RYA Updates Position Statement on Propeller Guards

Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recently updated their position statement on the use of propeller guards. The well known national UK boating association replaced their 6 May 2009 one page statement, Guidance on Prop Guards, with:

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We had heard RYA was going to be softening its stance a bit, plus we were aware they had been involved in conversations about the 20 July 2012 Charlie Hutton fatality.

While the new documents may be slightly “softer” they do not reflect the considerably softer stance we had anticipated.

In the Hutton fatality, the boat operator had been trained by RYA, took all the recommended precautions including wearing a kill cord and the boys wearing floatation aids. But a rogue wave still knocked his son and another boy off the RIB, and his son was fatally struck by the propeller.

Simultaneously with RYA’s May 2009 statement, NSW Maritime Australia issued a similar propeller guard statement on 8 May 2009 (removed from their website by May 2016). However, NSW Maritime’s statement to sporting and recreational associations owning outboard powered vessels called for the strong consideration of the use of propeller guards. In addition, it notes several organizations are already using guards and the need to reduce prop strikes to children.

RYA’s 6 May 2009 Statement

RYA’s previous statement (6 May 2009) came from the belief that prop guards were not needed as long as you follow proper safety proceedures. A few quotes from this document are below:

RYA Prop Guard Statement 6 May 2009

“The RYA recognizes that some recognized training centres fit guards to the propellers on their outboard powered craft used for training and rescue duties. However, whilst they provide some protection to a person in the water, they do present a number of significant disadvantages.”

“The most important point to make in support of the above is that, assuming good practice is followed by coxswains, there is no advantage of having a prop guard.”

“Clubs and other organizations using outboard powered craft are encouraged to use experienced, competent coxswains to minimize the risk of injury from the propeller. The RYA does not require its training centres to fit prop guards.”

RYA’s New Prop Guard Statement to Boaters

RYA’s new statement to boaters issued 28 February 2013 has a slightly softened tone to it. They say “Prevention is better than cure” and list several specific safety steps and practices that can help prevent propeller accidents. RYA says the focus should be on preventing people from being in a position a running propeller could strike them vs. putting a guard on the propeller.

RYA notes the decision to fit a propeller guard should take into account many factors (type of vessel, area you operate, purpose vessel is used for, and the likely conditions you will face). Those factors sound a lot like those listed in our Developing a Consumer Guide for the Selection of Propeller Guards and Other Propeller Safety Devices post (Boat specifications, Operator experience and Environment, Water Conditions, Activities on and near my boat, Exposure time and boater fatigue).

RYA closes with:

RYA Prop Guard Statement to Boaters 28 February 2013

“Ultimately, the only person who is able to make an informed decision about the fitting of a prop guard is the person responsible for the vessel.”

“… in the event you do elect to fit a prop guard this should be seen as a “last resort” in case all other measures have failed.”

RY’s tone is barely noticeably softer than their 2009 statement. They recognize some people will be fitting guards but tell them to do so as a last resort and that guards will have a negative impact on the performance of their boat.

RYA’s New Prop Guard Statement to RYA Training Centres

RYA’s 6 May 2009 statement mostly addressed training and rescue boats but was not titled as such. RYA’s new statement their training centers issued in May 2013 specifically and directly addresses their training centers.

RYA’s training centre statement similarly includes a “Prevention is better than the cure” section listing steps to take to avoid propeller injuries. RYA tells them that by taking those precautions they will minimize the risk of propeller strikes. They reiterate they do not require the use of prop guards by their training centers, but acknowledge that some training centers do fit propeller guards.

Just before RYA tells their training centers the use of guards should be seen as a last resort, they tell them:

RYA Statement to Training Centres February 2013

“Ultimately, the question of whether to fit a prop guard or not is one which will be made by the RTC principal and will take into account factors such as the type of vessel you operate, the area in which you operate and the purpose for which you use it. However, in making your decision you should ensure that the preventative measures listed above remain your primary safety mechanism.”

Our Thoughts

RYA is recognizing more people and training centers are using or asking about propeller guards, but their stance is still pretty negative.

We do agree with RYA that prop guards should be viewed as a last resort. That is what most rotating machinery guards are meant to be. Many rotating machinery guards (like pto guards) are used as a last resort to mitigate injuries when people are distracted, confused, impaired, forget to take all the proper precautions, are operating equipment without the proper training, or in instances in which normal precautions would not prevent contact. Please note I am not saying people without the proper training, or who are impaired should be operating boats. I am saying boat builders and drive manufacturers know that is going to happen.

Following the typical safety precautions listed by RYA and others can reduce the number of propeller accidents AND those steps should still be followed after one fits a propeller guard. However, we recognize there are environments (like rental houseboats here in the U.S.) in which the rental operation knows those precautions are often not taken. We suggest that propeller guards should be used in such instances when appropriate.

As for their training centers, we continue to see propeller accidents involving skilled professional operators, even vessels with two RYA safety boat handlers on board (By the way, Charlie Huton’s father was also RYA trained and obeying their safety practices). We suggest at least some RYA facilities should be encouraged to use guards and develop some best practices for those facilities that elect to use prop guards, as well as work with guard manufacturers to develop guards specifically for their needs.

We also refer RYA to our own position statement on propeller guards and to our propeller guard selection guide mentioned earlier.

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