Propeller strikes are one of the leading causes of boating accidents and injuries. The spinning blades of a boat propeller can cause severe lacerations, amputations, and even death if a person comes into contact with them. However, there is a critical piece of safety equipment that all boat operators should use to help prevent propeller strike injuries.
Another important article to check out is: Can boat propeller strikes kill you?
The Ignition Safety Switch Lanyard
The most important device for avoiding propeller strike injuries is the ignition safety switch lanyard, also known as an engine cut-off switch or kill switch. This is a cord that attaches to the boat operator on one end and to the ignition switch on the other end.
If the operator falls overboard or moves too far away from the helm, the lanyard will pull out of the switch, immediately shutting off the engine and stopping the spinning propeller blades.
According to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, falls overboard and ejections accounted for 14% of boating fatalities in 2020.
An ignition safety switch can cut the engine if the operator is accidentally thrown from the vessel, preventing further harm from the propeller. The Coast Guard estimates that hundreds of deaths and injuries could be prevented each year if ignition safety switches were used properly.
Other Propeller Safety Devices
While the ignition safety lanyard is the most crucial device, there are other propeller safety equipment options boaters can utilize:
- Propeller guards: Metal cages installed around the propeller to deflect any body parts that come into contact. However, they can reduce performance.
- Propeller covers: Canvas covers that fit over the blades when not in use. Helpful for storage but don’t prevent accidents while underway.
- Wireless cut-off switches: Allow the engine to be shut off remotely if someone falls overboard. More convenient than wired lanyards.
- Interlocks: Prevent starting the engine if people are on swim platforms or ladders.
- Sensors: Detect if someone is in the water near the propeller and cut power. Still an emerging technology.
The U.S. Coast Guard and boating safety experts recommend these tips to prevent propeller accidents:
- Use the ignition safety lanyard at all times. Attach it snugly to the operator before starting the engine.
- Turn off the engine when people are boarding or swimming from the boat. Never start the motor with someone in the water.
- Prevent passengers from sitting on seat-backs or gunwales where they could more easily fall overboard.
- Assign an adult to watch children closely and sound an alarm if someone goes overboard.
- Maintain a proper lookout for swimmers and divers when operating in congested areas.
- Learn to recognize diver-down warning flags and buoys. Stay away from marked swimming zones.
The ignition safety lanyard provides an invaluable layer of protection against the dangers of propeller strikes. Keep it attached and use it every time for maximum safety. Follow proper precautions and boating education to prevent these tragic accidents.