us.

  2. Peggy Muzney

    My heart goes out to you and your family. I hope your mother is able to heal and recover fully. It was my beautiful 10-year-old grandson, David Paul McFarlin, who was killed on May 31, 2010, at Storm Lake, Iowa.

  3. Thanks
    She is doing better and got to come home from the hospital this weekend. Lots of surgery in the future.

  4. On Sunday January 27, 2013 I struck a submerged object with my 150 hp Mercury. The motor mount broke and the motor flipped into boat. The prop landed between my partner and myself. I attempted to take out of gear, but pulled it into reverse. The thing then flipped in the air coming down on passengers console, where it flipped back over my head striking top rail cap just behind drivers seat. It then flipped behind the boat and into the water. Luckily we only sustained deep brusing and alittle boat damage.

    • We visited with Ron today and he is willing to visit with Mercury, so we contacted some folks at Mercury who say they are anxious to visit with him to learn more about the accident. Hopefully, Mercury will be able to use Ron’s information and a possible inspection his outboard to help prevent similar accidents that can have much worse outcomes.

      A big thanks to Ron and the to the folks at Mercury Marine for following up on his accident. By working together we can all make the water a safer place.

      gary

  5. I was the owner/operator of the boat that hit the log in the Northeast Cape Fear River on June 23,2013. My left arm had to be amputated due to the severity of the injury, and an infection. I feel the state needs to come up with a warning system when the waters are deemed hazardous. This was listed as the cause of the accident.

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