Understanding and Preventing Propeller and Other Watercraft Injuries

Boat propellers and watersports accidents frequently cause horrific injuries. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the propeller on a typical recreational boat can inflict 160 impacts in one second. And in far less than a second, a propeller can travel down the human body from head to toe, chewing up bone and tissue and causing dismemberment and death.

The truly sad statistic is that most propeller and other watercraft injuries could have been prevented with proper precautions.

The operator of a boat bears responsibility for the safety of the people in and around the craft. Boat owners must ensure that they only allow fully qualified operators to handle the vessel. They are also responsible for the decision to install—or not install—safety equipment on their watercraft.

Following proper safety procedures and installing safety devices can prevent life-threatening, disfiguring injuries on the water.

Safe Operating Procedures

Boat operators need to understand and follow the appropriate safety procedures to protect their passengers and those near the vessel:

  • If engaging in water sports like tubing, wakeboarding, wake surfing to water skiing,
    • only an experience operator should be at helm 
    • educate passengers about dangers posed by propellers
    • once the skier/tuber has dropped or fallen, circle the skier/tuber slowly either to return the tow line to the person or to pick up the skier. Always keep the skier/tuber in view and on the operator’s side of the boat.  If close to skier/tuber, have engine in neutral
    • always shut off the engine before allowing the skier/tuber to board the boat. 
  • Because people in the water may not be visible from the helm, it is essential to check the water all around the vessel before starting engines.
  • All passengers should be educated about the location of and dangers posed by the propellers.
  • No one should be allowed to board or exit a vessel while engines are on–propellers may continue to spin even when the engine is idling.
  • Operators need to take extra care when operating near boats towing skiers or inflatables and they must keep boats out of swimming areas.
  • Passengers should be assigned a designated occupant position and not be allowed to ride in any locations where they could fall overboard.
  • If someone falls overboard, the operator should immediately stop the vessel. Instead of putting the boat in reverse, the boat should be turned around to approach the person in the water from the front. The operator should turn off the engine before attempting to bring the person in the water on board.

Although some safety procedures would appear to be a matter of common sense, operators ignore them far too often. When an owner or operator acts irresponsibly and their actions result in injuries, they may be held liable for the harm suffered.

Equipment that Reduces the Risk of Propeller Injuries

The Coast Guard recommends a variety of safety devices that can prevent propeller injuries. One of the most effective is a wireless engine cut-off switch or a lanyard attached to the operator. If the operator falls overboard or moves away from the controls, a cut-off switch lanyard will turn off the engine, rapidly slowing and then stopping the propellers.

A boat owner can also install propeller guards, interlocks, or sensors. Other safety alternatives include the use of ringed propellers or other propulsion methods. The bottom line is that there are several measures boat owners can use to prevent terrible propeller injuries.

An Experienced Maritime Injury Attorney Helps Victims of Boat Accidents

In situations where a boating accident could have been prevented if someone had only behaved responsibly, the victims and their families may be entitled to substantial compensation. The dedicated maritime injury attorneys at Latti & Anderson work to hold negligent parties accountable and obtain justice for those they hurt. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist in your case.