Boating Industry Speaks Out on the Futility of Propeller Guards

Over the last three decades, the industry has repeatedly declared propeller guards do not work, cannot work, and will never work. A collection of some of those statements is below.

If anyone even ever slightly leaves the door open, they immediately try to close it, and in the very rare instances when an industry representative makes a statement about the usefulness of guards, they are quickly reprimanded and brought back into the fold. This page also covers a few of those instances.

Richard Snyder now retired of Mercury Marine, and longtime industry propeller guard expert:

  • Grisly Accidents Spark Campaign for Guards on Boat Propellers. Atlanta Journal Constitution. 28 September 1989. Speaking of propeller guards in general, Dick Snyder was quoted as saying:

    “It’s a sham device. To us it’s a non-product other than in specialized uses. It’ll kill more people than propellers do.”

  • James M. Pree v. Brunswick Corporation. Jury Trial. September 20, 1991. St. Louis Missouri. Richard Synder testimony. Jury Trial Volume 5. Page 166.

    Question – And you’re a mechanical engineer of lots of years of training.

    Answer – Yes, sir.

    Question – Who is unable for his company to conceive a propeller guard that will work, correct?

    Answer – Yes. Myself and, as far as I can see, anyone else in the world since anyone ever tried thinking about prop guards has not conceived any idea, either.

  • Linda Gaitan v. Ultra Custom Boats, et. al. Superior Court of the State of California. County of Los Angeles. Case # BC288600. Deposition of Richard Snyder. July 15, 2004. Page 114. Speaking about propeller guards:

    Why don’t you make them? I’ve given you so many reasons today why we don’t make them. And until some new technology comes along that I can’t even conceive of, we are not going to make them. It’s a ill thought device.”

  • Jacob A. Brochtrup vs. Mercury Marine, et. al. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Austin Division. C.A. No. 1: 07-CV-643-SS. Oral Deposition of Richard H. Snyder. April 7, 2008. Pages 212-213.Speaking about what had been done since Dick Snyder invented the guard for the Marine Corps:

    Question – That’s 18 years ago. And since you originally developed it you haven’t spent any – you haven’t done anything to significantly refine or improve that design, is that correct?

    Answer – That’s right. I haven’t thought of anything nor has there been any potential use of it.

    Question – And Mercury Marine hasn’t done anything to try to improve on that design, have they, as far as you know?

    Answer – I’m not aware of anyone else at Mercury that has worked in that – in the area specifically of a cage guard.

    ….. a question about guards designed by others, then questioning continues …

    Question – And Mercury Marine has not made any efforts to work on those guards and try to refine the design or improve them, have they.

    Answer – Other than thinking about it. I don’t recall anything specific about making hardware to refine it because nothing has been thought of that would be worthy to do.

  • Richard / Dick Snyder public response letter dated July 13, 2011 to USCG on the Engine Cut-off Switch Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:

    … at the end of the second paragraph, you say, ” – – – in a scenario we refer to as the “circle of death”.” To the best of my recollection the expression was first used by plaintiff’s expert, Robert Swint, back in the earliest prop guard law suits in the ’80s. The defense (The Recreational Boating Industry) objected to the plaintiff’s using that expression as “inflammatory”. They didn’t want the jury to here (sic) it. Some judges agreed and would not allow its use in court. So, when you say “we”, are you referring just to the USCG, plaintiff’s lawyers, and plaintiff’s experts? Because, many industry people consider it offensive.

  • Joe Pomeroy, Lead Counsel for Mercury Marine in an article titled, Lawyer Sees No Avalanche of Prop Guard Lawsuits, by Jim Flannery. Soundings Trade Only. January 2003. Pages 12-13.

    “Barring some kind of breakthrough in prop guard technology, plaintiffs face an uphill fight.”

OMC Statements

  • Letter to CBS News, Erin Moriarity, New York NY. August 30, 1989 from Laurin Baker. OMC Director of Public Affairs. In response to an upcoming August 31, 1989 CBS This Morning segment.

    “OMC has eighty years of involvement in marine engineering, and that experience has taught us that so-called propeller guards are infeasible. There is no viable, workable device which protects people in the water against being struck by a boat, and outboard motor skeg, or a propeller at normal planing speeds. Juries throughout the country have repeatedly agreed with OMC and the industry on this matter.”

  • Calling Out the Guard. Sheryl James. St. Petersburg Times Floridian. September 4, 1989. Pages D1 and D3.

    “Our contention,” says Laurin Baker, director of public affairs for Outboard Marine Corp. (OMC), another major boat engine manufacturer, “is that (propguards) are not feasible to build for thousands of boat models, and that even it they were, they would not appreciably decrease propeller injuries and might even increase them.”

  • Audrey Decker and Frederick Decker vs. Outboard Marine Corporation. Circuit Court of the 20th Judicial Circuit in and for Collier County Florida. Exhibit 269.This reference discusses an unsigned and undated document, purported to be a position statement on propeller guards written in 1977 by OMC legal representatives. The statement is below.

    “Although Outboard Marine corporation has investigated and attempted to develop an efficient propeller guard for personal protection over the years and has examined and tested such claimed devices developed by others, no device which will protect the swimmer under some operational conditions without causing greater risk of injury under some other operational conditions is within the state of the art of engineering design.”

  • Don Kueny, longtime Senior Chief Engineer at OMC, written deposition exhibit dated October 6, 2006:

    “These are people problems, not equipment problems, and should be addressed at their source, without burdening manufacturers and consumers with expensive and cumbersome devices that make recreational boats less safe than they are today.

    Proposed propeller “guards” would benefit only a few individuals; those who seek to carry on a limited range of activities in a careles and irresponsible manner. These same devices would make boating less safe for the broader category of careful, informed and sober boaters and their passengers.”

Ralph Lambrecht -longtime OMC technician and expert witness

  • Propeller Guards, Again. by Ralph Lambrecht. Boat & Motor Dealer. Marine Service Technicians Corner. Jan/Feb 2003. As to the possibility of propeller guards ever working, Ralph Lambrecht said:

    “No one has been able to repeal the laws of physics or mechanics to design a low-drag propeller guard that is soft, fat and strong regardless of claims.”

National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)

After a series of local propeller accidents and a fatal propeller accident involving a young girl, the Orlando Sentinel (Florida) interviewed several parties on propeller guards and published a story on 7 September 1987 titled, Propellers Are a Deadly Problem. Among those interviewed was David Beach, Manager of Engineering Services for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

In response to propeller guards, Mr. Beach said:

David Beach NMMA
“Technically, this has been kicked around for the better part of three decades. The problem is, that producing a workable guard is a rather complicated thing. All proposed so far have deleterious effects.”

In response to propeller accidents in general, Mr. Beach said:

David Beach NMMA
“Admittedly, they are kind of gory and gruesome and they command a certain amount of attention, but in the overall picture, they’re no worse than what happens when somebody rolls a rock down a hill and hits a bus in Colorado.”

Mr. Beach finished by citing USCG Event 1 only propeller fatality statistics for 1986 (16 deaths) and falsely claimed they represented all deaths that year. Event 1 statistics (first event of the accident sequence) only represent a small fraction of USCG reported propeller accidents or fatalities in a given year.

In March 2002, NMMA responded to a USCG request for public comment on a proposed propeller safety regulation for houseboats with call to arms encouraging its members to write USCG and expound the list of points they presented.

NMMA Houseboat Propeller Guard Press Release
22 March 2002

NATIONAL MARINE MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION
200 E. Randolph Dr., Suite 5100
Chicago, IL 60601-6528
312/946-6200
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NMMA ISSUES ACTION ALERT ON PROP GUARD PROPOSAL

CHICAGO, March 22, 2002 – – The United States Coast Guard has extended the deadline for submitting comment on a proposal regarding mandatory propeller protection devices on houseboats until May. National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) is taking advantage of the extra time to issue an action alert to members of the recreational marine industry to voice their objections to the proposal.

The proposal requires owners who lease, rent, or charter non-planing recreational houseboats to install either a jet drive system, propeller guards or three combined measures. The three combined measures include installing swim ladder interlocks, a clear visibility aft device, and an ignition cut-off switch. Owners of non-planing, non-rental houseboats would be required to install the interlocks and the clear visibility aft device, but not the ignition cutoff switch.

John Mcknight, NMMA director of Environmental & Safety Compliance, says that this proposal is not only about houseboats, but about engines as well, and in the future it could spread to all types of boats.

“NMMA clearly supports steps to reduce boating accidents and fatalities, but this proposal raises the question as to whether in this case the risk justifies the cost of regulation,” says Mcknight. McKnight points to statistics that the USCG bases the need for this rule on. From 1990 to 1999, there were a total of 18 propeller-related injuries and two deaths. The proposal estimates the total cost to rental operations to upgrade each boat would be $440; costs NMMA believes are underestimated.

NMMA is making it easy for the industry to voice their objections. A sample letter opposing the proposal can be accessed on NMMA’s website at www.nmma.org. On the site, click on “Making Waves” and follow the steps to send an industry letter.

“Based on the volume of responses the USCG has currently received, the recreational marine industry is outnumbered five to one by those in favor of propeller protection devices. The industry has to make their voice heard before it’s too late,” says Kelly Bobek, NMMA director of Federal Government Relations.

For more information on the prop guard proposal, contact McKnight at (202) 721-1604; jmcknight@nmma.org.

John McKnight, NMMA Director of Environmental Compliance and Safety responded to the recently released U.S. Coast Guard & ABYC Propeller Guard Test Procedure. He responded it in an interview published in a September 16, 2013 Soundings Trade Only post titled, “ABYC and Coast Guard Join on Propeller Guard Test”.

John McKnight, NMMA, comments are in this quote from the post:

In the past, there had been several “snake oil salesmen designing guards in their garage,” McKnight said. “In litigation, the question would be asked, ‘Why wasn’t one of these put on?’ Though we don’t endorse the document, we can live with it.”

National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC)

NBSAC is a U.S. Coast Guard Advisory Group that is sometimes dominated by industry representatives.

In 1988, in response to a number of propeller accidents, a NBSAC subcommittee was formed to investigate the feasibility of propeller guards. They issued a final report in 1989. It was strongly opposed to the use of propeller guards as seen in the quote below from page 24 of the report.

“Although the controversy which currently surrounds the issue of propeller guarding is, by its very nature, highly emotional and has attracted a great deal of publicity, there are no indications that there is a generic or universal solution currently available or foreseeable in the future. The boating public must not be misled into thinking there is a “safe” device which would eliminate or significantly reduce such injuries or fatalities.”

OMC put the following statements in the installation kit with their small ring guard years ago, to indicate it was not for protecting people. 

OMC Gale Propeller Guard box label

OMC Propeller Guard box label

 

OMC Gale Propeller Guard Installation Instructions for ring guard

OMC Gale Propeller Guard Installation Instructions

Slightly Opening the Door to Prop Guards

Richard Snyder now retired of Mercury Marine, and longtime industry propeller guard expert:

  • James M. Pree v. Brunswick Corporation. Jury Trial. September 20, 1991. St. Louis Missouri. Richard Synder testimony. Jury Trial Volume 5. Page 166.

    Question – For a very limited purpose you testified that your guard will work for the purpose that the Marine Corps wanted it to, is that correct?

    Answer – I believe it will be an effective device for the very low speed activities on these Marine Corps boats, yes sir.

    Question – Okay. Well, you would not have sent it to the Marine Corps for use if you didn’t believe that, would you.

    Answer – That’s correct.

     

  • Richard Synder interview in Soundings Trade Only, July 1996 article titled, ” Emilio’s Mom Revives Prop Guard Debate”.

    “Yet he acknowledges that in specific situations – where boat speeds are subplaning and the waters are not too shoal or full of weeds – a prop guard could work safely on a houseboat.”

     

  • Richard Snyder 2002 letter against proposed houseboat propeller safety regulations. Mercury Marine letter to USCG dated 26 February 2002. USCG Docket Item # USCG-2001-10163-106. Page 4.

    “A well designed, well built, all encompassing cage type prop guard with smaller hole sizes designed for suitability on 10 mph maximum speed or less vessels can be beneficial with SOME of the accidental contacts on SOME waters (non-weedy, non-shallows).”

     

  • Robert Leroy Ard v. Brunswick Corporation. Trial Transcript. Richard Snyder testimony 25 April 2006 Pages 203-204.

    Question – Would you tell us again when you think those (referring to propeller guards) are appropriate?

    Answer – Generally whenver you’ve got something that is dedicated, slow-moving operation, and that can be such as rescue boats that are dedicated to rescue. Of course, little family, boat operations, often called bumper boats, they’ve had them as long as I’ve ever seen them.

    There can be military operations like we talked about where the boat is slowed down to nearly no velocity and there is training of people getting off and getting on in possibly very rough water. That is excellent use of something like that.

    It would make sense to me if you had slow-moving, big houseboats that went 5 or 6 miles and hour and were not not areas where they would hit the bottom or run into weeds, that could be a decent application of some form of guard.

     

  • Robert Leroy Ard v. Brunswick Corporation. Trial Transcript. Richard Snyder testimony 25 April 2006 Page 239.

    Question – All right. (refering to an old Mercury test) So this is a 1973 test by Mercury on a guard where there was no particular problem with the steering in this particular test, correct?

    Answer – Under these circumstances, yes.

    Question – And the performance deficit was from 16.5 to 15.1 (miles per hour) correct?

    Answer – Right, and since you said you wouldn’t cut me off, this is a small, seven-and-a-half-horse fishing outboard, another small boat that only goes 15, 16 miles an hour, and I told you before that at speeds that low, drag differences are minimal and this in fact — This is partly why it was being done, was to let it serve as a pipefitting ring to help acceleration. It served that purpose and at these low speeds there aren’t any problems like that.

     

  • Robert Leroy Ard v. Brunswick Corporation. Trial Transcript. Richard Snyder testimony 25,26,27 April 2006 Page 275.

    Question – Thank you. Now you agree that if the boat involved had had a cage guard on it and the wires were close enough together that Mr. Ard would still have his leg?

    Answer – Yes, sir.

    Question – And do you agree that there are many instances where a propeller guard would have prevented injury of passengers or water skiers?

    Answer – Yes, sir.

    Question – Do you agree that almost all low-speed injuries could be prevented by a decent cage guard?

    Answer – As long as you qualify with a decent cage guard by my definition, yes.

    Question – And there is no question in your mind that back in 1973 a cage guard which did not cause dangerous steering characteristics and which would have prevented against this kind of injury could have been manufactured by Brunswick?

    Answer – Yes, sir.

     

  • Robert Leroy Ard v. Brunswick Corporation. Trial Transcript. Richard Snyder testimony 25,26,27 April 2006 Page 279.

    Question – In 1987 if you had been asked to develop a guard that would protect people at 5 to 10 miles per hour, would you have any problems developing such a guard from an engineering standpoint?

    Answer – I don’t — I don’t think there’s any problem in developing a guard that would be ANSI correct and would function at 5 or 10 miles an hour.

     

Rouge Statements About Propeller Guards Reeled Back In

OMC Australia saw the market for guards on the local surf saving life boats. OMC was already selling the ring guard for small outboards under the guise of protecting the propeller. OMC Australia teamed with a local manufacturer to build a companion “face mask” for the ring and started selling the combo guards like hot cakes. Then they made the mistake of bragging about their invention to the folks back in the USA in a faxed letter dated September 19, 1977.

“This combination of the 2 guards when bolted together has proven extremely effective in preventing injuries to swimmers. …. For normal situations these guards will prevent limbs being struck by the propeller (referring to OMC’s ring). Unusual circumstances could see feet or hands still being hurt and hence the “Face Mask” addition.”

Upon receipt of the faxed letter, OMC’s attorney, Alex Marconi, immediately faxed OMC Australia the marching orders (the position statement on guards). OMC had already sent it once before. OMC Australia responded the same date (September 19, 1977) with the faxed comments below:

“Dear Alex, Many thanks for your reminder note on the propeller guard position, it was already on my desk when I returned in early August.”

And amazingly, the following statement about selling their small outboards to the surf saving market in Australia slipped into the Winter 1996 issue of Power (OMC’s corporate magazine) almost two decades after the first debacle,

“The modifications include …. and a stainless-steel propeller “mask” which prevents prop related injuries.”

That particular issue focused on the launch of FICHT technology. We suspect all their editors were too focused on all the hoopala surrounding FICHT to catch the prop guard statement.

Another interesting exchange with the Aussies about the OMC surf guard occurred in a 19 Nov 1987 fax from Mike Sweetwater (OMC Australia) to Dick Snyder. In that fax, Mike Sweetwater said:

“With regards to the injuries when guards are fitted, we have enquired at several clubs operating these units, and no serious injuries have been reported. People do get struck by the outboard motors with guards, and the only ill effects being minor bruising and abrasion. Collisions with people in the water have occurred at various speeds including full throttle.”

But, after having been thoroughly indoctrinate by the folks at OMC stateside, and Dick Snyder at Mercury Marine, Mike Sweetman (OMC Australia) issued an Office Memo to Dick Snyder on 1 June 1988 that tells a different tale. In the 1 June 1988 memo, Mike Sweetman states;

“Coming back to the topic of injuries, when guards are fitted (paragraph 3 – fax 19th November 1987) I would add the following information:-
… The guards are fitted to minimize injury when a “patient” is alongside.

The guards are not and do not afford any protection, when craft are proceeding to and from patient pickup. …. The S.L.S.A. personnel are aware that impact with swimmers, etc., whilst the craft is operated at anything over idle speed, could cause fatal injury.”

It is quite obvious the “official memo” was written to try to cover themselves from some of their earlier braggadocious statements about the guard. Yamaha U.K. got caught in this same trap in 2012 with their flood rescue outboard guard.

Yamaha Prop Guard Statements

Yamaha Prop Guard Statements

2012 found Yamaha U.K. heaping accolades upon their stainless steel flood rescue outboard propeller guard. In October 2012 we published three posts about their new guard and included some of their statements. By early November all references to Yamaha’s new prop guard had been erased from the Internet. Sound familiar to the OMC S.L.S.A. guard situation?

We later republished Yamaha U.K.’s actual documents. We asked the USCG Office of Boating Safety to ask Yamaha what was going on since they would not respond to us. USCG later reported Yamaha said they just had a customer that wanted to buy some outboards with some guard so they bought some and put them on. Kind of odd that all the literature was published after they delivered the flood rescue outboards to Lincolnshire and then vanished shortly after our coverage of it. They did not provide an explanation for that.

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