Our History

Below is a brief history of our efforts in the field of recreational boat propeller safety.

While I, Gary Polson, was working as an engineer at MerCruiser the early 1990’s I came up with the idea of using sensors to detect people in the water near the propeller as an alternative to traditional propeller guards. I unsuccessfully tried to interest Mercury in the idea at that time. After I left Mercury in mid 1996 to pursue Internet opportunities, I continued to collect even more information on technologies, products, people and labs and recognized the Virtual Propeller Guard concept was beginning to look even more feasible. I posted the basics of the concept online as a Stealth Prop Guard in 1997. I approached the industry a few more times with the Virtual Propeller Guard concept while claiming no intellectual property rights. On 7 January 1999 I posted more extensive coverage of the Virtual Propeller Guard concept online as a series of 18 frames in an HTML slide show that was the first public exposure of the newly coined term “Virtual Propeller Guard” in hopes the industry would consider the approach.

I approached a local university sensor lab that was not interested in the concept without corporate funding from a drive manufacturer.

Time went on and about March 2002 I created a web site devoted to the Virtual Propeller Guard approach titled, Prop Guard Update 2002: Virtual Propeller Guards, to accompany my 1999 presentation.

September 2002 brought the first ever public recognition of the Virtual Propeller Guard concept by a major player when Brunswick received a patent for an infrared sensor to detect people in the water near the propeller similar to the ideas I put forward at their MerCruiser subsidiary a decade earlier. The patent failed to cite my work there or my online materials. I contacted the patent examiner. He said he oversaw a junior examiner on that patent and they must not have found it. I asked the examiner to please file a note about our online center of technical information on propeller injury avoidance devices so examiners would be aware of it in the future. He said he would.

In December 2002 I proposed the creation of a Boating Industry Consortium to Address Propeller Injuries. The consortium could:

  • Encourage working together on the problem
  • Collect higher quality, more detailed data from propeller accidents
  • Create of a database of new products and technologies applicable to the problem
  • Provide online reporting from those injured
  • Encourage academic research in the field
  • Provide awards to increase student projects in the area
  • Foster true development in this field
  • several related tasks

In absence of response from the industry, I slowly began to at least partially fill that void over the next several years. I started collecting propeller injury statistics, news reports of propeller accidents, listing the pros and cons of existing propeller cage and duct type guards, and developing an extensive list of propeller injury avoidance devices. About October 2004 I used that information to expand this existing Prop Guard Update site into the Propeller Guard Information Center.

I thought listing individual accidents would help put a face on the injured and help spur cooperative effort among all the players involved to address the problem, so I began to log accidents as time moved forward as well as to go backward in time.

In late 2002 I provided major coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine propeller injury lawsuit that ended the Federal Preemption defense in propeller injury cases.

2005 Projects included:

  • I successfully teamed with a student at a University in the Netherlands working on a student design project to lay some good groundwork for Virtual Propeller Guards. In this time frame I also significantly began to expand the bibliography of propeller accident materials available from the Propeller Guard Information Center.

2006 Projects included:

  • Creation of a major online center for Propeller Accident Statistics. The U.S. Coast Guard data is now accessible by more people and easier to understand than ever before.
  • I took a detour and spent some time collecting information on recreational boat propeller accidents in the early 1900’s. Then spent some time thinking about all the generations of people effected by the loss of those killed long ago, as well as how those in the future will be impacted by propeller injuries and deaths of today.
  • September 2006 saw the issue of another Brunswick Virtual Propeller Guard patent. It focused on eliminating false triggers (crying wolf when there was not really someone near the propeller). The patent cited our website four times in the patent references. However they did not specifically cite my previous online discussions of eliminating false triggers. Brunswick also had a virtual lanyard patent in 2006 (detects the operator has left the operators station, may have been ejected, and may be at risk for propeller injury from a circling boat so it kills the engine).
  • The Sept/Oct 2006 issue, Boat & Motor Dealer, an industry trade magazine grossly understated U.S. Coast Guard statistics for propeller injuries and deaths. I jumped in immediately to encourage them to print a correction. They printed a minor acknowledgement in their April 2007 issue that, “It seems clear that such things do occur more than a half dozen times a year…”
  • I was able to visit onsite with some manufacturers of propeller injury avoidance devices and felt their desire and determination to reduce propeller injuries. In October 2006, I posted a concept for a swinging houseboat propeller guard. It may form the basis for new approach to alleviating houseboat propeller injuries from strikes while in reverse, while simultaneously removing many of the objections raised to conventional guards on houseboats.
  • Redesign of the Propeller Guard Information web site to move many of the sub topics from the main page to their own page to reduce the extreme length of the first page.

2007 Projects included:

  • In early 2007 I extensively studied houseboat propeller injury statistics and created the Houseboat Propeller Accident Statistics page as a source for propeller injury statistics surrounding houseboats.
  • I helped raise awareness of the upcoming U.S. Coast Guard propeller guard testing opportunities to many manufacturers of propeller guards around the world. Plus I finally created an introduction to our home page that makes it a little easier for newcomers to navigate and find some basic information.
  • Mid 2007 saw the creation of the “Introduction” and “About Us” sections for this web site in efforts to make it a bit friendlier and easier to navigate, as well as to form the basis for a future history of Virtual Propeller Guards.
  • Mid 2007 we contacted propeller guard manufacturers and made sure they were aware of the U.S. Coast Guard opportunity for testing their guards during the development of the propeller guard test protocol.
  • I continued to expand our coverage of technologies that could be useful in addressing the problem, encouraged small manufacturers who have been making some inroads with interlocks and other safeguards, and encouraged cooperation and communication among the many small manufacturers, boating safety groups and propeller safety advocates in their efforts toward reducing propeller injuries.
  • Expanded my search for potential solutions to prevent propeller injuries in hopes of identifying more ideas from other fields. This effort was in the early stages of launching yet another site I hope will bring academic assistance to the problem on several fronts. In addition, I have been in communication with several groups outside the United States working on reducing propeller injuries, while teaming with some other groups promoting propeller safety to allow each organization to do what they do best and not have to re-invent the wheel.
  • 2007 saw the addition of three new areas to our website we expect to be developing further in the future. One focused on High Profile Propeller Accidents and identifies those accidents that received a lot of press and attention, some of them occurring many, many years ago. Another focused on identifying professionals that have been struck by propellers (rescue teams, firemen, members of the Coast Guard, military, etc.) The third area focused on those who have actually been struck by propeller guards.
  • We also launched a page titled, Agendas, Motivations, and Incentives that discusses the forces behind many groups with an interest in propeller safety.
  • 2007 and 2008 brought us in contact with several families whose loved ones were struck by propellers outside the United States, many of them struck while on vacation in major tourism areas. We have assisted some of those families as they consider how they might be able to prevent others from going through what they have been though and/or how they might be able to assist others similarly injured. In addition, we have heard from a propeller safety advocate in one of those tourism areas. We plan on addressing issues surrounding propeller safety at international tourism destinations further in the future. We have also been helping those outside the U.S. considering propeller safety regulations.

Major accomplishments for 2008 included:

  • Our Aspects of the Debate Surrounding Propeller Safety Chart.
  • Publishing the Propeller Safety Device Radar Chart as a means of simultaneously comparing the effectiveness of several propeller safety devices on multiple characteristics.
  • Continuing to write our response to the withdrawal of the houseboat propeller safety proposal. We spent several hundred hours on this report which will be finalized in 2009.
  • Continuing to maintain our list of accidents, reporting news coverage, monitoring and publishing technologies that might be useful to those designing propeller safety devices.
  • I spent considerable time investigating propeller cut analysis on marine mammals (mostly manatees and whales) and how that analysis could be related to propeller cuts on humans.
  • We published information on a system that could radically reduce blunt trauma of being struck by propeller guards at moderate boat speeds. We call it the Trim Cylinder Trail Out. It was patented in the old days and is now in the public domain.
  • I spent considerable effort investigating a design method exploiting certain principles of fluids that could very significantly reduce drag of conventional cage type propeller guards and will be publishing those results in early 2009.

Projects for 2009 included:

  • We are now settled in after a physical move of our location in late 2008.
  • I attended the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) in Orlando Florida in April 2009 and visited face to face with many involved on all sides of propeller safety issues.
  • In June and July 2009 we spent considerable time covering and reflecting on the Decker vs. OMC trial in Naples Florida. We covered the numbers surrounding the case via Naples Daily News coverage on a page called, Decker Propeller Trial by the Numbers, and later published a synopsis / scorecard of the trial titled, Decker v. OMC” A Scorecard of the Trial.
  • We have also been increasingly active with groups promoting propeller safety outside the United States and with families of victims injured outside the United States (often one and the same).
  • Calling attention to the two old Brunswick “Trail Out” patents that appear to have direct application to reducing blunt trauma (3,999,502 and 4,050,359).
  • Posting an invention declaration (public disclosure) of our Propeller Guard With Reduced Drag and placed it in the public domain for use by others.
  • Spent some time studying ROPS (Roll Over Protective Structures often used on tractors) and their similarities to propeller guards (design, acceptance, resistance to regulation, getting public and farmers to install them, etc.)
  • Created a Message to New Propeller Safety Advocates page in order to more effectively provide guidance to them.
  • Published a Who is Who in the Debate Surrounding Propeller Safety directory of those involved in propeller safety issues, both current and past.
  • Submitted a propeller injury statistics chart to USCG as an example of how they might be able to report 3 cause accident data and total data in a less confusing manner. This would reduce the frequency of journalists printing Event 1 data as the total number of propeller injuries/fatalities. USCG has reported they liked it and are strongly considering using a chart roughly based upon our concepts in their next Annual Boating Statistics report.
  • In November and December we covered the Safety Propeller, an invention from Australia by Colin Chamberlain. We posted coverage of his wins on the ABC Australian New Inventors show and additional information about the propeller. We also tried to make several groups concerned with propeller safety around the world, aware of his work.
  • I am in process of publishing a list of propeller guard tests conducted by many groups.
  • We are in process of increasing our online presence through social networking.
  • We are still working on an article and a large accompanying check list to help recreational boaters evaluate the risk level of propeller injuries to those on and around their vessel, and to evaluate which steps, products and services might best reduce those risks, including steps to better educate themselves. This project will be delayed till 2010 due to other demands on our time.
  • We web published the 3rd rough draft of our response to the U.S. Coast Guard, on the withdrawal of proposed propeller injury avoidance regulations on non-planing houseboats. The report will be finalized in January 2010. This is the largest project we have ever undertaken. It will be a very comprehensive document when finished and will be useful far beyond houseboat applications. We have actually finished an unpublished 4th rough draft and just need to put a few finishing touches on it.

Projects for 2010 included:

  • We covered the Brochtrup vs. Mercury Marine and Sea Ray propeller case.
  • We finally finished and posted the houseboat propeller regulation review paper in June 2010. The was a huge effort for us and spanned more than two years of work.
  • I posted an invention disclosure on a system for detecting unmanned boats in the Circle of Death and ways to automatically shut them off.
  • In June I posted an invention disclosure related to detecting people in the water. It works by detecting the absence of water (looks at the are for water if it does not see water, their must be something else there). The system could be used as one of multiple variables to help prevent false positives.
  • In late July I posted a “Behind the Scenes Analysis” of the 1989 NBSAC Subcommittee on Propeller Guards including its members, and their findings in perspective with other events of that era.
  • In July we posted some wordles (word art based on frequency of use) made from propeller accident coverage illustrating the change in most frequently used words as a person recovers.
  • In mid August I posted “Commercializing Conventional Cage and Ring Type Propeller Guard Inventions” to assist the inventors of conventional ring and cage type propeller guards in the current environment. The page really drives home the difficulty of successfully launching a propeller guard relatively similar to those currently on the market.
  • In late August I posted “Propeller Guard Paradox Defense Defeated by Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm. “The industry says they do not know what kind of boat their drive will go on or the size of the prop it will have when they ship it to a builder, so they could not determine what guard to ship with the drive, even if they wanted to ship one. It is a paradox to them. I pointed out how Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm solved a similar paradox decades ago.
  • In late September, I added a new section to our home page, Propeller Injury Prevention Campaigns.
  • In early October, I added a new page titled, Boating Industry Statements on the Futility of Propeller Guards. It gathers some of the negative statements made by the industry about propeller guards over the years.
  • In mid October we posted a page covering the boating industry’s objection to a USCG propeller safety public service announcement because they thought it showed boating in a bad light and the funds could have been better used to promote wearing life jackets. By early November, it had turned to covering USCG withdrawing the PSA due to industry objections.
  • I posted our first annual “The Year in Review” page detailing events related to propeller safety in 2010. We thought it came out very nice.
  • Once things settle down a little bit, we hope to get back to our working on our system for helping recreational boaters reduce their risk of propeller injuries by aiding them in selecting the best approaches for their boat and operating conditions.
  • I attended a WordPress related conference in April 2010 and are still considering moving our entire PGIC site over to the new WordPress 3 platform in the future.

Projects for 2011 included:

  • Mid January thu early February I identified and logged several more very early recreational boat propeller accidents (pre 1930), some other early, and some unique accidents in a historical newspaper database. Most of those I identified are now listed on our Propeller Accidents Prior to 1990 page.
  • In late January, in response to a hinged / pivoting propeller shield patent application, I did a better job of pulling the prior art together surrounding “Flapper” propeller guards. Those materials are posted on our Possible Propeller Guard / Propeller Safety Technologies page at an earlier 13 October 2006 entry where we first began to encourage work in this area.
  • June 20, 2011 was a major day a the Propeller Guard Information Center. After a few years of thought and many months of work, we launched, our new wordpress based web site that is incredibly easier to navigate than our old site. It is much friendlier and has been very well received. It is easier for us to update, and is quickly picked up by the search engines.
  • Late June we pointed out the fallacy of the SUNY testing for developing a propeller guard test protocol without using a boat.
  • Early July found us ranting about 20 plus states leaving their data out of the 2010 Public BARD making it hard for researchers to fully understand nature of propeller accidents.
  • We covered a major propeller accident at Virginia beach involving a young girl caught between twin propellers.
  • We visited with USCG and Florida FWC surrounding many propeller accidents recorded in Florida, but apparently missing from USCG’s BARD database. We were able to establish several were missing for reasonable reasons (commercial accident), others were just missing, and several were from a computer glitch in Florida that multiple counted some accidents.
  • We supplied a lengthy public comment letter to USCG on their Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on emergency engine kill switches.
  • In late August I published a series of five RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) invention disclosures, including an RFID boat kill switch integrated into a life jacket.
  • September found us embroiled with a newspaper writer in San Jose who continues to refuse to print the correct propeller annual accident statistics following a major accident there.
  • In early November I created an area of our site devoted to publishing potential propeller safety research projects with the intent of attracting those involved in university senior design projects, capstone projects, senior thesis, masters thesis and similar undertakings to pursue projects in this field.
  • In early November we teamed with Courtroom Video Network and were able to daily blog the Listman vs. OMC propeller injury trial by watching live video from the courtroom. It was very hectic, but a great experience.
  • In late November we supplied a lengthy public comment letter to USCG on their Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Propeller Strike and Carbon Monoxide Casualty Prevention.
  • We posted two guides, one to propeller accident victims and their families, the second to propeller victims considering taking legal actions against those they felt were responsible.
  • Some of our other 2011 accomplishments are on our 2011 Propeller Safety Year in Review page.

Projects for 2012 included:

  • Continuing to promote student research projects in the field of propeller safety and actively seeking out sponsors.
  • Photographing warning labels at the Tulsa Boat show and creating a post from those photos that has since become popular among those studying warning labels.
  • Creating and posting lists of several specific types of propeller accidents in response to the industry claiming they were unique or very rare (dredge pipe strikes, striking submerged objects and the outboard flipping into the boat, Mercury tiller outboards, large sailing catamarans, strikes to snorkeling tourists).
  • Completing a three part history of log strike testing.
  • Covering Yamaha UK Pro’s new flood rescue outboard propeller guard and Yamaha’s subsequent removal of all related documents from the Internet in what looks like an attempt to prevent their positive statements about the guard from being used against the industry in court.
  • Providing onsite coverage of the May 2012 Kaw Lake propeller accident.
  • Providing enhanced coverage of several 2012 high profile propeller accidents (Kali Gorzel, Charlie Hutton, Mark Barhanovich, Casey Schulman, Terrall Horne) and some historical coverage of the Kirsty MacColl accident.
  • Publishing an extensive list of boat builders that have offered propeller guards on their boats.
  • Covering several propeller cases that settled in 2012 (Laass, McGarrigle, Todd, Coxe).
  • Vastly increasing the size of our document holdings through acquisition and donations.
  • Covering continuing developments in the Oliver Minchin accident in Australia (the investigative report, and the court proceedings finding the military guilty for not using a guard).
  • Publishing a lengthy list of ways in which the boating industry may have suppressed the development of propeller guards.
  • Responding to USCG’s request for public comment on the Propeller Guard Test Protocol.
  • Began hosting the SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now) web site.
  • Adding an area covering propeller safety videos to our web site.
  • Establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

2013 – Present:

Most of our major accomplishments are reflected in our Propeller Safety Year in Review page for the respective year.