Houseboat Propeller Safety Regulation: An Analysis of the Withdrawal of USCG 2001-10163

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) proposed a houseboat propeller injury avoidance measures regulation, USCG-2001-10163, in December 2001 and withdrew it in October 2007. The proposal required the use of three alternatives (emergency engine cut-off switches / lanyards, mirrors, swim ladder interlock switches), or propeller guards. Houseboats powered by waterjet drives were not subject to the proposal. Different combinations of approaches were used for rental houseboats and for nonrental houseboats (privately owned houseboats).

This report covers the proposal, house boat propeller accident data, public comment letters from several major players, the withdrawal, and analyzes each reason given by the United States Coast Guard for its withdrawal in great detail. Our analysis shows the proposed houseboat regulation, 10163, was economically justified for all houseboats, and especially so for rental houseboats.

Over two years in the writing, this is a major document in the field of propeller safety, not only for houseboats, but for all boats powered by propellers. It covers many propeller accident topics relevant to all types of boats. The report also covers houseboat propeller guard issues in depth.

Houseboat propeller accidents, the proposed regulation, and safety devices are covered in great detail. Several new devices and approaches that have come to light since the proposal are also discussed. A series of eight Action items for the U.S. Coast Guard and for the industry is presented to properly address the errors committed, and to begin to lay the groundwork for continuous improvement in propeller safety. The study is approximately 200 pages in length.

The Downloadable Report:
Houseboat Propeller Injury Avoidance Measures Proposed and Withdrawn by the U.S. Coast Guard: An Analysis by the Propeller Guard Information Center

Download pdf report using the link above.

Two critical findings of the report are:

  • USCG committed a major error in estimating implementation costs. They failed to recognize nonrental houseboats (95 percent of all houseboats) only needed a mirror and a swim ladder interlock to comply. USCG mistakenly applied the cost of hauling and two prop guards to each nonrental boat in their cost estimate. That mistake ballooned their cost estimate was over 5 times the actual cost by their own data.
  • USCG cited a statement by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy as a major reason for dropping the proposal. SBA claimed USCG was wrong when they said the proposal would not have a significant economic impact on small businesses. Therefore the rule could be challenged in court. Our study found SBAʼs comments included at least 15 major errors, including using the wrong data set in their financial calculations. We proved SBA’s comments were just a bunch of errors. The Coast Guard made a mistake when they rejected the proposal based upon SBA’s comments.

The paper also encourages the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Houseboat Industry Association (HIA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy to publicly acknowledge the errors we identified in their submissions so they will not be perpetuated in the future resulting in even more deaths and injuries.

We previously posted the first draft (23 January 2009), second draft (1 April 2009), and third rough draft (29 July 2009) of this report online and solicited industry and public comments to help make the final report as accurate as possible. Between publishing the first draft (23 January 2009) and final draft (10 June 2010) we did not receive one single written response from the industry. Two industry representatives did visit with me in person at a National Boating Safety Advisory Council about statements in the report attributed to them.

We took tremendous efforts to eliminate factual errors from the final draft. We still encourage all involved on any side of the propeller safety issue to review the paper and call out any factual errors to our attention so we can correct them. The third rough draft was posted on July 29, 2009 and the final version was posted on June 10, 2010. We spent almost a year expanding the report into additional aspects of propeller safety and conducting an intense final edit.

If you find any errors in our facts or in our calculations, have any problems in downloading or viewing the file, have suggestions, or other comments, please contact us.

Please call the report to the attention of any you feel may be interested in propeller safety on either side of the issue.

Gary Polson
Propeller Guard Information Center

Supplementary Materials

Some may have difficulty conveniently viewing Appendix D and E directly from our rough draft. Appendix D lists 1990-2000 houseboat propeller accidents and Appendix E indicates which specific accidents were included by others in their accident counts.

Both can be viewed in the spreadsheet below. Please note the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet can be used to switch between Appendix D and E. You can also select “view” at the top menu and pick “zoom” from the drop down list to enlarge the sheet for easier viewing.

Appendix D and Appendix E as an Excel spreadsheet

The spreadsheets can be best viewed on a very large monitor.

Note some people spell houseboat as house boat.


At the moment we are only making spelling, punctuation, and mechanical corrections to the actual document (report) itself. We update the version date on the title page each time we make a change.

Notes for possible future updates to the report are being listed below:

  • Approximately 16 July 2010 – Todays Legal Defense. Pg. 133. – We left out one recent defense – They claim they did not sell the boat with a drive (without the outboard installed) or they sold the drive without a propeller and therefore they were not liable to install a guard, supply a guard, or warn the purchaser of the need to have one. Reference: Daniel J. Regan and Francis Elwood Regan Jr. v. Starcraft Marine LLC, et. al. Civil Action No. 06-1257. U.S. District Court. W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division. March 17, 2010.
  • 13 August 2010 comment – They also claim that since they did not know what propeller was going to be installed or what the boat was going to be used for, they could not possibly have sent along the correct propeller guard. We will be further addressing this defense shortly.
  • 18 July 2010 – Mercury Makes No Attempts to Improve Propeller Guards Pg. 129 – second column talks about industry attitude toward guards. Reference quote on page 24 of the 1989 NBSAC Subcommittee on Propeller Guards final report:

    “Although the controversy which currently surrounds the issue of propeller guarding is, by its very nature, highly emotional and has attracted a great deal of publicity, there are no indications that there is a generic or universal solution currently available or foreseeable in the future. The boating public must not be misled into thinking there is a “safe” device which would eliminate or significantly reduce such injuries or fatalities.”

  • 18 July 2010 – Common Practice in Accounting for Under Reporting of Accidents. Pg. 54 – second column, cite and add quote from page 24 of NBSAC Subcommittee on Propeller Guards final report regarding their advice to use NEISS data:

    “The U.S. Coast Guard should, through improved accident reporting and analysis, develop a complete and comprehensive data base on underwater impact accidents. This should involve, as an integral part, U.S. Coast Guard involvement in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) and the appropriate training of involved hospital personnel.”

  • 19 July 2010 – Todays Legal Defense. Pg. 133. – We left two more current defenses off the list-
    • The industry fails to recognize potential solutions (“safer alternatives”) because they have not been tested on a boat exactly like the one in the accident. If the “safer alternative” was tested on a boat as close as possible to the one involved in the accident, the industry still rejects it because it was not tested on the exact same boat that was in the accident.
    • If a “safer alternative” was not commercially available in the exact size required by the boat involved in the accident at its time of manufacture, the industry rejects the solution. (Such as a family of guards to fit several outboards, but they were not making the exact one needed by this boat at that time because no one had ordered one yet.)
  • 23 July 2010 – Todays Legal Defense. Pg. 133. – Yet one more current defense – Try to exclude the use of photos and videos of the plaintiff’s injuries so the judge/jury is not influenced by the horrificness of them and the pain/distress of the victim. Reference: Daniel J. Regan and Francis Elwood Regan Jr. v. Starcraft Marine LLC, et. al. Civil Action No. 06-1257. U.S. District Court. W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division. Docket Items #169, 178, 235, and 239. They also objected to medical illustrations of the same/similar injuries (Docket Item #250-2).
  • 4 September 2010 – Todays Legal Defense. Pg. 133. – Yet one more current defense – Lack of jurisdiction by the court – in OMC vs. Robin Listman. U.S. District Court. District of Nevada. Case Number 3:10-CV-00311-LRH-RAM. Docket Document 31. OMC argued the accident occurred on a tribal lake and thus the District Court did not have jurisdiction. In other cases involving accidents on large lakes covering more than one state, the industry has argued which state the accident occurred in as an effort to get the case dismissed by a state. Jurisdiction has similarly been questioned for some group trips/tours from U.S. to the Caribbean. Jurisdiction is also questioned in navigable waters as mentioned earlier.
  • 8 November 2010 – Technology Prize (Page 163) – “Creative Financing: The Rise of Cash Prizes for Innovation” Wall Street Journal. September 27, 2010. This article reaffirms our suggestion that innovation would be stimulated by establishing a cash prize for a propeller safety system meeting specific criteria.
  • 8 November 2010 – Technology Prize (Page 163) – “Design a Better Life Jacket and Win $5,000”. BoatUS Press Release 1 November 2010. The press release announces BoatUS Foundation’s “Innovation in Life Jacket Design” contest is going to be ran again this year after its very successful run five years ago resulted in the introduction of several new and innovative life jacket designs to the public. The press release shows the industry using this tool in one area (life jackets) but continuing to ignore it in another (propeller safety).
  • 13 November 2010 – Industry Attitude (Page 129) – USCG released a propeller safety Public Service Announcement in late August 2010 showing someone in the water behind a boat being pulled into a propeller in a party setting. The industry attacked it for showing boating in a dangerous light. USCG pulled the PSA due to industry pressure.