Marion Irving de Cruz passed from this life 18 May 2016: Emilo’s Mom

Marion Irving de Cruz with photo of her son Emilio

Marion Irving de Cruz
with photo of her son Emilio
cropped from USCG award ceremony photo

Marion Irving de Cruz lost a long battle with medical issues and passed from this life at her California home on Wednesday afternoon May 18, 2016.

Know by many as a long time advocate for boat propeller safety, founder of SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now, and by the boating industry as “one of those crazy ladies that kept turning up at Coast Guard National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) meetings”.

Marion was perhaps best described recently by one of her longtime friends often in the saddle for SPIN as “the wind beneath our wings.” Marion enlisted and encouraged thousands of people in her efforts calling for boat propeller safety.

She was preceded in death by her son Emilo in 1993. A college engineering junior preparing to take the steps many take at that age in their life. Instead of taking those steps he was instead suddenly struck down and killed by a houseboat propeller. Marion quickly began learning about other houseboat propeller accidents, about propeller guards, and how they could prevent many houseboat propeller accidents.

She teamed with other families of survivors and victims to spread the work and to encourage the industry to use propeller guards.

Known by many as Emilo’s mom, she signed thousands of documents with that signature.

SPIN, Stop Propeller Injuries Now, was created to organize her efforts. Over the years Marion broadened her efforts to include calling for boat licensing, rental boat education (especially houseboats), pontoon boat propeller safety issues, and is more recently known for her dedication to legislation / regulations requiring the installation and use of recreational boat kill switches and kill switch lanyards.

She showed a real skill in working with many individuals and groups including boating safety organizations, the media, members of Congress, the Coast Guard, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), the National Boating Safety Advisory Council of which she was a member, families grieving their loved one, and those trying to cope with the countless surgeries and challenges of trying to recover from propeller injuries.

The propeller safety debate lasted decades longer than Marion anticipated and families came and went in helping with the cause. She learned the industry had strongly different views than hers. While on opposite sides of the coin, especially in more recent years she made friends with several boating industry professionals. Her ability to work with all was a gift few have.

Marion served one or more three year terms on NBSAC by Presidential appointment and had recently considered putting her name in the running again, but knew her failing health would not allow it.

Along the way she made countless friends, including me.

I remember when I first approached her many years ago with an email question about something. I feared she would see my online propeller safety materials as a competitor to her voice. But she immediately accepted us with open arms. Since then we have worked together on many common issues. In general, Marion was the people person and I was the technical person.

For example, together we encouraged the Coast Guard to change the layout of two data tables USCG uses to annually report the number of specific types of boating accidents. For years the tables were frequently misinterpreted. Accident frequencies reported in the press were much lower than those actually reported by USCG. Marion and I provided USCG with examples of how to make them less likely to be misunderstood and USCG adopted our proposal with only slight variations. This year the 2015 U.S. Coast Guard Boating Annual Statistics Report just released in May 2016 even lists the total number of propeller accidents up front in an easy to read sentence. After years of confusion, we now have an easy place to point those who misinterpret the total number of propeller accidents from the report!

It was great to be able to talk to someone that spoke the language of boat propeller safety:

Some Propeller Safety Terms, Phrases, & Acronyms:
BARD, Event 1, All Events, Handler, ANPRM, NPRM, Circle of Death, Kill Switch, ring, increased cross sectional area, blunt trauma, hardware in the water, ladder switch, NBSAC, NASBLA, NWSC, EECOS, IIR, USCG, IBWSS, SPIN, BIRMC, NMMA, ABYC, HIA, John Hopkins, CDC, SUNY, Circling Phenomenon, 10163, propeller guard protocol, Oberstar, displacement boats, clear vision aft, ENA, NEISS, Australian surf livesaving guards, safety propeller, entrapment, sausage testing, NBSAC 1989 subcommittee, bow riding, skeg, panga, interlocks, added mass, log strike, all the early Coast Guard propeller strike studies, and countless last names tied to SPIN supporters, those she saw to be in opposition, legislators, families in major accidents overseas, USCG Office of Boating Safety past and present personnel, important legal cases by victims names, lawyers commonly used by the industry, experts commonly used by the industry.

It takes those new to the propeller safety issue years to learn and understand only a fraction of those terms, acronyms, and names, yet she knew them all, and more, and personally knew many of the individuals involved.

Through the years she encouraged several firms making propeller guards, and other propeller safety devices.

She traveled tens of thousands of miles by car and plane to attend boating safety meetings. She was not afraid to stand up in front of anybody, including appearing before the May 15, 2002 U.S. House of Representatives Hearing on Recreational Boating Safety.

In September 2012 she shipped us a large pallet of her SPIN archives. We are still sorting through them four years later. Access to many of the early Coast Guard studies and other documents has been extremely helpful in our efforts to better understand the history & early players of boat propeller safety. Many of these documents are no longer available elsewhere.

Marion also frequently specifically stood up for children’s safety as they are disproportionately represented in certain types of propeller accidents.

houseboat propeller guard

houseboat propeller guard

As just one example of her grit and determination, when the Coast Guard was considering a proposal requiring propeller guards on houseboats in 1995, she (and her fellow SPINers) managed to get over 1,800 people to write the Coast Guard docket in support of propeller guards. That many written responses were unheard of prior to or since that event. Yes, she used a signable form letter to energize them which USCG said lacked the specifics of individual responses, but the industry has since provided formatted responses as well.

A couple years ago she passed through Stillwater. Lora and I spent an afternoon with her and took her to Eskimo Joe’s for a burger and fries (Nationally known local college hangout)

Ever since, she kept pestering us to come out there, but we never made it.

We often joked about earthquakes as Oklahoma has had thousands of small quakes in the last few years. She always worried about us in the tornadoes and told us to come out there where it was safer and the weather was much less extreme.

in July 1996 Jim Flannery at Soundings at Soundings wrote a great article summarizing just the first three years of her efforts titled, Emilio’s Mom Revives Prop Guard Debate. A small portion of the article is shown below. Click on it to see the rest.

Emilio's Mom revives prop guard debate June 1996 Soundings

Emilio’s Mom revives prop guard debate
June 1996 Soundings article

Several families and individuals are mentioned in the article above. Some high profile propeller accidents, and especially houseboat propeller accidents, provided recruits for Marion’s efforts to improve boat propeller safety. Several of those individuals, many of which were women, and more women who joined later, helped her for many years. Marion accomplished tremendous things in just three years, and she never slowed down after that.

She was a writer, firing off letters to anybody and everybody about propeller safety. Often including printed materials and packets of information she had produced. Later on, these turned into emails and attachments. She was frequently lecturing me about grammar and teaching me new words. When she stood before a group to speak on propeller safety, she quickly captured their attention by her knowledge, conviction, determination, and sometimes by sharing stories of the loss of Emilio. She often emphasized points by encouraging propeller strike victims or surviving family members to come along and share their stories as well.

She was often frustrated with her computer, the Internet, and software issues. Its truly remarkable she was able to have the impact she has without growing up with the tools.

While our conversations were mostly on propeller safety issues, we learned she loved her home, Native American art and artifacts, her travels to see those and learn about those things, her cats, Emilio’s Sigma Chi fraternity chapter where she established a scholarship in his name, and some folks we will leave nameless here.

We hear Marion really enjoyed the day the Coast Guard presented two awards to her this February. We thank them and all who participated.

Now she’s gone on with several other well know boat propeller safety figures including: Larry Thibault, Don Balius, and Robert Hooper.

One of Marion’s prime focuses in recent years has been the continually delayed U.S. Coast Guard action on kill switches. She was always adding to her timeline on the history of the kill switch regulation. May I be the first to suggest that if anything ever comes of it, it be recognized in token as Marion’s Law.

A few years ago we volunteered to host the SPIN web site. She since launched a SPIN Facebook page. This afternoon I see one of her family members left a post there, Though the singer’s gone, let the song go on! Rest in Paradise (RIP) Marion, May 18, 2016

Goodbye for a time Marion, we look forward to seeing you and meeting Emilio on the other side.


  1. Kathryn Grace

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute. She was / is one of a kind and will always be my inspiration. She is soaring around watching and helping the progression of her important work.



  2. Beautiful tribute. Thank you so much for sharing all of the wonderful work Marion set into motion. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend time with her at the 2016 IBWSS. She certainly had a big impact on me and we will strive to keep the momentum going for continued boating safety laws in Oregon.

  3. I was privileged and honored to meet the ever-buoyant Marion for the first, and last, time at the 2016 IBWSS conference in San Diego. We spoke of the unspeakable pain of sons gone too soon and the resolve required to push meaningful change through the dense forest of bureaucracy. She inspired me then. She inspires me still.

    I can think of no one who more embodies Churchill’s mantra to “never never never give up”. What a beautiful momma reunion with her precious Emilio. Until that day with my Connor, I will never never never give up on the importance of requiring life vests on open water. And as I fight, I will be fueled by the relentless grit and determination of Marion Irving de Cruz. She left her handprint on the world.

    Dana Gage
    Connor’s Mom & Founder
    The LV Project

  4. Phyllis Kopytko

    Gary, I just re-read this. So beautiful. Our SPIN Facebook is intended to be in addition to the website. Carol and I both have actions to improve/update the actual SPIN site you have held for us. I forgot that I wrote THough the singer’s gone, let the song go on. Thank you for reminding me. I miss her so and often feel lost without her. Hugs to you and together with a nice group of SPINNERS and SPINETTES we are all carrying on. Marion is proud.

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