Recent studies show that while boating fatalities are usually reported and their numbers are as close to correct as possible, less severe injuries often go unreported. Propeller strikes are most often reported as they are usually high up on the severity and fatality list.
Boat operators often neglect to report accidents as they are not aware that they should and boat operators do not want to go through the report process. This lack of desire to report accidents leads to inaccurate figures being registered in the various databases.
The true numbers of propeller strike incidents that occur every year are in the thousands worldwide. Let’s look at propeller strikes and how safety is key to preventing injuries of this kind.
If we consider that a 3-blade propeller running at 3,000 rpm can inflict 150 strikes in one second, then it is easy to understand just how much physical damage a propeller can do. A propeller that comes into contact with a human will cause severe bodily damage.
Propeller strikes can be avoided. The boat driver should always make use of the engine cut-off switch attached to a lanyard, should he need to kill the motor quickly. Any form of towing behind the boat should be accompanied by a spotter at all times. Not utilising a spotter often renders the driver of the boat unsighted as to what is going on behind the boat and this is often a contributing factor with propeller strikes.
The propeller can either drive your boat forward and allow you, your family and friends endless enjoyment on the water, or your propeller can be a devastating weapon in the wrong hands. Safety should always be at the top of your boating list to prevent accidents.
TIPS TO AVOID PROPELLER ACCIDENTS
• Don’t allow passengers to board the boat when the motor is running.
• Before starting the engine, make sure there is nobody in the water near the propeller.
• Educate all crew or passengers on the dangers and the location of the propeller.
• Be alert in congested waterways, marinas, swimming and skiing zones.
• Never allow passengers to sit on the gunwale, transom or the seat backs where there is a chance they can fall overboard.
• Keep a watchful eye on children when they are swimming and make sure they are directed away from the propeller area.
• Explain the use of swim platforms and boarding ladders to all.
• If a person falls overboard, ask your spotter to call out the proximity of the person and then switch off the motors as you drift towards them to bring them to safety.
• Under no circumstances should you reverse your boat to pick up someone.
• Slow right down in low visibility to avoid accidents.
COMMON PROPELLER STRIKE SCENARIOS
• When tubing, water skiing or wakeboarding, they fell and were run over by another boat.
• The boat operator makes a sharp turn and someone falls overboard and gets struck by the propeller.
• Someone riding on the front of the boat, with feet dangling into the water, falls off and gets struck by the propeller as the boat passes overhead.
• A person is ejected from the boat when it hits a wake or wave and they get struck by the propeller.
• The boat’s steering fails and pulls the boat hard to one side, ejecting a passenger and as the boat circles the propeller strike occurs.
• Snorkelers and divers can be struck by propellers when surfacing or diving just below the water’s surface.
• Ski ropes become entangled in the propeller and pull the skier or wakeboarder into the propeller.
• Boat driver falls out of the boat and the boat goes into a hard turn called the ‘circle of death’ and then it goes over the driver.
• Children being held on the boat are dropped overboard and get struck by the propeller.
• Swimmers in unmarked swimming zones are struck by propellers.