S.P.I.N. Stop Propeller Injuries Now Propeller Injury Information
S top Propeller Strikes
P rovide Support to Survivors
I nform and Educate Public Policy Legislators and Regulatory Agencies
N etwork with Victims and Their Families to Enhance Boating Safety

Stop Propeller Injuries Now

Stop Propeller Injuries Now



by Polson Enterprises  www.PropellerSafety.com

adapted by SPIN   www.spin-site.org



After a propeller accident, victims and surviving family members often have a desire to prevent others from having to go through what they and their family have experienced   and may endure for the rest of their lives.This text provides guidance for victims, surviving family members, and friends that are considering becoming propeller safety advocates.  It is part of the Propeller Guard Information Center (see www.rbbi.com/pgic ) and Stop Propeller Injuries Now! website (see www.spin-site.org )




after a propeller accident, victims, surviving family members and their friends are full of emotions and concerns. Among them are:


·         Concern for their injured loved one who may have been killed or be hanging on to life by a thread.


·         Concern for the long recovery for their loved one and their life altering injuries if they survived.


·         Concern for the victim's spouse and children; friends and family.


·         Care and concern for loved ones who may blame themselves for not preventing the accident, especially if they were the boat operator.


·         Concern for how to pay medical bills, rehabilitation, and prosthetic costs.


·         Anger toward those who may have contributed to the accident through use of alcohol, recklessness, negligence or ignorance. 


·         Anger toward boat builders, boat rental operations, and drive manufacturers for not protecting their loved one.


·         And, of course, a deep desire to keep others from having to go through the same situation they are now enduring.




Some advocates immediately elect to "GoWith Guards." They quickly launch a campaign to put guards on every boat in their state or every boat in the United States. While we empathize with your situation and appreciate your passion for change, we suggest you spend some time studying the situation and efforts of others who have gone through your experiences.  You need to channel your efforts most effectively.


We encourage you to immediately do six things:


   1. Care for your loved one, your family, and yourself.


   2. Be willing to accept help from your support network of family, friends, loved ones, neighbors, your community, and your church.


   3. Make sure a boating accident report has been filed. Contact your State Boating Law Administrator at www.nasbla.org ( “People” drop down menu to “State Boating Contacts”


   4. Make sure the accident is very well documented (including many photos of the boat, the drive, the propeller, the operator’s station, the location the accident happened, and the victim's injuries). This will be very important if you later elect to pursue legal action. Please note the "other side" often tries to prove the injuries were not caused by the propeller. Evidence needs to be gathered now, not later.


   5. Start a journal. Just get a spiral binder and start writing in it. Record your thoughts and emotions. Reading them later will help you recover the passion you now have. When your push for change stalls, and it will, reading your journal will help you get the energy you need to get it going again. Plus it makes a great place to keep notes about how you might be able to help others avoid similar challenges, and bits of information that might be helpful later.


   6. Consider parking the boat in a garage or other covered area. If you were to file a lawsuit, it is best if the boat remains in the same condition.


We are NOT suggesting everybody sue the industry.  We are merely suggesting you capture as much information and evidence as possible before it is no longer available.




Once things become less hectic, we encourage you to review the history of the problem and the efforts of others. The timeline provided by Stop Propeller Injuries Now! (SPIN) is a place to start.  This issue has a long history. 


This is also a good time to learn about state boating safety resources.  Meet your state Boating Law Administrator (BLA) and your state boating education officer. They are often looking for "victims" to present radio spots, show up for legislative arguments, etc. Ask us and we will direct you.  Introduce yourself and tell them of your interest in propeller safety and ask what is being done in your state in this regard. (www.nasbla.org)  




Propeller Safety Advocacy can take a number of forms:


   1. Increase awareness of propeller injuries and cautions near propeller.

   2. Promote the use of propeller injury avoidance devices (guards and other safety devices)

   3. Develop and lobby for propeller safety regulations

   4. Promote broader boating safety issues

   5. Raise funds for the injured; console and inspire the traumatically injured

   6. Organize others into larger efforts

   7. Take legal action  


Increase awareness of propeller risks:


·         Speak out in public and the media OR on-line.  Request time to speak at meetings of National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC)  or the National State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). 

·         Team up with victim advocates in your state.

·         Start a web page and/or Facebook presence to preserve the memory of or follow the recovery of your loved one

·         Local fundraising i.e., dinners, golf tournaments, auctions, benefits, etc.

·         Promote propeller safety in resort environments, boy/girl scout camps, life saving schools and especially where water sports are taught.

·         Tell your story to local and state elected representatives and seek their support.


Promote the use of propeller injury avoidance devices  www.powerboatsafety.com


·         Promote the use of propeller guards

·         Promote the use of other propeller injury avoidance devices

·         Contact your local Auxiliary for a powerful tool: the USCG brochure “Beware Boat Propellers…A Hidden Danger.”

·         Ask your local marina for an outreach day and to post all state safe boating guidelines in public view.


    Develop and Lobby for Propeller Safety Regulations


·         Require the use of propeller guards on certain boats or applications

·         Require the use of other propeller injury avoidance devices on certain boats

·         Require mandatory boater safety education and/or state licensing

·         Develop tougher boating alcohol laws

·         Require mandatory use of lanyards or sensors

·         Require mandatory wearing of life jackets (PFDs)  while underway

·         Develop tougher laws on marking swimming and diving areas to punish boaters that do not respect those areas


  Promote broader boating safety issues


·         Promote mandatory boating safety education

·         Encourage boaters to reduce the number of alcohol related accidents

·         Encourage boaters to wear lanyards (ignition cut-off switch)

·         Encourage boaters to wear life jackets

·         Encourage marking of and respect for swimming areas

·         Encourage awareness and respect for flagged diving areas


    Raise funds for others


·         Raise funds to help cover medical expenses of others

·         Raise funds to help cover prosthetic costs

·         Donate funds to some of the existing efforts



  Organize other propeller safety advocates into larger efforts


·         Encourage individuals and groups to work together on common issues

·         Help injured and grieving families network for support

·         As a group, contact your local & state government representatives


    Take legal action against boat builders, drive manufacturers, and boat rental operations if appropriate


·         Defective design (should have had a guard on it)

·         Crashworthiness Doctrine (should have protected person from striking the prop)

·         Steering system failures (often leads to ejection followed by prop strike)

·         Shifting neutral failure (drive in neutral but propeller turning)

·         Engine starts in gear, occupants are ejected, and struck by the propeller

·         Poor orientation and training (rental boat operations)

·         Lack of or improper warnings (stickers are useless)




Many victims and their families are not aware that countless other families have faced similar situations. You can support one another, and learn from each other’s propeller safety advocacy efforts.


One way to learn about the efforts of others is to visit some of the sites on the www.rbbi.com   See: Propeller Safety Advocates and Sites of the Injured list.


You can visit SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now!). The current director, Marion IrvingdeCruz, seeks to maintain a network of families, just like yours, to support one another.  Marion lost her only child, a college junior in engineering, 16 years ago.  Add your story to the site.  Seek advice.  




Promoting the use of propeller guards on ALL boats will prove to be an impossible task for your family. While guards can provide excellent protection in some situations, they also come with certain disadvantages in others. The website, www.rbbi.com/pgic has a lengthy list of objections – some valid, some overly exaggerated.


While families of many injured by propellers quickly latch onto the use of propeller guards in all applications, you will not be able to convince the legislatures over objections from the "other side", especially not on faster boats. There are certain slower boats where regulations might successfully be passed such as houseboats, non-planing pontoon boats, rescue boats, dive boats, training boats (used with sail boats or swimmers in the water), and boats with small outboard motors. In fact, the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) is currently developing a propeller guard test protocol at various speeds under a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard.


Other propeller injury avoidance devices are applicable to faster moving boats. Among them are lanyard kill switches, swim ladder interlock systems that prevent the engine from starting if the swim ladder is down, small wearable sensor tags that kill the engine or prevent its starting if you are in the water wearing one of them, and wireless lanyards. You will have a much greater possibility for success promoting their use on faster moving boats than guards.


We are NOT saying guards cannot be used on faster boats, we are just saying you will be challenged by the marine manufacturers who have spent millions over the years – not protecting their customer from the spinning unguarded propeller – but to argue their defense.   And we mean, many millions.  This is a very strong lobby in “watery” states.




Initially, after an accident, the family often speaks out about their concern for their loved one and their desire that others not have to go through the same tragic situation. This is a very broad message. It resonates with thousands of people that read or view your comments. Do not underestimate the appeal of your message at this time. Your passion will come through and cause many to be a little safer around propellers for a while.


If your loved one is in the hospital for long periods of time, the press may do some follow-up visits. This is another important opportunity to get out your message.


Local propeller accidents are like vaccinations. They temporarily "vaccinate" area boaters with a "perceived vulnerability" to propeller injuries. This makes them more vigilant for a while. Just like everybody looks both ways at railroad crossing for several months after a local train-car collision. Your message can help prevent others from being struck by propellers by making them more vigilant and by encouraging them to employ appropriate safety devices.


As time goes by, your platform will be less compelling.  The news will move on and it will be more difficult for you to get on the airwaves and in the press. Now you can turn to more targeted messages relative to the particular type of boat, accident scenario and human factors typified by your accident. You may wish to educate others how to avoid ejection, to recover downed participants in water sports, avoid snorkeling, diving, swimming areas.  A targeted message with your story is much more likely to be distributed and read months after your accident than a broad one.  However, don’t get tunnel vision.  Try to always include a couple of broader messages, like the need to wear a life jacket.  Did you know that more than 70% of all fatalities could have been avoided by wearing a life jacket??


You can get your targeted messages out by writing articles for publications read by the people at risk, through web sites, Facebook, YouTube, T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flyers, and countless other ways. You might want to spend some time studying how "Save the Whales", "Safe Kids", Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and other similar groups get their message out. You will be more likely to be successful with a targeted message. 


Some advocates begin to formulate a series of steps or messages to complete a broader strategy. For example, you could start very locally trying to get specific groups in your town to employ certain safety devices and then begin to gradually expand to other communities building upon your local success. Small successes can keep you energized as you continue to work toward broader goals.




If enough legal cases are won or settled against the boat manufacturers and drive companies, they will begin to address propeller safety issues. Winning cases against them is a form of advocacy.


This page is NOT professional legal advice AND NOT an effort to encourage you to sue the industry. Many factors may make it difficult to win a propeller guarding case. These factors include:


·         Use of alcohol by any involved

·         Recklessness or negligence on the part of any involved

·         Boat operator was ejected and they were not using a lanyard (emergency ignition cut-off switch) if the boat was wired for one

·         Involvement of boats with top speeds over 25 miles per hour

·         Accidents between 30 minutes before sundown and 30 minutes after sunrise (visibility, lighting issues)

·         Older boats (they will say solutions were not available back then)

·         Swimming just outside a designated swimming area

·         Diving without a diver in the water flag

·         Sitting on the front of a pontoon boat and dangling feet off before falling overboard

·         Standing when ejected

·         Riding in the bow of a bow-rider underway at speed

·         Sitting or standing on the bow when underway (not sitting in a proper seat)

·         Teak surfing (hanging on to the swim platform when underway)

·         Wake surfing behind an outboard or stern drive (surfing with no rope up close to rear of boat)

·         Not using a spotter to spot towed fallen wake boarders, tubers, or water skiers

·         Improper lookout at stern of a houseboat


We are not saying cases cannot be won (or settled) with one or more of the difficulties mentioned. Cases, most likely to be won or settled, usually involve rentals or daylight ejection of passengers (boat hit a wave, wake, submerged object, etc) from a boat with a top speed of less than 25 miles per hour and the person was immediately hit by the propeller.


Some of the challenges of a propeller trial can be anticipated by reading the comments on Naples Daily News (Aisling Swift) coverage of the 2009 Decker vs. OMC trial which are detailed on www.rbbi.com


We encourage anyone considering legal action to visit with their family lawyer, and then consider visiting with a firm that has previously represented others injured by propellers. Local family lawyers may be very capable of representing victims against those accused of negligence or recklessness in operating a boat. However, a full propeller guard case is better handled by a firm with considerable product liability experience, and optimally by a firm with previous experience in propeller cases. The opposition has spent many millions of dollars over the last thirty years developing a highly polished, professional defense. You will need an expert legal team.  Isn’t it ironic that we can walk on the noon but the marine industry cannot build a safe propulsion system?  All the money spent to defend an untenable position is a national disgrace. 




Many efforts to require the use of propeller guards have failed in the past. They can be originated with state legislatures, Congress, or with the U.S. Coast Guard  (USCG).  USCG proposed boating safety regulations often begin at National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC).  View www.uscgboating.org    Spriestma v. MM was an important decision, redefining federal pre-emption in favor of the states, holding that the federal failure to regulate propeller guards, did not prevent the states from doing so.


Review the timeline posted by SPIN. We are not trying to discourage you. We are just trying to make sure you know this process has a long history and may not be easy.


Gary Polson of rbbi has spent much of the last two years (late 2007 thru mid 2009) analyzing the Coast Guard's rejection of a proposed propeller safety regulation for houseboats. If you intend to promote laws and regulations requiring propeller safety devices on boats, we strongly encourage you to read this analysis. It is currently published on their site as “Response to Withdrawal”   It is a challenging account.


There is a states rights issue to consider.  States do not overwhelmingly welcome the federal government’s intervention on their waterways.  The USCG is charged to regulate all federal waterways and while there is reciprocity between the states and the federal government with some laws by adoption or reference, there is a tension also. 


The marine industry prefers to regulate themselves through the standards of ABYC and the selective adoption from international standards groups.  Their error is the belief that less regulation translates to less restrictions imposed on the boat owners who might be reluctant to purchase if their “recreation” is subject to regulation.  In fact a USCG national survey in 2002 and a Florida state survey in 2006 agreed, over 72%,  that demonstrating the knowledge of safe boating practices, boating laws and navigation rules would enhance the boating experience.   Are they listening to all of the boating public or only nay-sayers?




We encourage you to spend considerable time educating yourself about propeller accidents. The Propeller Guard Information Center is the leading online information source for technical information about propeller injuries.  SPIN is the leading site for advocates to assist one another, and to further the cause through organized efforts with others. The US Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety website has a lot of information, including the national statistics. www.uscgboating.org   The NASBLA website www.nasbla.org also posts a “Family Support Network.”


There is a tremendous amount of information.   Do not get lost in it.  Be informed and involved in the cause of reducing the frequency and severity of boat propeller accidents.


SUMMARY:  Let us be your resource. 


·         Recognize you are going through a highly emotional period.


·         Do not forget our list of six things to do right now: care for your loved one and family, be willing to accept help from others, make sure a boating accident report has been filed, document the accident, start a journal, and consider parking the boat as evidence.


·         Pick how you can best become involved from the advocacy tree above.


·         Remember you are not alone.


·         Consider visiting with your family lawyer about the accident. Just like with major automobile accidents, they can provide you helpful advice in many areas including injuries, medical expenses, and insurance situations.


·         Visit the Propeller Guard Information Center and SPIN to learn more about propeller accidents and how you can help prevent them.

Learn about the types of propeller injury avoidance devices on the market today. You can start by visiting www.powerboatsafety.com .


S.P.I.N. Stop Propeller Injuries Now S.P.I.N. - Stop Propeller Injuries Now
2365 Conejo Court
Los Osos, CA, 93402
tel. 805-528-0554 - fax. 805-526-8756
email:  spinsafety@gmail.com