Introduction to the Field of Propeller Safety

In recent years about 185 to 240 people are struck by recreational boat propellers or drives in U.S. annually according to U.S. Coast Guard boating accident reports each year and about 25 to 45 are killed. Some ESTIMATE the actual number injured is several times the number reported (some estimates have been in the thousands). Recently, we have observed a growth in the number of tubers (people riding inflatables) being hit while riding, after falling, or being picked up. We also see a trend of snorkelers being struck by propellers worldwide, but especially in diving and tourist destinations. The U.S. has also seen a rash of pontoon boat strikes resulting from people dangling their feet over the bow underway, falling in, and being struck by the propeller.

The Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2002 removed Federal Pre-emption as a defense (marine drive and boat builders can no longer claim that since the U.S. Coast Guard does not force all boats to have a propeller guard, states cannot hold any boat or drive manufacturer guilty for not having a propeller guard). In addition to suits against marine drive and boat manufacturers for absence of guards or other protective devices, several suits have been filed against boat operators for negligent operations resulting in propeller injuries or deaths in both the U.S. and abroad.

Marine drive and boat manufacturers are still reluctant to take action, in part because doing so would be seen by some as an admission of guilt (sort of like the tobacco industry was). Lawyers would claim the industry now admits it was wrong for all these years and companies might find themselves exposed to even more lawsuits based on past events. We had hoped the industry might embrace some of the new sensor based technologies as a way around a perceived admission of past guilt. They could still claim guards never worked, and when they found a real solution (sensors) they embraced it. However, the industry is still pretty silent on all fronts concerning the use of sensors (Virtual Propeller Guards).

We have tried to encourage boat and marine drive companies to utilize the information here and form cooperative efforts to attack the problem, but with no success.

We even temporarily lost in an effort to try to get a boating industry trade magazine to print true U.S. Coast Guard propeller death and injury statistics instead of the vastly reduced numbers the author and publisher falsely attribute to the Coast Guard.

But its not all gloom and doom. Several small manufacturers have risen to fill the vacuum left by the boat and drive companies. These small companies are offering their own innovative potential solutions taking the form of traditional propeller guards, a wide array of electronic sensing devices and interlocks, some new drive designs, and a Safety Propeller. We have suggested several approaches ourselves and placed them in the public domain.

The U.S. Coast Guard is currently developing a test procedure for propeller guards and other propeller safety devices to evaluate their impact on boat handling, performance, and human factors. They plan to help boaters determine which ones might be best for their application.

SPIN, another propeller safety advocate, continues to do a great job of keeping the focus of the legislature, boating safety organizations, and the U.S. Coast Guard on propeller safety.

Several more propeller safety advocates have joined the cause either teaming with other efforts or forming their own projects, mostly as a result of being struck themselves or losing a loved one to a propeller. Only a few survivors return to contribute to the solution, but those that do are being invigorated by the defensive efforts put forward by some of the marine drive companies, and becoming even more dedicated in their efforts to stop the injuries.

The diving community is taking note of an increased number of its participants being hit by propellers and responding with programs to increase awareness of propeller risk among divers.

We try to keep this site up to date on the latest technologies available and provide an extensive library of media coverage of propeller accidents. We also keep the many small companies involved in manufacturing propeller injury avoidance devices informed of any developments, new technologies, regulations, or other information that may be helpful to them. In addition, we do some day dreaming about the science behind some of the problems, how similar problems are addressed in other industries, and novel ways the problem of propeller injuries might be approached. You can also find a major bibliography of propeller accident and injury information in our Technologies Section, along with hundreds of patents related to propeller safety.

One positive sign for change is the attention propeller safety is getting outside the United States, especially in Australia. Other countries are starting to recognize the significance of the problem and entrepreneurs are rising to the occasion not only in the U.S., but around the world.

The time is long overdue for a revolution in approaches, methods, and attitudes toward reducing propeller injuries. We, and many other propeller safety advocates, are active in the movement. If we can be of assistance in any way, please contact us.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email