Boat propeller safety issues have created a “Perfect Storm” in the United Kingdom (UK). Tens of thousands of people are calling for reforming boat propeller safety regulations.

A petition calling for making the use of kill cords (emergency engine kill switch lanyards) mandatory has now received over 68,000 signatures.

It had been business as usual in the UK for decades. Now, even officials in high positions are calling for change. How did all this attention become focused on boat propeller safety issues?

To visualize the current intense interest in boat kill cords and boat propeller safety we created timeline above. The timeline visually displays how propeller safety accidents and events are happening much more frequently now (late June 2013) than they were in 2010 or 2011.

Why All the Excitement About Propeller Safety Now?

After watching these events from afar, visiting with several parties involved, and studying similar safety movements in other industries, we suggest interest in boat kill cords and propeller safety has skyrocketed now because:

  • Many historical events set the stage.
  • The Milligan accident captured the country’s attention. Photos of his Nicholas Milligan’s family in news reports discussing his death, his daughter’s death, his wife loosing a leg, his son’s legs being mangled, and his other two daughters being terrified were heart wrenching.
  • The Milligan accident kept taking on another story line. Coverage stretched out for many days. Among the story lines were the accident, Charlie Toogood diving into the circling boat from his boat to shut it down, the use of kill cords, discussions of Nichols Milligan’s important position at Sky News, coverage of his brother’s tribute, of his holdings and of his home and resort home, speculation over who was driving the boat, what caused the boat to eject all its occupants, MAIB’s issuance of a kill cord safety bulletin, and the coroner’s inquest. In the U.S. we would say this story has legs.
  • The UK media covers propeller accidents much more aggressively than the U.S. media. Recent, high profile boat propeller accidents (Hutton, Williams, Milligan, Cole) have been front page news at almost every major news outlet in the UK. Many sources ran multiple stories on each accident, sometimes even on the same date. For example, A much loved and appreciated U.S. girl, Kali Gorzell, was struck and killed by a boat propeller at almost the same moment as Charlie Hutton was struck and killed in the UK on 20 July 2012. I checked the story counts on Google News four days later at 9:35am on July 24th. The Gorzell accident had been covered by 32 news articles, mostly very local (or duplicates by content scrapers), while the Hutton accident had been covered in 321 news articles (almost exactly ten times as many!) AND much of that coverage was in national media outlets like the Sun, Guardian, Mirror, SkyNews, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, etc.
  • The Madaline Cole accident, later the same month, was like an exclamation point after the Milligan accident.
  • The Internet has given a voice to propeller safety advocates not previously available. Propeller safety and kill cord advocates are using it directly, or being interviewed by media that places those conversations online. Several recent, and some historical survivors and family members are directly using the Internet and others are being interviewed by media outlets that place those conversations online. Among these advocates are Cian Williams and his mother, Heddon Johnson, Simon Hutton, and Maurice Abrahams.
  • Propeller safety advocates have reached critical mass. If only one person is out there yelling about propeller safety, few people listen to them. But when their is a chorus of voices as their currently is in the United Kingdom, people begin to listen.
  • The Internet has given voice directly to boaters who have exhibited substantial interest in the kill cord issue following the Milligan accident. The debate is resounding in boat and RIB forums, and organizations are responding.
  • Officials are speaking out. For example, the Coroner for the Isle of Wight calling for boating companies to increase the awareness of propeller safety issues, and Maritime and Coastguard authorities saying they are going to be discussing propeller guarding issues.
  • More lives have been personally touched. As more accidents occur, more people with ties to these families (family members, friends, co-workers, associates) begin to have direct connections to these terrible accidents. When someone you know has been involved in accidents like these, you take extra notice.
  • Social Media has greatly increased the circle of friends many of us keep in contact with. The same is true of some of propeller accident victims and their families. They have much more extensive ties to others than they did just a few years ago. These Social Media friends add another layer of people interested in their well being. If they are involved in a major accident, in impacts their social media / online friends as well.
  • The ease of creating an online petition. In years past you had to go pubic squares and other gathering places to try to encourage people to sign a petition. Now you can pop one up on Change.org or similar sites in just a few minutes. Then you try to get all your family and friends to sign and link to your petition, plus you try to get media exposure to drive traffic to your petition and watch the signatures roll in.
  • We suggest the lack of presence of major marine drive manufacturing facilities (such as the companies manufacturing well known outboards around the world) leads to the press being more willing to write about such accident without facing as much retribution in the form of advertisements being pulled.
  • We also suggest UK media coverage of propeller accidents is not normally seen by the marine drive manufacturing executives because they do not have a direct presence there. For example, we have visited with several major figures in the propeller safety debate outside the UK that were not aware of the Milligan accident before we called it to their attention. However, many citizens of other countries are aware of the accident
  • Our online presence (PGIC) has vastly improved availability of information concerning boat propeller safety issues and events in the UK, plus our investigative articles have brought information to light that would otherwise not be available.

While it is obvious the Milligan accident was the powder keg, other events on the timeline also contributed to the current level of interest in boat kill cords and propeller safety in Great Britain and the UK.

We welcome your comments.

Meanwhile, please consider making a donation to RNLI via Tom and Sam Hutton’s fund raising efforts at Virgin Money Giving. They ran in the London Marathon in April 2013 as part of their fundraising efforts in memory of their younger brother, Charlie Hutton.

Team Hutton

Team Hutton


Print Friendly, PDF & Email