After a propeller accident, victims and surviving family members often have a desire to prevent others from having to go through what they and their family have gone through and may continue to endure for the rest of their lives.
This page provides guidance for victims, surviving family members, and friends that are considering becoming propeller safety advocates.
Immediately after a propeller accident victims, surviving family members and their friends are overcome with emotions and over whelmed with concerns. Among them are:
- Concern for their injured loved one who may have been killed or be hanging on to life by a thread.
- Concern for the long recovery for their loved one and their life altering injuries if they survived.
- Concern for the victim’s spouse and children.
- Care and concern for loved ones who may blame themselves for not preventing the accident (sometimes a family member was the boat operator).
- Concern for how to pay medical bills, rehabilitation, and prosthetic costs.
- Anger toward those who may have contributed to the accident through use of alcohol, recklessness, or negligence.
- Anger toward boat builders, boat rental operations, and drive manufacturers for not protecting their loved one.
- A desire to keep others from having to go through the same situation they are now in.
Six Things to Do Right Now
Some advocates immediately elect to “Go With Guards.” They quickly launch a campaign to put guards on every boat in their state or every boat in the United States. While we empathize with your situation and appreciate your passion for change, we suggest you spend a some time studying the situation and efforts of others who have gone through your experiences so you can channel your efforts most effectively.
We encourage you to immediately do six things:
- Care for your loved one, your family, and yourself.
- Be willing to accept help from your support network of family, friends, loved ones, neighbors, your community, and your church.
- Make sure a boating accident report has been filed. Contact your State Boating Law Administrator.
- Make sure the accident is very well documented. (including many photos of the boat, the drive, the propeller, the operators station, the location the accident happened, and the victim’s injuries). This will be very important if you later elect to pursue legal action. Please note the “other side” often tries to prove the injuries or, at least the worst ones, were not caused by the propeller. Evidence needs to be gathered now, not later.
- Start a journal, just get a spiral binder and start writing in it. Record your thoughts and emotions. Reading them later will help you recover the passion you now have. When your push for change stalls, and it will, reading your journal will help you get the energy you need to get it going again. Plus it makes a great place to keep notes about how you might be able to help others avoid similar challenges, and bits of information that might be helpful later.
- Consider parking the boat in a garage or other covered area. If you were to file a lawsuit, it is best if the boat remains in the same condition.
We are NOT suggesting everybody sue the industry, we are merely suggesting you capture as much information and evidence as possible before it is no longer available.
When Things Begin to Settle Down a Little
Once things become less hectic, we encourage you to review the history of the problem and the efforts of others. The the timeline provided by Stop Propeller Injuries Now! (SPIN) is a nice place to start.
This is also a good time to learn about state boating safety resources, like your state Boating Law Administrator (BLA) and your state boating education officer. They are often looking for “victims” to present radio spots, show up for legislative arguments, etc. Identify them (see BLA link provided earlier), introduce yourself, and tell them of your interest in propeller safety.
Forms of Propeller Safety Advocacy
Propeller Safety Advocacy can take a number of forms. Basic branches of the advocacy tree are:
- Increasing awareness of propeller injuries (the need to be safe near propellers)
- Promoting the use of propeller injury avoidance devices (guards and other safety devices)
- Developing and lobbying for propeller safety regulations
- Promoting broader boating safety issues
- Raising funds for the injured
- Consoling and inspiring the traumatically injured
- Organizing others into larger efforts
- Taking legal action
The advocacy tree is further developed below.
Propeller Safety Advocacy Tree
- Increasing awareness of propeller risks
- Speaking out in public and the media
- Speaking out online
- Requesting time to speak at National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) Meetings
- Teaming with and support existing efforts of others to get the word out
- Starting a web page and/or Facebook presence to preserve the memory of or follow the recovery of your loved one
- Locally raising funds to help cover medical expenses (meals, golf tournaments, auctions, benefits, etc.)
- Promoting propeller safety in resort environments (inside and/or outside the United States)
- Promoting diving and snorkeling propeller safety
- Hunt down a copy of “Don’t Wreck Your Summer” a USCG propeller safety Public Service Announcement on YouTube, email a link to your friends, and embed it in your website. We show the film from our Propeller Safety home page. Note- in late 2010 USCG pulled the PSA in response to industry pressure, but you could still find it on YouTube from other sources.
- Promoting the use of propeller injury avoidance devices
- Developing and Lobbying for Propeller Safety Regulations
- Requiring use of propeller guards on certain boats or applications
- Requiring use of other propeller injury avoidance devices on certain boats or applications
- Requiring mandatory boater safety education
- Requiring mandatory licensing
- Developing tougher boating alcohol laws
- Requiring mandatory use of lanyards on certain boats
- Requiring mandatory wearing of life jackets (PFDs) on certain boats or applications
- Developing tougher laws on marking swimming or diving areas and punishing boaters that do not respect those areas
- Promoting broader boating safety issues
- Promoting boating safety education
- Encouraging boaters to reduce the number of alcohol related accidents (see Operation Dry Water)
- Encouraging boaters to wear lanyards (ignition cut-off switch)
- Encouraging boaters to wear life jackets
- Encouraging marking of and respect for swimming areas
- Encouraging awareness and respect for marked diving areas
- Raising funds for others
- Raising funds to help cover medical expenses of others
- Raising funds to help cover prosthetic costs
- Donating funds to some of the existing efforts
- Consoling and inspiring the traumatically injured
- Visiting with and encouraging others who have been injured
- Visiting with and encouraging amputees
- Being an inspiration to others with similar injuries
- Organizing other propeller safety advocates into larger efforts
- Getting several individuals and groups to work together on common issues
- Helping injured and grieving families network with one another for both short term and long term support
- Taking legal action against boat builders, drive manufacturers, and boat rental operations when appropriate
- Defective design (should have had a guard on it)
- Crashworthiness Doctrine (should have protected person from striking the prop)
- Steering system failures (often leads to ejection followed by prop strike)
- Shifting neutral failure (drive in neutral but propeller turning)
- Engine starts in gear, occupants are ejected, and struck by the propeller
- Poor orientation and training (rental boat operations)
- Lack of or improper warnings
Some propeller safety advocates pick more than one activity above, some jump between activities from time to time. These same types of activities surround other grass root safety campaigns. You can read about them in our discussion of Survivor Advocacy.
You Are Not Alone
Many victims and their families are not aware that countless other families have faced similar situations. You can support one another, and learn from each others propeller safety advocacy efforts.
One way to learn about the efforts of others is to visit some of the sites on our list of Propeller Safety Advocate Sites.
We especially encourage you to visit SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now!). The current director, Marion Irving deCruz, seeks to maintain a network of families, just like yours, to support one another.
Guards on All Boats
Promoting the use of propeller guards on ALL boats will prove to be an impossible task for your family. While guards can provide excellent protection in some situations, they also come with certain disadvantages in others. Our Objections to Propeller Guards page has a lengthy list of objections to prop guards and other propeller safety devices.
While families of many injured by propellers quickly latch onto the use of propeller guards in all applications, you will not be able to convince the legislatures over objections from the “other side”, especially not on faster boats. There are certain slower boats where regulations might successfully be passed such as houseboats, nonplaning pontoon boats, rescue boats, dive boats, training boats (used with sail boats or swimmers in the water), and boats with small outboard motors. In fact, the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) is currently developing a propeller guard test protocol at various speeds under a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Other propeller injury avoidance devices are applicable to faster moving boats. Among them are lanyard kill switches, swim ladder interlock systems that prevent the engine from starting if the swim ladder is down, small wearable tags that kill the engine or prevent its starting if you are in the water wearing one of them, and wireless lanyards. You will have a much greater possibility for success promoting their use on faster moving boats than guards.
We are NOT saying guards cannot be used on faster boats, we are just saying you will not be successful in legislating their use.
Broad to Targeted Messages
Initially, after an accident, the family often speaks out about their concern for their loved one and their desire that others not have to go through the same situation. This is a very broad message. It resonates with thousands of people that read or view your comments. Do not underestimate the appeal of your message at this time. Your love and passion will come through and cause many to be a little safer around propellers for a while.
If your loved one is in the hospital for long periods of time, the press may do some followup visits checking on their progress. This is another great opportunity to get your message out.
Local propeller accidents are like vaccinations. They temporarily “vaccinate” area boaters with a “perceived vulnerability” to propeller injuries. This makes them more vigilant for a while. Just like everybody looks both ways at railroad crossing for several months after a local train-car collision. Your message can help prevent others from being struck by propellers by making them more vigilant and by encouraging them to employ appropriate safety devices.
As time goes by, your platform will be gone. The news will move on and it will be more difficult for you to get on the airwaves and in the press. Now you can turn to more targeted messages surrounding the particular types of boats or behaviors surrounding your accident. You can educate others how to avoid the specific kind of propeller accident you or your loved one was involved in (tubing, ejection from the boat, small outboards, houseboats, snorkeling, diving, swimming, etc.). A targeted message is much more likely to be distributed and read months after your accident than a broad one.
You can get your targeted messages out by writing articles for publications read by the people at risk, through web sites, Facebook, YouTube, T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flyers, and countless other ways. You might want to spend some time studying how “Save the Whales”, “Safe Kids”, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and other similar groups get their message out.
You will be more likely to be successful with a targeted message. It is more likely to be seen by the people most at risk to your specific type of accident.
Some advocates begin to formulate a series of steps or messages to complete a broader strategy. For example you could start very locally trying to get specific groups in your town to employ certain safety devices then begin to gradually expand to other communities building upon your local success. Small successes can keep you energized as you continue to work toward broader goals.
Some advocates celebrate their loved one on certain anniversaries of the accident that claimed their life by dedicating a picnic bench at a nearby park to them or some other object or event. It gets covered in the local press and reminds people to be careful around propellers. Those whose loved one were struck by a propeller in a hit and run or in a situation they do not feel their loved one received justice sometimes visit with the press on the accident anniversary date to request help in finding the guilty party or help in bringing the person or party to justice.
If enough legal cases are won or settled against the boat manufacturers and drive companies, they will begin to address propeller safety issues. Winning cases against them is a form of advocacy.
This page is NOT professional legal advice AND NOT an effort to encourage you to sue the industry. Many factors often make it very difficult to win a propeller guarding case. Those factors include:
- Use of alcohol by any involved
- Recklessness or negligence on the part of any involved
- Boat operator was ejected and they were not using a lanyard (emergency ignition cut-off switch) if the boat was wired for one
- Involvement of boats with top speeds over 25 miles per hour
- Accidents between 30 minutes before sundown and 30 minutes after sunrise (visibility, lighting issues)
- Older boats (they will say solutions were not available back then)
- Swimming just outside a designated swimming area
- Diving without a diver in the water flag
- Sitting on the front of a pontoon boat and dangling feet off before falling overboard
- Standing when ejected
- Riding in the bow of a bowrider underway at speed
- Sitting or standing on the bow when underway (not sitting in a proper seat)
- Teak surfing (hanging on to the swim platform when underway)
- Wake surfing behind an outboard or stern drive (surfing with no rope up close to rear of boat)
- Not using a spotter to spot towed fallen wake boarders, tubers, or water skiers
- Improper lookout at stern of a houseboat
We are not saying cases cannot be won (or settled) with one or more of the difficulties mentioned, but you will face considerable challenges for each one of them present. Cases most likely to be won or settled probably result from rental houseboats or daylight ejection of passengers (boat hit a wave, wake, submerged object, etc) from a boat with a top speed of less than 25 miles per hour and the person was immediately hit by the propeller.
Some of the challenges of a propeller trial can be anticipated by reading our comments on Naples Daily News coverage of the 2009 Decker vs. OMC trial
We encourage anyone considering legal action to visit with their family lawyer, and then consider visiting with a firm that has previously represented others injured by propellers. Local family lawyers may be very capable of representing victims against those accused of negligence or recklessness in operating a boat. However, a full propeller guard case is better handled by a firm with considerable product liability experience, and optimally by a firm with previous experience in propeller cases. The opposition has spent many millions of dollars over the last thirty years developing a highly polished, professional defense. You will need an expert legal team.
The Regulatory Approach
Many efforts to require the use of propeller guards have failed in the past. They can be originated with state legislatures, Congress, or with the U.S. Coast Guard. Coast Guard (USCG). USCG proposed boating safety regulations often begin at National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC).
Before you get your hopes up, you might want to view the timeline posted by SPIN. We are not trying to discourage you. We are just trying to make sure you know the road will not be easy.
As for ourselves, we spent about two and a half years analyzing the Coast Guard’s rejection of a proposed propeller safety regulation for houseboats. If you intend to promote laws and regulations requiring propeller safety devices on boats, we strongly encourage you to read our Houseboat Propeller Safety Report.
More Information on Propeller Accidents
We encourage you to spend considerable time educating yourself about propeller accidents. The Propeller Guard Information Center is the leading online information source for technical information about propeller injuries, we encourage you to study this information extensively.
SPIN is the leading site where victims and advocates can assist one another, and to further the cause through organized efforts. We strongly encourage you to contact SPIN and visit with them directly.
There is a tremendous amount of information on propeller accidents and their prevention. Do not get lost in it. Just keep reading and learning as you get involved in the cause of reducing the frequency and severity of boat propeller accidents.
- Recognize you are going through a highly emotional period.
- Do not forget our list of six things to do right now: care for your loved one and family, be willing to accept help from others, make sure a boating accident report has been filed, document the accident, start a journal, and consider parking the boat as evidence.
- Pick how you can best become involved from the advocacy tree above.
- Remember you are not alone.
- Consider visiting with your family lawyer about the accident. Just like with major automobile accidents, they can provide you helpful advice in many areas including injuries, medical expenses, and insurance situations.
- Visit the Propeller Guard Information Center and SPIN to learn more about propeller accidents and how you can help prevent them.
- Learn about the types of propeller injury avoidance devices on the market today. You can start by visiting PowerBoatSafety.com.
- Do not spend forever reading about propeller safety, get involved as soon as possible. Just keep reading and learning as you move along.
Thank you for your desire to become an advocate for propeller safety. Good luck with your efforts. If we can be of assistance, or if you have any questions about propeller safety, please contact us.