Experts weigh in on propeller safety

Lake Sun staff
Dozens of boat propeller accidents happen in Missouri each year.

Following the tragic death of a child on Lake of the Ozarks who was struck by a propeller after jumping in the water, local boating safety experts say the best way to prevent that type of accident is to shut the engine down.

The accident happened on June 5 on the Grand Glaize Arm of the lake. The child was boating with family when he went off the rear of the boat and was struck by the propeller. The operator thought the boat was in neutral, unaware the boat was slowly moving backward.

Doug Beck and Bob May, both U.S. Coast Guard captains, members of the Lake of the Ozarks Water Safety Council and Lake of the Ozarks Captains Association, recommend the surest way to prevent propeller injuries and deaths is to shut down engines/motors before anyone gets off the boat.

Beck and May suggest waiting 15 to 20 second before allowing anyone to leave the boat. Only after giving the propeller time to stop should passengers be allowed to get off the boat. Always enter using the swim ladder, feet first and look before you jump.

Beck said even in neutral, the propeller are free turning and can cause injuries.

A propeller guard or prop guard, as it is more commonly known, is also a good safety precaution. It consists of a steel cage that surrounds the propeller. The guard allows the movement of the propeller but will increase safety and decrease the risk of propeller injuries, he said.  

If the swim ladder is mounted on the stern, purchase a second boarding ladder and use it to enter and exit the water away from the rear of the boat.

The same rule applies to the engine when getting back on the boat. Keep engines off until everyone is back onboard. Make sure any lines, pull toys or other objects are stowed away.

“These newer outboards are extremely quiet, they can be running and you can’t hear them,” May said. “And those electronic throttles are very sensitive. You may not know it is in gear or running.”

Nationwide there are on average 171 accidents involving propeller. Of those, there are an average of 35 fatalities.

On 2020 at Lake of the Ozarks were five persons struck by a propeller, one resulting in death. Statewide there were a total of 15 accidents involving propeller.