Over the last 18 months of so there have been a number of serious injuries and fatalities involving people in the water being struck by propellers within the industry. Although no one single cause can be attributed to these terrible incidents, with activities being undertaken at the time greatly varying, by following a few essential safety tips you could help avoid injury to yourself, your crew or swimmers in the water.
The RYA’s Chief Instructor for Motor Cruising and Power, Rachel Andrews, shares some essential safety tips:
1. Wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket when out in an open powerboat. Be sure that you know how to operate your lifejacket. If you do end up in the water, you can concentrate on protecting your airways and being buoyant in the water will make it easier for your rescuers to spot you.
2. Always, always, always use a kill cord and ensure it is attached to the driver of the boat, preferably around their leg. If for some reason the helm moves away from the conning position (falls over in the boat or overboard) this will pull the killcord and stop the engine. Stopping the engine will prevent injury to the person in the water or others in the vicinity from a runaway powerboat.
3. Ensure the helm of the boat keeps a proper lookout at all times. A proper look out means listening to the radio for traffic information as well as keeping an eye on what is going on around you by looking and use of radar (if fitted). It is especially important to check around you before initiating a change of direction, think of it as a “lifesaver” look, similar to motorcyclists who take a look over their shoulder just before pulling out.
4. Match your speed to the conditions – in rougher conditions slow down. Keeping the boat in contact with the water surface by powering up a wave, powering down slightly on the top of the wave to rock the boat gently over the crest and powering back up through the trough. This is one technique to avoid uncontrolled slamming of the bow which can injure those on board.
5. Ensure that you and your passengers have a firm handhold at all times. Keeping everyone in the boat and safe from harm becomes trickier at speed and all the more so in rougher conditions. Brief passengers to know what to expect and that they need to brace supporting themselves by handholds and by bending their legs.
6. Warn your passengers prior to making any manoeuvres at speed or approaching rough water or wash from other vessels. Knowing what the boat is about to do, helps passengers to brace at the right time and actively manage their own safety.
7. When approaching a person in the water, do so extremely slowly; instruct a crew member to go forward and let you know as soon as contact is made, then switch
the engine off. The default should be to always switch the engine off when recovering someone from the water. The only exception to this would be if it is unsafe to do so because this action will make the situation worse, such as being washed onto an obstacle.
8. When towing anyone on water skis, wake boards or inflatables always have a spotter in the boat to monitor the people being towed. The spotter’s job is to watch the person(s) being towed and to warn the driver if someone falls into the water.
One question that is often asked is whether prop guards would reduce the likelihood of prop strike incidents but research carried out over the years are inconclusive.
The key to avoiding injury through prop strike is to have all crew securely seated and holding on and communicate changes of direction and speed.