Propeller Guard Information Center

Propeller Accidents Similar to the McGarrigle Accident: Mercury Said There Were None – Our Findings Indicate Otherwise

Mercury Marine Tiller Outboards

Mercury Marine Tiller Outboards

In McGarrigle v. Mercury Marine Mercury claims McGarrigle’s accident is the first one of its kind involving one of the over 750,000 tiller outboards (portable outboards) they built from 1986 to July 2007. We suspect there were several more. This post documents our quick search for others.

Our Mercury Marine Tells Court the McGarrigil Accident is the First One Involving Mercury Tiller Steered Outboards post defines exactly what Mercury Marine said.

We chose to furnish our findings as well as our methods for three purposes:

  • To show how easy it was to identify some of the accidents listed below which implies, Mercury does not know about them because they don’t look for them.
  • To provide a guide for if Mercury Marine / Brunswick or other manufacturers (or their opposing legal teams) wishing to keep a better eye on their accidents in the future
  • To provide a list of the sources so we can remember them as well.

Our Findings

The results of our search are produced in the Spreadsheet below. You can download it as a pdf from the link below the image. It is best viewed on a LARGE monitor.

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Please remember Mercury’s criteria as we understand it was:

  • Tiller outboard
  • 8 to 25 horsepower
  • Built by Mercury
  • Built 1986 to July 2007
  • Operator ejected
  • Kill switch lanyard not attached to operator
  • Operator or passenger struck by propeller
  • Prop strike delivered by circling boat (not on initial fall into the water)

We identified a five tiller outboards built by Mercury (each is labeled in red on the chart above), including a Mariner that appear to meet most of the criteria. However we were unable to quickly find manufacturing dates or verify if some were the result of being struck when they fell out vs struck by the prop of a circling boat. We suspect several of the very old boats involved in more recent accidents have newer outboards than they year of manufacture of the boat.

Our most valuable finding, was identifying a large number of tiller outboard propeller accidents in which the operator was ejected from a boat powered by an outboard built by an unknown manufacturer. The large number of accidents we identified makes it highly likely that Mercury powered at least some of them. We make a quick statistical case for Mercury powering some of these outboards near the bottom of this post. Plus we also identified a Mercury tiller outboard operator ejection fatality involving a Sea Nymph (same manufacture as in McGarrigle).

Also please note, we only focused on BARD data from just a few years in the twenty year time span. There are countless more similar accidents in BARD (which realistically only begins to be of use in 1995 anyway – the year they started separating hit by boat from hit by propeller).

Plus the videos of circling Mercury outboards further below on this page are pretty convincing as well.

These Accidents Continue to Happen

While Mercury close ended their claim with a July 2007 ending date, these accidents continue to occur. We see one in the news today (January 19, 2012) involving an Australia tinny (small aluminum boat). The NineMSN (Australia) news report and accompanying video reveal what looks like could be a Mercury tiller outboard that ejected two people, one tried to reboard, was struck by the propeller and “suffered horrific facial injuries”. We are aware other outboard manufacturers also make black outboards, so this one may not be a Mercury outboard. We will continue to follow the news reports and visit with some folks we know down there.

Meanwhile, if you are in Australia and have seen the accident or solid photos or news reports identifying the outboard manufacturer, would you please drop us an email at the contact link in the menu at the top of this page. Thanks in advance.

Our Mercury Tiller Outboard Propeller Accident Search Process

Our Sources and Some of our Initial Results Are Listed Below in the Order We First Explored Them.

1. “Casualties Preventable by the Use of an Engine Cut-Off Switch” – The SAGE Report

This May 14, 2008 document by SAGE Systems, Technologies, LLC and Advanced Technology Systems, Inc. (Revised October 16, 2009) was part of the materials furnished by USCG along the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning Kill-Switches (Engine Cut-Off Switches). Casualties Preventable by the Use of an Engine Cut-Off Switch is in the docket for USCG-2009-0206. Public comment on the proposal closed on September 6, 2011. Just click on the pdf logo there to view.

“Casualties Preventable by the Use of an Engine Cut-Off Switch” supplies two lengthy lists of 2002 – 2006 recreational boating accidents that were determined to have been preventable by the use of an engine cut-off switch. One list is of fatal accidents, the other is of injury accidents.

In the old days we would have had to go to BARD (U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Accident Report Database), which can take a while to manipulate to find what you are looking for. But this report quickly puts five years of kill switch preventable accidents in front of you along with a brief description of each accident.

We just key word searched it for “tiller” and immediately had several hits. In less than two minutes of searching we quickly identified several tiller outboards involved in boat or propeller strikes because the operator was not wearing a lanyard (or the boat was not equipped with a kill switch). The report does not identify the manufacturer of the outboard by name, but with Mercury Marine claiming a substantial portion of the market in that time frame, we suspect some of them are Mercury outboards. We later selected a few of the accidents and moved on to BARD to find more information about those specific accidents.

We also noted, that if we come back to this source, we can identify several more accident candidates by reading the accident descriptions. Although they may not mention tiller steering, most of the small outboards in small boats and RIBS are tiller steered.


We started looking for some of the specific accidents we identified in step one, and during that process we found some more in the “Casualties Preventable by the Use of an Engine Cut-Off Switch” as well.

We checked the BARD reports on those accidents, identified the boat builder, date of build, boat length, horsepower, and location of each accident. Armed with the date and location information we moved to our database of media reported propeller accidents.

We also identified some more recent representative BARD accidents of interest from the 2009 and 2010 BARD databases.

As we began to identify relevant accidents, we began listing them on a spreadsheet. Brief descriptions of some of the first accidents we identified are provided below:

  • IL-2002-0113 Inflatable boat hits wake, quickly slows, operator and passenger ejected, boat circles, passenger struck by propeller.
  • NC-2004-0120 – August 28, 2004 16ft Carolina Skiff, 30 HP tiller steer outboard (unknown manufacturer), one person on board, turned left, ejected, not wearing lanyard, boat circled, operator tried to re-board the circling boat, struck by propeller. No drugs or alcohol involved.
  • NC-2004-0169 – 9.9HP tiller steer outboard (unknown manufacturer), one person on board, something fell in the boat, momentarily released tiller, boat cut to left, operator ejected, boat circled, struck by propeller.
  • NV-2004-0105 – 8 foot RIB w/small horsepower outboard and 5 people on board. Sharp turn ejected operator and three of the passengers. Boat circled before passengers remaining on board could gain control, operator struck by propeller.
  • LA-2005-0124 – two people in a 15 foot flat bottomed boat pulling a tuber, hit wake, operator lost control of tiller handle, boat cut to right, both people ejected, boat began circling, passenger struck by propeller.
  • CT-2005-0058 – Rowboat powered by 8 HP outboard, operator lost control due to inexperience, ejected, boat began circling, boat ran over him, laceration to head above left ear. (not specifically mentioned as prop strike).
  • 12201 11HP tiller steered Carolina Skiff, operator accelerated, lost grip on tiller, cut starboard, ejected, struck by propeller.
  • NH-2009-0009 – Experienced adult operator in a Sea Nymph, turned, hit by a wave, passenger ejected, operator took hand off tiller to try to grab them, boat swerved, operator ejected, passenger now in cold water became hysterical.
  • LA-2009-0017 – 15 foot, 20 HP Mercury tiller steered outboard, docking, fell overboard, boat circling, not wearing kill switch lanyard, struck by propeller. Boat was a 1968 Louisiana Traveler.
  • MD-2010-0140 – 15HP, 13 foot Boston Whaler, operator turning boat, fell out, struck by propeller. Mercury outboard. Boat built 1973. No entry in BARD kill switch data field. Report does not mention boat circling.

Future BARD idea – search for kill switch accidents on outboard powered boats built by Brunswick companies.

3. Database of Media Reports of Propeller Accidents

We started trying to match news reports in our archives with the accidents we identified in BARD. We were able to match some of them, and to actually find photos of a few of them from which we were able to determine the outboard motor manufacturer. We were more successful with that process on the more recent accidents. The SAGE listed accidents are on the early edge (2004, 2005) of our own media archives where our records are less complete.

We also tried some online searching and looked for archives of local newspapers, but similarly, the dates are a little early for most hometown newspaper online archives, plus without the victim’s last name, searching is more difficult.

4. YouTube

We recall seeing several circling boat videos on YouTube. We thoughts some would show Mercury Marine tiller steered outboard motors. We found the ones below. Plus we would would like to call attention to the fact that it would be very easy for some of the rescuers of people AND/OR those trying to stop the boats in these videos to become casualties themselves.


Runaway boat Lake Cherokee sure looks like a Mercury Marine tiller outboard. Video posted on YouTube Oct 21, 2007. “Small boat had thrown its occupants, we picked them up – then lassoed the stray.” (no injuries mentioned)


Runaway boat is said to have belonged to a safety marshal at the 2007 dragon boat race at Pool Park. He was said to have started the boat in gear and been ejected. Looks like a possible small mercury outboard. (no injuries mentioned)


Somebody trapped on the water by a circling boat. It looks like it might be a Mercury Outboard. Posted February 21, 2009. Part 1 is above, Part 2 is below. (no injuries mentioned)


part 2

5. We Returned to BARD

As we returned to BARD, we started word searching the accident descriptions of known propeller accidents for “tiller”, we started looking for boats listing Mercury Marine as a builder (Mercury inflatables are MIC code GAH), looking for boats less than 16 feet in length, and looking for small boats built by Brunswick owned boat builders.

We started to find a few. The 2009 and 2010 BARD captured boat engine manufacturer data for at least some of the boats. We were able to eliminate some of the accidents due to them being powered by non-Mercury outboards.

As things progressed we found the best technique for 2009 and 2010 was to use our existing query to ID the propeller accidents, sort them by horsepower, then read the redacted narratives for each accident less than or equal to 25 horsepower. Several narratives indicated a tiller accident without actually using the word “tiller”.

Public BARD had been dynamic is recent years. For example 2009, 2010 include a field for motor manufacturer, 2010 excludes data from about half the states, 2008, 2009, 2010 includes the redacted narrative. These changes are summarized in the table below.

Public BARD
Year Narrative Motor Manufacturer Most States Reporting
2007 X
2008 X X
2009 X X X
2010 X X

We focused heavily on 2008-2010 data because we had access to the naratives which helped us quickly identify tiller OB propeller accidents in which the operator was ejected, AND we had at least some engine manufacturer data for two of those three years.

6. Our Own News Video Library

We quickly looked through some of our RIB accident videos, read the recent news clips a bit closer, search some of our content for “jon boat”. Our news reports, images, and videos were able to eliminate some of the accidents we previously identified because we were able to visually identify non-Mercury outboards on the boats. We were more successful with that process on the more recent accidents. The SAGE listed accidents are on the early edge (2004, 2005) of our own media archives where our records are less complete.

We also tried some online searching and looked for archives of local newspapers, but similarly, the SAGE dates are a little early for most hometown newspaper online archives, plus without the victim’s last name, searching is more difficult.

Additionally, we quickly word searched our news reports in a attempt to find more potential Mercury tiller outboard propeller accidents, from which to being the elimination process again.

7. A Few Other Relevant Accidents I Recollect

I recalled several tiller OB accidents, but most of them were eliminated due to being powered by non-Mercury outboards. We kept the single accident below for reference.

  • 4 April 2010 Oakburn College Rowing Incident Investigation (in Tasmania) – 18 HP Tohatsu tiller steered outboard (note Tohatsu builds the similar sized tiller steered Mercury outboards).

8. Commercial Databases

We quickly checked some major databases (Factavia, Lexus Nexus, Google News Archives) and although they included coverage of several outboard propeller accidents, it is hard to decide if they are tiller outboards or not, and they almost never identify the outboard manufacturer.

We also checked news video library.

9. Google

We searched for: “Sea Nymph” boat accident

and immediately found a similar 2009 accident. Two men were off Hampton Beach (Massachusetts) in a 12 foot Sea Nymph (same builder and size as McGarrigle) (note, some reports say it was a 14 foot Sea Nymph) powered by a 9.9 horsepower Mercury engine. They hit a wave, were both ejected about 100 yards off the beach into chilly waters, and the boat began to circle (does that sound familiar?) The accident is detailed in:

Warnings Issued After Drowning
The Latest News From The First District
Northern News (Sector NNE, BOS, SENE).
U.S. Coast Guard District 1.
June 2009 (exact data of news release is unknown, accident date was Sunday June 14, 2009)
(The above report echos a June 16, 2009 Gloucester Times, Gloucester MA article of same title.)

One man, Barry Arnold, was in the cold water about 90 minutes and died of hypothermia and cardiac arrest.

A local paper, The Union Leader, June 16, 2009 issue is said to contain a photo of the boat. We purchased a copy of the article thru their archives, but the image was not included.

10. Statistical Estimates

Summarizing the findings our spreadsheet above:

Summary of Tiller Steer Accidents We Identified
Drowned 6
Struck by Boat 3
McGarrigle’s Accident 1
Mercury hypothermia fatalities 1
Mercury propeller strikes 4
Unknown manufacturer propeller strikes 31
Total Number of Accidents 46

To get a quick number, we make some quick assumptions about the percentage of unidentified outboards in U.S. accidents in our spreadsheet.

Assumptions for these quick statistics:

  • Any given 8 thru 25 horsepower outboard is as likely to be on a boat involved in a boat from which the operator has been ejected or fallen, that eventually strikes someone with the propeller as the next outboard – meaning the percent of these accidents involving Mercury Marine outboards is roughly equal to the share of Mercury outboards in use. Some may consider the more modern Mercury outboards safer, but so are those of the other manufacturers, plus the older outboards are aging out of the population.
  • Mercury’s share of all 8 to 25 horsepower outboards in use can be estimated from their share of outboards on boats in all 8 to 25 horsepower outboard accidents in BARD for which a motor manufacturer was recorded (this is all accident types, not just prop accidents).

We examined the 2009 and 2010 BARD data (the two years for which BARD captured at least some motor manufacturer data.

  • 2009 – manufacturer data captured on 62 outboards from 8 thru 25 horsepower. 15 were Mercury, 3 were Mariner, for a total of 18. 18/62 = 29.0 percent.
  • 2010 – manufacturer data captured on 31 outboards from 8 thru 25 horsepower (about half of 2009 numbers because only about half of the states reported in 2010). 5 were Mercury, 1 was Mariner, for a total of 6. 6/31 = 19.4 percent.

Our calculations indicate about 20 to 30 percent of unidentified outboards on our chart are Mercury Marine outboards. Mercury claimed about 40 percent of the overall outboard market in documents filed with the International Trade Commission in 2004 during the Japanese Outboard Dumping investigation. We suspect that share was stronger in the higher horsepower outboards where they were well know for performance and cost was less of a factor, and correspondingly lower down in the portable outboards where cost can be more of a factor. Note, prior to 2001, OMC had a decent share of that market as well. Many OMC outboards are still around. OMC legacy outboards temporarily cushion Mercury’s share of outboards involved in boating accidents.

Our spreadsheet lists 5 Mercury accidents (plus the McGarrigle accident) plus 31 unknown manufacturer possible kill switch preventable propeller accidents (plus several more that resulting in drownings or death by hypothermia).

If we use 20 percent as a conservative estimate:

31 unknown accidents X 20 percent = 6.2 more Mercury accidents

The 5 we found plus 6 more = an estimated 11 Mercury tiller outboard propeller accidents in which the operator was ejected.

A few the accidents we identified probably involve outboards built outside the year range specified by Mercury. Even if we cut the ones we found and statistically found in half (11/2 = 5.5) there are over five left. Mercury said McGarrigle was the first one.

Our statistical methods are certainly subject to some error, but since we already found five accidents, its not hard to believe there are several more remaining on that list. Plus we did not even include the drowning and hypothermia fatality. In addition, we have said nothing of unreported tiller outboard operator ejected propeller accidents. AND please recall we only reviewed BARD accidents for a few of the years in the time frame specified by Mercury.

Before Mercury wants to throw out three non-U.S. and non-recreational accidents we identified, we would like to remind them they are the ones that provided the 750,000 tiller steered outboard number. That includes their international and non-recreational sales.


When we took on this project we anticipated finding rock solid, exact same accidents to the McGarrigle accident. Several difficulties hampered our search:

  • Problems in separating BARD reported tiller outboard (portable outboard) propeller accidents from other outboard propeller accidents
  • The lack of outboard manufacturer data for most tiller outboard accidents (we don’t know whose outboard it was)
  • The lack of names of injured parties (to check area news reports for possible photos of the boat)
  • The lack of indication if an individual was struck by the propeller immediately or after the boat began to circle
  • News report and YouTube videos and still photos too blurry to ID manufacturer
  • Incompleted data fields in BARD
  • The industry’s continued lack of establishing a good database to track propeller injuries

However, we did positively identify five small additional small outboard Mercury accidents in which the operator was ejected. One of them even involved a Mercury tiller outboard powered Sea Nymph boat, the same boat manufacturer as in McGarrigle) with a fatality (cardiac arrest /hypothermia not a propeller strike, but still avoidable if the Sea Nymph operator had been forced to use their lanyard). We used some shoot from the hip statistics to illustrate what we all know, that long list of tiller outboard accidents we identified in which the outboard manufacturer was not named, includes several more Mercury tiller outboard operator ejected propeller accidents.

The YouTube Videos we identified are pretty convincing as well. We were not able to directly tie specific propeller accidents to those videos, but they provide strong anecdotal evidence supporting the probability that Mercury tiller outboards have been in propeller accidents similar to the McGarrigle accident.

We are not saying that operators should be forced to use lanyards or not. We did this research to prove Mercury was either not being truthful when they said they were not aware of similar accidents, or they never tried to find them.

If anyone is aware of any specific Mercury tiller outboard (portable outboard) propeller accidents from this time frame, not on our list or on our list without the manufacturer identified, please contact us using the contact tab at the top of the page.

As we mentioned earlier, we went through a lot of data in a hurry and did not repeatedly check our findings. There may be a few errors in the individual accidents as reported in our summary, but we felt it better to publish them now and move on to other things, than to spend countless more hours verifying this data. If anybody wants to pay us to check it, please contact us.

We encourage Mercury and others to follow up on these accidents to identify the outboard manufacturers. An easy place to start is to call the individuals whose names are listed. Another is to write the the states in which the accidents took place with a FOA (Freedom of Information Act form) requesting a copy of their accident report. The accident report may list the manufacturer or include photos. At the very least, it will provide additional information from which to search for media reports on the same accident. Mercury also should have access to registration and warranty cards that might be matched to some the HIN numbers listed in BARD. Matching will be less certain with portable outboards than larger outboards because they can be so easily moved.

In Mercury Marine’s Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment filed March 8, 2011 (Docket Item 30-2) Mercury says Dr. Kenneth W. Fisher should not be allowed to testify as an expert witness for the plaintiff, in part because:

“He has no data or information to refute Mercury Marine’s documented experience of only one accident scenario like that of Mr. McGarrigle’s from a population of over 750,000 similar engines – Mr. McGarrigle’s;”

The court has already ruled in favor of allowing Dr. Kenneth Fisher to testify, but this post should indicate that Mercury is the one making the unsupported claims, not the plaintiffs.

We welcome your comments on this quick search for Mercury Marine tiller outboards (portable outboards) involved in propeller accidents similar to the one involving John McGarrigle.


As we work a project like this we begin to collect key words as we move along. Below are some key words those wishing to extend our research may find helpful.

Useful Key Words

  • tiller
  • portable outboard
  • small outboard
  • hand
  • “Circle of Death”
  • runaway boat, run away boat
  • outboard
  • kill switch, kill-switch
  • engine cut-off switch, cut off switch
  • lanyard
  • kill cord
  • wild, wildly
  • out of control
  • spinning, circling
  • jon boat / jonboat
  • flat bottomed boat
  • RIB(s)
  • inflatable boat
  • aluminum
  • tinny, tinnies in Australia
  • “kill switch” + boat + investigation
  • Sea Nymph

We added RIBs and inflatable boats to our search terms because they often use tiller steered portable outboards.

Useful Dates

1999 – Lowe bought Sea Nymph, 2004 – Brunswick bought Lowe

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