Expose on boat propeller accident propels Arizona to action

Every weekend on Lake Pleasant led to a major boating accident for several weeks this summer (2023). Some of these Maracopa County, Arizona accident were boat propeller strikes.

A local media outlet, Arizona’s Family released a great video on November 15th, 2023. The video uses one boat propeller accident as an introduction to talking more broadly about the problem. The video also addresses issues specifically associated with rental boats which are more frequently involved in propeller accidents.

Arizona Family’s report states, “In Arizona, two people died from prop strikes and 60 people suffered boating injuries.”

The YouTube video below issued November 15th.

The video was introduced by print media as Propeller strikes maim or kill recreational Arizona boaters every year.

This video is not just a video to watch and move on. It is a video to propel people to action. Some will take a boating safety class. Viewers will be more aware of their surroundings on a boat. Some rental boat agencies may re-evaluate their training process. Others will share the video with their friends and colleagues.

The Padilla Accident

The video specifically follows the July 22, 2022 incident in which 34 year old Alyssa Padilla was struck by a boat propeller.

Per the video, first responders were about 30 minutes getting to her. Response is often slow on large western lakes due to distance. They also often face difficulty locating novice rental boaters on large lakes.

Once on shore and stabilized she was taken by golf cart to an ambulance, then to a life flight helicopter.

Alyssa speaks out about her life changing injury and notes, “I will never be the same.”

Per the video, Alyssa later learned what happened to her happens a lot here and at other lakes.

Propeller Accident Statistics

The reported notes another woman died last summer. A six year old girl died this year. Both died by propeller strikes on Lake Pleasant.

The reporter states the U.S. Coast Guard reported 173 propeller accidents last year.

The Danger of Boat Propellers

Arizona Family’s reporter went on to say every single one of them was preventable.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Detective Rob Marsky officer says the first thing you will hear is, “It happened so fast.”

He noted “propellers are like blenders”. “Even at idle speed a propeller could spin 40 times a second.”

Deputy Marsky stated,”Our victims can bleed out very, very quickly.”

Common Boat Propeller Accident Scenarios

“The number one reason that prop strikes happen is because of operator inattention.”

“One of the most common scenarios is someone is behind the boat, goes to swim toward the boat, and the driver turns the motor on.”

The article points out the boat ladder is often attached to the back of the boat right next to the motor and propeller.

Alyssa Padilla explains that when the boat was started, it created a suction of water into the propeller which was taking her into the propeller.

Propeller Safety Issues Concerning Rental Boats

Joe Watkins represents Alyssa in a lawsuit against Scorpion Bay, the firm that rented the boat. Mr. Watkins says propeller strikes do happen on really disturbing regular basis. He goes on to note they tend to happen to people that are renting boats.

The video goes on to discuss safety briefing issues involving rental boats.

In Alyssa’s instance, the sheriff’s office says the boat rental company did not even have the name of the person that rented the boat.

Deputy Marsky recounts the importance of boat operators receiving boating safety education.

Arizona is one of four states with no requirements for boat operators to receive safety training.

Our Comments

We salute Arizona Family, Alyssa Padilla, Officer Marsky, Joe Watkins, and their production crew. Their work will increase awareness of boat propeller accidents. They also exposed safety issues at some boat rental facilities.

While we can’t thank them enough, we do take issue with three points made in the video:

Point #1. 173 accidents reported by USCG in 2022

The video states, “Last year (2022) across the country the U.S. Coast Guard reported 173 accidents where people were struck by boat propellers.”

They are correct, in 2022 USCG reported 173 incidents in which one or more people were struck by a boat propeller. However, the actual total of individuals struck by a boat propeller reported by USCG in 2022 was 182 injured and 41 fatalities.

In addition, there has long been a tug of war over propeller strike statistics. The boating industry claims almost all propeller injuries are reported and propeller safety advocates argue many propeller accidents are not reported.

Note – the second print version of the article did include the statistics provided above. They were likely left out of the video to shorten it.

Point #2. Even at idle propellers can be rotating at 40 times per second

If an outboard powered boat was idling at 1,000 RPM in gear with a 2 to 1 reduction in the gearcase, the propeller would be turning about 1,000 RPM / 2 = 500 RPM or 8.3 times per second.

Several propeller safety brochures note the number of blades on the propeller is also important. For example even at 8.3 revolutions per second, a three bladed propeller could strike you 25 times per second.

The old U.S. Coast Guard “Beware of Boat Propellers…A Hidden Danger” brochure stated,”A typical three-blade propeller running at 3,200 rpm can inflict 160 impacts in one second.”

Cropped from the U.S. Coast Guard 2007 flyer, "Beware Propellers...A Hidden Danger".

Cropped from the U.S. Coast Guard 2007 flyer, “Beware Propellers…A Hidden Danger”.

Point 3. The reporter said, “Every single one of them was preventable.”

We agree many propeller accidents are preventable or at least can be mitigated. Tools currently available include boating safety education, rental boat safety training, operator attention, use of a spotter, sober boat operator, avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption by all on board, no use of drugs, not going faster than conditions allow, always having a lookout, and keeping your boat in proper condition.

Other existing prevention and mitigation methods include having proper safety equipment onboard, wearing a life jacket, using a kill switch / ECOS lanyard, first aid kits, no bow riding, divers and snorkelers always using dive flags, boat safety inspections, keeping a spare lanyard for use if the operator is ejected, etc. While this is just a partial list, it is easy to see why novice boaters might not cover all these bases, especially in a party environment on a lake they are no familiar with.

Point 3 Part A

Other propeller accidents could be prevented or mitigated with the use of additional safety equipment often not found on board such as VHF radios, GPS, first aid kits on rental boats, tourniquets or something that could be repurposed as a tourniquet on rental boats, indicators showing those in the water when the engine is running and the propeller is turning.

Another safety tool useful on large lakes is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

Point 3 Part B

Still more propeller accidents could be prevented or mitigated by design or equipment not accepted by boating industry manufacturers. Examples include boat propeller guards on slow moving rental boats, increasing distance from the ladder to the propeller, rear view cameras like on cars, removing the front ledge of pontoon boats that attracts bow riders at least on rental boats, using a doorbell switch to force the use of a spotter at the rear of a houseboat while backing up.

Additional designs and equipment not accepted by the boating industry include auto detection and stopping of circling unmanned boats, use of two stage tilt cylinders, use of products of the nature of The Leash”, devices only allowing certain users to pilot rental boats, use of warnings that point out the result if you do not follow them, and Public Service Announcements that graphically illustrate what can happen to you.

Even if most of the protections mentioned above were in place, boat propeller accidents will still occur. Challenges that can place someone in contact with a propeller include severe weather, mechanical failures, kill switch failures, steering failures, medical emergencies, striking submerged objects, hitting a stump, striking a dredge pipe, hitting a rock, becoming grounded and trying to push the boat off a sandbar, becoming entangled in a tow rope, horseplay.

Additional ways propeller accidents will still occur include boater fatigue, wakes generated by large vessels nearby, rogue waves, running over a diver or snorkeler without a dive flag, people swimming in open water, people swimming outside of a swim area, boats capsizing or sinking, other boats running over your boat, solar glare, changing lake levels, and mixed traffic (canoes, kayaks, paddle boards) with larger faster vessels.

And there are multiple paths by which those onboard PWC’s can contact your boat’s propeller.

For a More Complete List of Boat Propeller Accident Scenarios

See our propeller strike scenarios list for a more complete listing.

In Closing

Thanks again to ArizonaFamily for this important video. We hope many people and businesses will be inspired to take action based upon this video. They have a vastly larger and broader audience than us. We thank them for their efforts.

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