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 while 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 several pontoon boat strikes resulting from people dangling their feet over the bow underway, falling in, and being struck by the propeller.

Federal Pre-Emption

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 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 quiet concerning the use of sensors (Virtual Propeller Guards) except for some virtual lanyards.

Some of our Propeller Safety Efforts

We have previously 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 it is 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, virtual lanyards, and some new drive designs. We have suggested several approaches ourselves and placed them in the public domain.

Some Propeller Safety Efforts by Others

  • SPIN, another propeller safety advocate, continues to comfort the afflicted (provide a place to visit with others who have been through similar challenges). They also organize those injured and their families to participate in boating safety related activities (boat operator licensing, urging legislatures considering boating safety bills, etc.
  • Waves of Hope is a group that provides comfort to those injured or those who lost loved ones in boating accidents. They also encourage each other to take part in or start or support various boating safety initiatives. Plus once a month they have a group Zoom meeting. The group is currently operated by the National Safe Boating Council and is funded by a U.S. Coast Guard grant. Their Facebook site it private, you must request to join.
  • 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.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard developed a test procedure for propeller guards and other propeller safety devices to evaluate their impact on boat handling, performance, and human factors. We see some challenges with the procedure, but at least it exists.
  • In 2021 the mandatory kill switch wear law went into effect.

The Future

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.