Archive for circle of death

Ten people were onboard a 21 foot Ski Nautique on Lake Gage in Steuben County Indiana about 7:15pm Saturday July 15, 2017. Dominique Effinger a 20 year old female was operating the boat. The boat took a hard turn and all ten people on board were ejected.

The unmanned boat went into the Circle of Death at an estimated 30 mph with ten people in the water.

A quote from the Journal Gazette perhaps best describes the chaos.

Journal Gazette
16 July 2016

“Several seriously injured people were taken to shore by local citizens’ boats so EMS and fire units could tend to the injuries, the statement said. It said two people were flown to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne with injuries including a skull fracture and a partial lower-arm amputation. Others less seriously hurt were taken to Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola.
Conservation Officer Jake Carlile launched a Department of Natural Resources patrol boat as county sheriff’s deputies urged residents to move their boats and clear the area, the statement said. It said the unmanned 21-foot Ski Nautique motorboat was coming closer to boats and docks with each circle.
Carlile threw a rope from the patrol boat to entangle the motorboat’s propeller, the statement said. It said the boat then struck a dock and changed direction, striking the back of the patrol boat and disabling the patrol boat’s motor.
The rope slowed the motorboat, the statement said, and Carlile used a nearby personal watercraft to jump onto the runaway boat while both were in motion. He then brought the motorboat to a stop.”

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Good Samaritans in Minnesota have came to the rescue in at least two different Circle of Death boating accidents so far this year.

Neighbors were recently honored for saving Lora Sweet, 51, and Timothy Bahama, 48, both of Brainerd Minnesota from a 15 April 2016 Circle of Death accident on Rice Lake. They were in a 17 foot tiller steered fishing boat powered by a 40 horsepower outboard. Lora and Timothy were both flung from the boat into cold 44 degree water about 6pm, the boat went into the Circle of Death, and ran over Sweet more than once. News reports sway she was struck by the motor / propeller twice. WCCO 4News at Noon told the story of the award ceremony on 27 September 2016.

Rescuers Honored in MN

Neighbors Honored in MN boat accident rescue

The video above appears to show a tiller steered Lund boat.

The second pair of Good Samaritans, Brian Bahr and Kyle Bourasa, sprang to the rescue this past Sunday, 24 October 2016 on Bald Eagle Lake near the town of White Bear Lake. They pulled two men from 50 degree water while the victim’s boat was in the Circle of Death. KSTP ABC News5 ran a great article and video telling of the rescue.

The video above also appears to show a tiller steered Lund boat, this one with a Mercury Marine outboard motor.


Thousands of boaters owe their lives to similar Good Samaritans around the country and world. We thank all of them and encourage the rest of you to be prepared and willing to spring into action should the need arise. Boat propeller accidents would be more frequent and more severe without your help.

Derek Hebert was on a Champion center console boat being operated by Daniel Vamvoras on 7 May 2005. They were between the Calcasieu River and Lake Charles County Club. The steering system failed and the boat began to spin (the Circle of Death). Derek Hebert was ejected, struck 19 times by the propeller, and died from his wounds.

While the boating industry sees this as a steering system failure case, it is obviously a Circle of Death case. The hydraulic steering system had a leak, the steering system failed, the outboard swung to one side, the boat went into a “spin”, Derek Hebert was ejected, and fatally struck by the propeller.

Note – while we call this a Circle of Death accident, we do not know if the operator was ejected, incapacitated, or away from the controls. It really did not matter, because the steering system did not work. The natural tendency of the boat to go into the Circle of Death took over. The operator or someone else on board would have to throttle back or kill the engine, or the boat collide with something to stop its forward progress.

Another boat collided with the Vamvoras boat after Derek Hebert had been ejected.

The U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) says the vessel Hebert was ejected from was a 1998, 21 foot Champion Bay Champ 21 powered by a 225 horsepower outboard motor with 7 on board.

Champion 21 foot bay boat, 1998

Champion 21 foot bay boat, 1998. This is not the boat in the accident, it is a similar boat once offered for sale by Rabeaux’s Auto Sales

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0 Categories : Legal Shorts

Kill switch preventable accident after kill switch preventable accident is stacking up this summer. It is long past time for the industry to investigate alternative methods to prevent Circle of Death accidents. Outboard powered recreational boats from which an operator has been ejected, circle repeatedly striking those in the water.

This post opens with a discussion of the ineffectiveness of kill switch lanyards because almost nobody uses them, then reports on a special control lever created by Vermeer to detect operator presence with potential application to passive (fully automatic) boat kill switch applications.

Vermeer OPS patent application

Vermeer OPS patent application

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0 Categories : Guard Technologies

It has long been known that if you take you hand off the tiller or steering wheel, many outboard powered boats will circle hard to the right due to propeller torque. The boating industry has had various name for it through the yeaers. In the 1980’s some called it the “Circling Phenomenon”. Some call it a “runaway boat”. In today’s world, the industry is calling it “ongoing operation”

A boat can strike a wave or wake ejecting the operator (and typically the passengers), the boat goes into the circle of death, and keeps running over those in the water with its propeller until they get out of the way or it runs out of gas.

The same thing can happen if an operator temporarily removes their hands from the steering wheel or tiller, sometimes to grab something blowing at them, off of them, or past them. The boat swerves hard to the right, ejects the operator (and often the passengers) and begins to circle.

“Circle of Death” is a more descriptive phrase and better teaches of the hazard than “ongoing operation”.

Current boating industry warnings related to kill switches (which the industry does not call kill switches any more) do not come out and specifically teach or or warn of the Circle of Death.

I constructed a couple examples of warnings that could teach of the Circle of Death and posted them below.

Example of a Circle of Death warning

Example of a Circle of Death warning

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At Greenport Harbor, Long Island New York on Monday morning 15 September 2014, the operator of a 37 foot high speed boat, referred to as a cigarette boat, with six on board lost control of the boat at full throttle. All six men were ejected. None were wearing life jackets.

The boat began to circle “like a missile on the water” per rescuers. The boat was wildly circling at about 20 miles per hour in the Circle of Death.

Patrick O’Halloran, off duty Coast Guard, took a boat out to the men bobbing in the water. His family members helped pull them in using a fishing net.

Garret Moore of SeaTow rode out to the accident with Bill Barker, also of SeaTow. They talked about trying to throw a line in the water to snag the propeller and slow the boat. When they arrived at the spinning vessel, one of its engines had stopped. They discussed the possibility of Garret jumping into the boat and decided to try that approach. Garret Moore was successful and brought the circling boat under control.

Of the six men on the cigarette boat, one injured some ribs, and all six had symptoms of hypothermia. They were treated and released at the scene.

No charges were filed in the accident. Read More→

Chris Stanley

Chris Stanley

Christopher Stanley, 17 of North Bay, Ontario Canada, was boating southeast of town with another teenage male on Lake Nosbonsing on Sunday June 15, 2014 about 8:45am.

Details of exactly what happened are still sketchy, but somehow he and his friend ended up in the water with their 16 foot boat circling them in the Circle of Death.

Rescuers were able to save his friend, but Chris slipped below the surface and his body was recovered that evening. A postmortem examination was scheduled for Monday June 16th.

Chris’ friend was taken by ambulance to a medical facility so his injuries could be assessed.

The local underwater search team, OPP Underwater Search and Recovery, spend Sunday searching for his body. Christopher’s body was found about 12 hours after the accident.

Units involved in the search and rescue operation included: North Bay OPP, North Bay Marine Unit, North East Regional Snowmobile All Terrain and Vessel Enforcement (SAVE), OPP helicopter unit, and OPP Underwater Search and Recovery unit.

OPP – Ontario Provincial Police in Canada.

Our coverage of this accident will provide more details on the accident, on Christopher Stanley’s life, then propose a question. Read More→

Jonathon McClure

Jonathon McClure

Jonathon McClure, 19, and Sheldon Mashburn were in a bass boat on Claremore Lake (Oklahoma) 13 March 2014.

per the accident report filed by the State of Oklahoma with the U.S. Coast Guard (BARD 2014-OK-0002) the two men were fishing and getting ready to change locations on the lake because the wind was getting stronger. They were going about 30 mph when the operator (Mashburn) let go of the steering wheel with one hand to grab for something in the boat. The boat turned hard to right and both young men were ejected. The operator reported he was sinking, but was able to get his boots off. When he looked back to where he last saw the passenger (McClure) he did not see him anymore. The operated treaded water till another boat picked him up. The boat involved in the accident continued to circle in the “Circle of Death” until it ran out of gas.

Jonathon McClure’s body was recovered later the same day by Grand River Dam Authority using sides canning sonar on the bottom in about 11 feet of water.

The boat was a 15 foot 1990 Thunderbolt 155 fiberglass bass boat powered by an 88 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. In addition to the fatality, Sheldon Mashburn was reported as being injured beyond first aid.

Initial reports apparently incorrectly indicated the outboard motor hit a stump out in the middle of the small lake, the boat jerked to the right, they were both ejected, and the bass boat began spinning.

Historically, we have limited our coverage to propeller accidents. We have not yet seen that either of these young men were struck by the propeller, but we have come to recognize that runaway bass boats spinning in the Circle of Death hit some and miss some. It is pretty much a crap shoot. Some people safely swim away or are plucked from danger before they are struck, while others may be struck repeatedly and/or drown. Therefore we decided to use this local accident (about 100 miles from us) to help focus some attention on the problem. Read More→

Hot Foot throttle from TH Marine

Hot Foot throttle from TH Marine

Many may not even be aware of foot throttles for boats, let alone their role as a propeller safety device.

Foot throttles are connected to the engine by a cable similar to the current hand throttle/shifters. It usually takes a longer cable to reach further forward to the foot throttle. Some DIY installers are leaving the old cable in place in case they ever want to change back.

When a boat operator is ejected by the boat striking a wave, wake, floating log, submerged object, etc., the unmanned boat will often begin to circle resulting in the operator and others in the water being struck repeatedly by the boat and/or propeller. Circling unmanned boats are often said to be in the “Circle of Death”. Bystanders, officials, and emergency responders often risk their own lives while trying to rescue those in the water as the boat continues to circle. Sometimes they, or the operator, are injured or killed while trying to re-board the spinning boat. Read More→

3 Categories : New Products

We discuss and review the actual broadcast at BBC Kill Cord Investigative Report.

This page announced the program and covers how to “watch” the program until approximately Monday October 7th, 2013.


We just heard the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will be broadcasting their boat kill-cord / lanyard kill switch short documentary film tonight, Monday September 30, 2013.

The film will be shown on “Inside Out South West” tonight at 19:30 on BBC1 in the South and South West of England.

The film will focus entirely on boat kill cord issues and the campaign to make their use mandatory.

Interest in boat kill cord issues soared after the Milligan family accident at Padstow Harbor in early May 2013.

The BBC kill cord video will then be viewable on iPlayer for a week. Just search for “Inside Out South West”

NOTE – iPlayer can only be used to view BBC programing from within the UK.

BBC has a global version of their iPlayer available for a fee in some countries, but not yet available in the U.S.

There are various techniques that can be used to watch from the U.S.. Among easiest approaches is TunnelBear (a VPN). They give you 500 MB of free viewing, which was far more than enough to watch this particular segment of the show once (it is the first segment of the show).

Anyway, please watch the show if you can and let us know what you thought. We will be posting our thoughts in a separate post soon.

0 Categories : Regulations