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August 2010

Avoid prop strikes

Establish a hazard zone

Whirling propeller blades pose a serious risk to nearby swimmers. To prevent injury, it’s worth setting some strict rules for passengers and operators alike.

How accidents happen

Dangling your legs over the side as a boat speeds through the water may be fun, but it’s also illegal and dangerous. It’s easy to slip, fall overboard and be struck by a moving propeller. This is particularly true in a pontoon-type boat, which can “funnel” a passenger who slips off the front of the deck directly into the propeller blades.

That’s why bow riding, riding on a seat back, gunwale, transom or swim platform while the boat is moving faster than 5 mph may be considered negligent or grossly negligent operation.

Remember, a propeller can continue to spin after an engine is put into neutral or turned off.

The hazard zone

One way to prevent accidents is to establish a “hazard zone” that includes the bow, gunwales, stern, swim platform, as well as the water 30 feet behind and around the boat. Then make a hard-and-fast rule: No one goes in the hazard zone until the motor is off, the boat has stopped moving, the keys are removed and the operator has counted to 10.

Before starting the motor, count heads to make sure all passengers are safely inside the boat. Assign one or more responsible adults to keep track of each child on board.

From the helm, it’s often difficult to see swimmers in the water near the propeller, so either go to the stern and look or appoint a lookout to do so before inserting the key in the ignition lock.

Don’t forget the safety of the passengers of other boats. Stay out of designated swimming zones and take particular care in congested areas or near boats that are towing skiers or tubers.

Equipped for safety

You may consider using devices designed to help prevent propeller strikes, including wireless cutoff switches, prop guards, ringed propellers, alternative propulsion systems, interlocks, sensors and anti-feedback steering.

But no equipment can substitute for taking care and keeping a lookout. Keep passengers out of the hazard zone whenever the key is in the ignition lock, and you’ll be well on your way to preventing propeller injuries.

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Rolling hitch

You can use a rolling hitch to secure one line to another line or a smooth cylinder, such as a post floating in the water. The knot grips an object and will not slip lengthwise along it.

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