PropellerSafety.com

Archive for Preventing Propeller Accidents

U.S Coast Guard has released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) reenacting the June 1994 accident on Table Rock Lake in Missouri that maimed Phyllis Kopyto and claimed the lives of her husband Bob Kopytko and of their fishing guide, Paul Brundridge. Phyllis speaks over the reenactment video.


USCG Kopytko kill switch PSA

USCG Kopytko kill switch PSA



The video is very forceful.
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The National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) “Get Connected” campaign, funded by a U.S. Coast Guard grant, encourages boat operators to connect the kill switch / engine stop switch.

The purpose of connecting the kill switch lanyard / engine stop switch or using a virtual lanyard is to cause the boat to stop if the operator is ejected. Unmanned outboard motor boats underway tend to circle in the Circle of Death, repeatedly striking striking those in the water with the propeller.

In some instances stern drive or outboard powered boats can just run on down the lake leaving those in the water with no chance of reboarding and no visual indicator to others of their presence in the water. They may drown or be run over by other vessels.

We found one of NSBC images particularly striking and will comment on it below.

Get Connected hand image

Get Connected hand image


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Hunter Bland and Conner Young of the University of Florida Bass Fishing team were ejected from their bass boat at speed during a Collegiate tournament in January 2017.

A steering system failure caused the boat to abruptly turn to the right. Hunter was operating the boat and had the kill switch lanyard attached. Both young men were wearing life jackets.

Today, July 10, 2017 the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) released a great kill switch Public Service Announcement (PSA) featuring Hunter Bland.

Kill Switch PSA: NSBC & Hunter Bland


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Aiden Mckitrick and his mom clipped from WFAA video

Aiden Mckitrick and his mom
clipped from WFAA video

Back on May 5, 2016, three year old Aiden McKitrick fell from the front of a pontoon boat and was entrapped on the propeller.
We posted coverage of his accident at that time.

Now (early March 2017) about ten months after Aiden’s accident on Lake Ray Hubbard in Texas, his mother is speaking out with a warning to parents.

WFAA (ABC channel 8 of Dallas, Texas), carried her story in a 2 March 2017 newscast. The news story is accompanied by an emotional video in which she tries to alert others of how her son was nearly killed by pontoon boat propeller.

Aiden’s mother, Kelly Mckitrick, is a nurse and his father is a firefighter. His father helped extract him from the propeller, and his mother has played the role that only a mother can in his recovery.

His mom says, “When they raised the propeller up that’s when my husband saw his intestines hanging out and his leg was mangled.” Read More→

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Over the years we have seen many boat propeller warnings that were not as effective as they should have been for all kinds of reasons. Over the last 40 plus years I have looked at thousands of warnings on many kinds of equipment and none of them have ever made me sick.

All that changed Friday 3 February 2017 when we walked the Tulsa Boat Show and my eyes encountered the warning below.

Super Air Nautique GS aft facing seat warning

Super Air Nautique GS aft facing seat warning – closeup port seat

Just attempting to read the warning while the boat was sitting on the trailer made me nauseous. I called Lora over to try to read it, she looked at it and turned toward me with a very perplexed look on her face. Read More→

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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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Children and adults have been falling off the bow of pontoon boats and being stuck by the propeller for decades. A typical scenario involves children sitting on the bow, outside the fence, with their feet dangling in the water as the boat moves forward. They hit a larger wake or wave and are pulled overboard by their feet, or the boat operator suddenly slows the boat and they rotate over the bow. Either way, they hit the water while the boat is still advancing. The operator quickly pulls the boat to neutral but it is too late. They hear a thud from the child’s body hitting the propeller and the water quickly turns blood red behind the boat.

Pontoon Boat anchor on shore

Pontoon Boat anchored on shore

This post will identify some ways to prevent these accidents. We will not focus on the contributions of rapid access to onsite medical care and quick transit to a major trauma hospital. Read More→

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This post is a subpart of our larger coverage of Preventing Pontoon Boat Over the Bow accidents.

Engineering & Design

In our opinion, DESIGN is one of the most overlooked and under utilized tools to prevent pontoon boat over the bow propeller accidents. Traditionally engineers identify hazards then apply the Product Safety Hierarchy to make their products safe. An abbreviated version of the Product Safety Hierarchy is below:

  • Identify hazards
  • Design out hazards if possible
  • Use guards, shields, or barriers to keep people away from hazards that cannot be designed out
  • Use safety interlocks to prevent accidents when hazard cannot be designed out (such as a pontoon boat gate latch switch that prevents starting the boat if the gate is open)
  • Warn of remaining hazards
  • Train and instruct users of remaining hazards
  • Use of protective clothing

For brevity, we will solely focus on the bow riding issue in this section. Read More→

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Kali Gorzell

Kali Gorzell

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) released a ten minute video August 26, 2014 titled, Beautiful but Gone.

The video features three families that lost teenagers to boating accidents and one family whose teenager’s brain was damaged as the result of a boating accident.

  • Jacob Damoff’s mother Jeanne Damoff
  • Brandon Fugates’ parents Mike and Belinda Fugate
  • Connor Gage’s mother Dana Gage
  • Kali Gorzell’s parents James and Donna Gorzell

Beautiful but Gone

Beautiful but Gone

Among the families are Donna and James Gorzell who lost their daughter Kali Gorzell in a July 2012 boat propeller accident.

The parents and families talk about their final moments with their children, receiving the calls, going to the hospital, being met by nurses and doctors, dealing with the loss, and offer some safety tips.

This heart wrenching film joins “Never Happens” a TWPD film released earlier this year (the Gorzell accident is also mentioned in that video). The two films will be used in boating safety and driving safety classes in Texas to raise the awareness for boating safety.

We salute TPWD for a job well done. We also salute the Texas legislators that encouraged this project and helped secure its funding, including Representative Tan Parker and Representative Lyle Larson of San Antonio (home area of Kali Gorzell).


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Children Tubing

Children Tubing
image courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

In the wake of the Emily Fedorko accident, BoatUS Foundation, the safety side of BoatUS used the Today Show to issue announce a warning today (18 August 2014). Read More→

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