Casey Schulman Was Not the First: Catamaran Dive, Snorkel, & Party Boat Propeller Accidents

Casey Schulman’s Anchorage Dive Center charter boat propeller accident in Dominica was not the first one.

The recent Casey Schulman propeller accident in Dominica involving a large Sail Cat on a Snorkel & Party charter has been called a “freak accident” by the media and even by the tour boat company involved.

Anchorage Dive Center Sail Cat

Anchorage Dive Center Sailing Catamaran
involved in the Casey Schulman accident

Anchorage, the charter boat operation involved issued a December 6, 2012 statement:

The Directors, Management and Staff of the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre are deeply saddened by the fact that on Saturday 1st December 2012, Miss Casey Schulman, a cruise ship client on MV Explorer and a guest on their Catamaran Sail & Snorkel Cruise had a freak accident off Mero beach.

The boating industry, boat livery/rental industry, charter and tour boat industry, and the media have long referred to propeller accidents as freak accidents. Some suggest they are really trying to say “all is well, boating is safe, this was just a freak accident, keep spending your money here.” The media in boating / diving tourism locales often suppress boat accidents from the news or only briefly notes their occurrence. Newspapers and other media outlets in these areas do not want to alienate their advertisers that make money from activities on or near the water.

The Schulman accident, per the statement released by Anchorage, involved a large chartered sail catamaran. This type of vessel is often called a Sail Cat. Sail Cats of this size are typically used for diving, snorkeling, and party platforms by tour boat / charter boat operations near well known diving destinations (Cozumel, Belize, Hawaii, The Great Barrier Reef, Florida Keys, other Caribbean islands, etc.). Many Sail Cats have propulsion engines in the stern of each of their twin hulls, often near the steps used to board the vessel from the water. Sail Cat captains use the engines for navigating in close and for sailing charters when the wind is not cooperating. These large Sail Cats and their companion powered catamarans (similar boat without a sail) have been involved in many propeller accidents.

We provide list of some chartered Sail Cat and powered catamaran propeller accidents below so the hazards of an exposed propeller in these situations can be better understood

If you are aware of any similar tour / charter catamaran propeller accidents not listed below, please contact us via the tab in the top navigation menu.

Sail Cat and Power Catamaran Propeller Accidents on Commercial Tours / Excursions

Stacey Courtney
January 10, 1997 Hawaii

U.S. Coast Guard Docket Public Comment USCG-2001-10163 Public Comment #29
Accident Date: January 10, 1997.

Stacey Courtney reports that while scuba diving in Hawaii she was ran over by a catamaran full of snorkeling tourists. The propeller broke the femur of her left leg in two places, cut her leg several times and almost cut her foot off at the ankle.

Her report identifies the vessel as a large snorkel tour catamaran, but not specifically as a Sail Cat.

This accident resulted in a legal case, Courtney. v. Pacific Adventures. U.S. District Court D. Hawaii.

Those legal records provide additional details. Stacey Courtney, of California, and her fiance/dive buddy went our on the Kai Nalu, a dive boat owned by Tropical Hydro, to Shark Fin Rock near Lanai. The crew anchored near Rainbow Chaser, a Pacific Adventures dive boat at the same location. As Courtney and some others were completing a dive, Rainbow Chaser started to leave the area. Courtney’s leg was caught in its starboard propeller. She suffered very serious injuries to her leg, including broken bones. Part of the legal issues were the release form signed by Courtney and her fiance.

Debbie Bignall
February 13, 2004 Mexico

D. Bignall, a female passenger on the Cozumel Fury, a 65 foot charter Sail Cat, fell overboard near Cozumel Mexico when underway. She was pulled into the propeller. Among other injuries she received broken bones in her left leg. Midship Marine built the Cozumel Fury in Louisiana. She had arrived in Mexico via a Princess Cruise Lines cruise ship.

This accident resulted in at least two legal cases. Bignall v. Princess Cruise Lines et al. Monroe County Florida. May 2005. The legal firm’s web site says the case was settled for the $3 million insurance policy limit.

Fury Management Inc v. Midship Marine Inc. U.S. District Court. Eastern District of Louisiana. The charter boat operation and their insurance company settled with the victim, then sued the builder for not installing a propeller guard. This case has since settled.

There was also a Fury Flyer et al v. Florida Southern District Court case related to this accident.

Legal reports mention the captain did not immediately stop the boat and no one jumped in to help her. She was left to tread water a while. No rescue equipment was on board.

Matt Isham and Dennis Claypool
July 20, 2004 Hawaii

Matt Isham, 25, a dive instructor on the Blue Dolphin, a Nai Pali Coast tour boat was underwater with four divers. One of them was first time diver, Dennis Claypool of Mesa, Arizona. One of the other divers was Dennis Claypool’s 18 year old son. Dennis Claypool, the father, had some problems with his buoyancy compensator and had drifted up to near the surface. Matt Isham went up to help him. They were both just below the surface when another tour boat, Captain Andy’s Spirit of Kauai, passed over them at about 12 knots. Isham tried to shield his student as both men tried to kick back down. Both men were struck by propellers of the Spirit of Kauai (a large Sail Cat). The Spirit of Kauai stopped and picked up both men, took them to a nearby cruise ship, the Pride of Aloha. The ship’s doctor treated them, a Navy helicopter came and hoisted them from the open deck. The helicopter took them to Lihu, and they were then taken by ambulance to Wilcox Memorial Hospital.

Matt Isham’s leg was amputated above the knee. Dennis Claypool’s arm was severely lacerated. Dennis said when he first saw Isham’s leg it had been hit by all four blades of the prop and was going in three different directions.

This accident resulted in at least three legal cases.

  • Mathew Isham, et al v. Blue Dolphin Charters et al. CV. No. 04-559 HG BMK
  • Dennis Claypool v. Captain Andy’s Sailing, Inc., Blue Dolphin Charters, Ltd., and Blue Dolphin Diving Ltd. CV. No. 04-570 HG BMK.
  • Isham v. PADI Worldwide Corp. U.S. District Court. Hawaii. PADI is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

The first two cases were consolidated and settled.

The accident is in USCG’s MISLE database as Activity No. 2147460.

Alycia Dixon
May 21, 2008 Great Barrier Reef Australia

Alycia Dixon, female, was one of several volunteer divers searching for missing moorings at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in the Whitsundays. Gladiator, an 11 meter cat with two inboard engines took several divers out to Langford Reef to search for the moorings. The captain dropped off one batch of divers, then moved on a couple hundred yards to drop some more divers. The first group of divers surfaced saying they had found a mooring, the captain circled the group, then started backing up to the divers without a lookout. Alyci Dixon tried to push away from the cat but was sucked into the propeller and received serious injuries to her right leg and thigh. She became entrapped in the propeller under the rear platform. Another diver had to free her. They pulled her on board an motored toward Hayman Island. From there she was taken by helicopter to Mackay, and then on to Townsville Hospital.

In March 2010, the captain was fined $4,000 (Australian dollars), his license was revoked for four months, and his conviction was not recorded.

Catherine Carlyle
December 9, 2010 New Zealand

Catherine Carlyle, 49 of Adelaide Australia, along with her husband, were on the Dolphin Watch Eco Tour on Friday morning December 9, 2010 at Rukakaka Bay in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. The tour was using a 13 meter powered catamaran called the Delpinus that cruises at 20 knots and can carry 30 people. Catherine Carlyle was told by the crew that it was safe to jump in. Three others dove in before her. She dove in and was struck by a propeller that was still winding down.

Her wetsuit was caught on the propeller and a guide had to jump in and cut her free.

The ambulance was called at 10:15 am. Her femoral artery was cut and she suffered multiple cuts and fractures to her lower legs. Passengers and crew wrapped her in blankets for the 15 minuter ride back to shore. A life flight helicopter arrived and a spokesman said she suffered three or four lacerations on each leg and lost a lot of blood.

The tour owners suspended their business til further notice.

Several days after the accident doctors at Wellington Hospital were still trying to determine how to repair her legs because the veins were torn and her legs were broken.

The tour reopened on Boxing Day (December 26, 2010) after two large cages had been placed over the propellers. They reported five engineers had looked at ways to cover the propellers and the final design was manufactured in Christchurch. The tour operation reports it was difficult and costly to have the guards made so quickly right before Christmas.

Catherine Carlyle was in New Zealand hospitals until she was able to return to Australia for further treatment on January 14, 2012.

In November 2011, the tour company pled guilty in Blenheim District Court to charges of failing to take steps an employee’s actions would not harm anyone and failing to safeguard employees. They were fined $50,000NZ, and ordered to pay Catherin Carlyle $80,000NZ in reparation and her legal fees and court costs of $2,278NZ.

Marine investigators said the tour company knew there was a problem with the propellers still turning after the boat was placed in neutral, but took no practical steps to control it. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said, “The fitting of propeller guards and other safety measures were among practicable steps a commercial dolphin watching operator failed to take prior to a potentially fatal accident involving a passenger.”

Dianna Lynn Mechling (sometimes spelled Meschling in the press)
February 2, 2011 Belize

Dianna Lynn Mechling, 59 of Ohio USA, and her husband were in Belize with the Ryndam cruise ship of the Holland America Line. She and her husband were on a snorkel tour of Goff’s Caye operated by Cruise Solutions on a 65 foot high performance tour catamaran named Reef Rocket. About three other snorkelers entered the water and Dianna Mechling followed them in. The boat operated shifted the engines to reverse to steady the boat, the boat lurched, and she was sucked into the propellers. Early reports mistakenly said she had entered the water and swam under the boat.

Two guides tried to rescue her from the water but her swimsuit was caught on the propeller. One guide surfaced and yelled for a knife. It took about a minute to find one. The guides were then able to free her by cutting away her swimsuit. Altogether she had been submerged for several minutes.

The crew finally managed to get her on the rear platform sans swimsuit. Through out the return trip, they left her there while two guides and her husband struggled to hold her on during a high speed run to Belize City Docks. There was no first aid kit on the Reef Rocket.

She was taken to Belize Medical Associates where she died from her injuries. It was about 20 minutes before her husband was able to catch a ride to the hospital. When he arrived, doctors told him she had died.

A Police report says Mechling had a large cut to her right leg and two small cuts to the right side of her face.

Holland America Line stopped offering snorkeling tours pending the outcome of the investigations.

As with the Casey Schulman accident, the press called it a “highly irregular accident”. The say the accident was highly irregular because the boats are usually turned off when snorkelers are in the water and at Goff’s Cay, the boats are usually on the front of the island and the snorkelers are usually on the back side of the island.

Later reports say she suffered head trauma when he head was “flung against the vessel.”

One local news outlet called it “an unfortunate incident” and noted they tried to reach Belize Tourism Board and Cruise Solutions for comment, but neither returned their calls.

News reports dated 8 February 2011 say the captain was found negligent, his license was suspended, and the vessel was prohibited from sailing further pending further investigations.

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed by her husband: Mechling et al v. Holland American Line, Cruise Solutions, et al in U.S. District Court. Western District of Washington at Seattle. The case settled in the Spring of 2012.

Michael Meyer
March 10, 2011 St. Lucia

Michael Meyer arrived to St. Lucia on the M/V Carnival Victory cruise ship. While there he went on a cruise related excursion, “Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons” to the west coast of St. Lucia’s Windward Island aboard the M/V Tango Too. Cox & Company Ltd. operates under two tour names, (1) Sailaway Tours and (2) Seaspray Cruises. Through them, Cox operates the M/V Tango Too, a 80 foot diesel powered Sail Cat capable of carrying 150 passengers.

Along the way to the Pitons (a pair of tall rock pinnacles), Tango Too stopped in a cove to allow the passengers to swim. At times there was a significant outflow from the cove that required Tango Too to motor against the current to stay in position near the swimmers. Passengers were not warned the props would be turning and were encouraged to jump off the vessel. Michael Meyer, 65, followed their advice, jumped over the side, became caught in the current, was pulled into the propellers, and cut severely.

This accident resulted in a legal case, Michael Meyer v. Carnival Corporation, et al. U.S. District Court. Southern District of Florida.

Unnamed Female
May 29, 2012 Ka’anapali, Maui, Hawaii

A 65 year old woman from North Carolina was swimming off Ka’anapali on Maui near Whalers Village about 11 am 29 May 2012. She was caught in the rip tide, then pulled into the propellers of a catamaran that was loading and unloading passengers. One report says she jumped in just before the catamaran launched. The woman was pulled to shore and taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center in serious condition. Paramedics said she had injuries to her arms and legs. A Teralani Sailing Adventures spokesman said they were declining comment till a U.S. Coast Guard investigation had been completed. This was likely a Sail Cat as the charterer is known for having two 65 foot Sail Cats.

A commenter to a news report on this accident mentions they recall a charter boat in Kaapapali hit someone with their propeller in the past. Many Hawaiian charters are cats. They may be referencing an accident we have not identified.

Casey Schulman
December 1, 2012 Dominica

Casey Schulman, a University of Virginia Semester at Sea Student, was struck by the propeller of an Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre Sail Cat. The vessel was chartered by her and some other students earlier that day. After a snorkeling stop, it took the students a to beach area. Some, including Schulman, were swimming. The catamaran went to shore for supplies. While backing toward those in the water, she was struck by the propeller and later died from her injuries.

Casey Schulman had arrived in Dominica earlier that day on the M/V Explorer, a retired cruise ship used in the Semester at Sea program operated by the University of Virginia.

Details of this accident are provided at Casey Schulman Struck by Propeller in Dominica.

Bruce Porter
7 February 2014 – New Zealand

Diving as part of a club dive off Poor Knights Island, Bruce Porter surfaced and was getting ready to board the boat when he was struck in the face and fatally wounded by the propeller. The chartered dive and snorkeling vessel was a 53 foot catamaran from Pacific Hideaway.

We cover the accident in depth at Bruce Porter killed by dive catamaran.

Probable and Near Miss Propeller Strikes by Tour Catamarans

We are still examining a few accidents to determine if they are catamarans. Plus we discovered some near miss accidents. These prop strike accidents are listed below.

Unnamed Male
September 7, 2008 a near miss in Australia

A passenger fell overboard on a whale watch charter when it was struck by large waves in Southport Seaway. The charter operation, Whales in Paradise, took them out on powered catamaran called, Mahi Mahi.

Eleven passengers were injured by the wave, one man in his mid-40’s was pitched up and over the bow. He went under the cat between the hulls and missed being struck by the propeller. One newspaper report called his missing the props a miracle. A deckhand jumped off to help and and some nearby PWCs also came to his rescue.

Eileen Neely
St. Lucia May 23, 1991

We strongly suspect the vessel involved was a catamaran, but are not certain.

Eileen Neely of Pennsylvania, worked for Holiday Village in St. Lucia for six weeks in the summer of 1991. She was provided room and board in exchange for her work at Holiday Village St. Lucia. There she served as Scuba Diving Instructor or Dive Master on 13 or 14 trips in between May 13 to May 23, 1991. On May 23, 1991 she served Club Med guest on a scuba diving excursion on the Long John. Club Med St. Lucia supplemented their own dive boat by chartering the Long John from Holiday Village.

It is disputed if the Divemaster gave the signal to enter the water before Eileen Neely jumped in. As she entered, the captain reversed the engines. The two 350 horsepower diesels sucked her under the boat and into the propellers. She emerged on the starboard side with serious injuries. She was out of work for about 5.5. months while convalescing at her parents home after she got out of the hospital.

Long John was built in the U.S. and owned by Joseph Lemaire who lives in Miami, Florida, but is not a U.S. citizen. The Long John was said to have been registered in St. Lucia.

The accident became a legal case, Elieen Ann Neely v. Club Med Management Services et al v. Joseph Lemaire et al. that eventually worked its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Third Circuit.

Discussion of Sail Cat Propeller Strike Problem

Just like recreational boat propeller strikes, the geographical spread of catamaran tour boat propeller strikes and suspected under reporting (accidents not being reported) prevents them from raising the alarm. Without multiple accidents being reported in the same location within a short time frame, they quickly fade from memory and no action is taken. Thus, Casey Schulman’s Sail Cat propeller accident is called a “freak accident” in the press and by Anchorage.

A quick search for Sail Cat and Powered Cat tour / charter boat propeller strikes identified nine accidents (one of which involved two victims). While this number is not large, we suspect more will be identified now that we have started a list. If you are aware of one not listed, please use the contact us tab in the top menu to call it to our attention.

Before readers dismiss this as only a few accidents, please note these large boats are very expensive, and only a few are in operation.

We noticed a 2009 report of a 2007 quick inspection of all the tour / charter Sail Cats in Hawaii identified only 59 vessels.

Several of the post accident investigations have suggested the installation of propeller guards. The State of Hawaii currently requires all tour / charter catamarans operating off Waikiki and Kanapali to be registered. In order to be registered, any catamaran with auxiliary mechanical propulsion machinery using a propeller must have an approved propeller guard permanently installed.

Call for Change in Catamaran Tour / Charter / Excursion Vessel Propeller Safety

We encourage governments and tour operators to learn from these accidents and take action now to prevent more accidents like Casey Schulman’s.

While unrelated to propellers, our search for Sail Cat tour vessel accidents also turned up numerous dismastings (mast breaks, falls and injures or kills people) and numerous electrocutions (sail the mast into a power line). An effort to prevent propeller injuries might be rolled into a three-way Sail Catamaran accident prevention program.

Additional References

Those researching this topic may find our article on International tourists involved in snorkeling and diving boat accidents (not limited to catamarans) outside the U.S. interesting.

New Zealand recently studied Adventure Tourism safety issues after several fatalities there. Findings of that study might be useful to those studying these problems.

Leave a Reply