MESSAGE TO PROPELLER SAFETY ADVOCATES
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
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.
SIX THINGS TO DO NOW
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:
Care for your loved one, your family, and yourself.
willing to accept help from your support network of family, friends, loved
ones, neighbors, your community, and your church.
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
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.
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.
WHEN CALM TAKES OVER
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)
THE ADVOCACY TREE
Propeller Safety Advocacy can take a number of forms:
Increase awareness of propeller injuries and cautions near propeller.
Promote the use of propeller injury avoidance devices (guards and other
Develop and lobby for propeller safety regulations
Promote broader boating safety issues
Raise funds for the injured; console and inspire the traumatically injured
Organize others into larger efforts
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
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
Contact your local Auxiliary for a powerful
tool: the USCG brochure “Beware Boat Propellers…A Hidden
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
Promote mandatory boating safety education
Encourage boaters to reduce the number of
alcohol related accidents
Encourage boaters to wear lanyards (ignition
Encourage boaters to wear life jackets
Encourage marking of and respect for
Encourage awareness and respect for flagged
Raise funds for others
Raise funds to help cover medical expenses
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
As a group, contact your local & state
Take legal action against
boat builders, drive manufacturers, and boat rental operations if
Defective design (should have had a guard on
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
Lack of or improper warnings (stickers are
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
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
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
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.
BROAD TARGETED MESSAGES
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
Boat operator was ejected and they were not
using a lanyard (emergency ignition cut-off switch) if the boat was wired
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
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
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
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.
THE REGULATORY APPROACH
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
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
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
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
Recognize you are going through a highly
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
Learn about the types of propeller injury avoidance devices on the
market today. You can start by visiting www.powerboatsafety.com .