Each year hundreds of propeller accidents leave tragedy in their wake. The Office of Boating Safety reported that in 2002 there were 239 accidents involving motor or propeller strikes among recreational boaters. 47 of those accidents resulted in death. Plan for a safe time on the water and minimize accidents.
The Office of Boating Safety recommends a combined approach of increased awareness and improved technologies to reduce the number of injuries and death resulting from this type of incident.
The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety has also taken notice of the increase in propeller related injuries and note that the increase in injuries is probably related to a direct increase in the number of boat owners in America. “Since 1990, personal watercraft (PWC) use in the United States has increased by an estimated 400%. In 1996, there were approximately 900,000 PWCs in use,” reads the web site.
The web site defines PWCs as being approximately eight feet long, powered by self-contained engines with an enclosed propeller that uses pressured water for thrust. Most models are designed to accommodate two to three passengers. A PWC cannot be steered when the engine is off, even though momentum may still carry the PWC forward.
As the number of PWC’s on our waterways increases, along with the number of other watercraft, it’s not surprising that there has been a four-fold increased in injuries associated with the watercraft since 1990.
Although each state has established regulations through a State Boating Law Administration, the number of propeller injuries has yet to be curbed or stopped. The threat of propeller related injuries and death doesn’t just effect adults. In 1997, 22% of related injuries in the U.S.A. occurred to youth under the age of 18. Of those injured youth, 46% were PWC operators and 27% were passengers. Because PWC-related propeller injuries don’t discriminate based on age, it’s important for people of all ages to realize how important safety is while on the water. Of the nonfatal injuries, the most frequent injuries occur to the leg, head and lower trunk.
Blunt trauma is the leading cause of fatalities.
According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, inexperience, excessive speed and careless manoeuvres by the operators are the predominant causes of injuries. This is especially true of those using a rented watercraft.
The Office of Boating Safety says that enhanced user awareness and training is just one step towards propeller injury avoidance. They maintain that technologies, such as guards, propulsion, interlocks and sensors, will make all the difference in the world when it comes to preventing injury and death.
Although improving technology is a step towards making boating a safer past time, the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Safety first recommend using education and a little caution. They believe it’s important to work with the media to promote safety and to encourage age-appropriate PWC activities. In fact, they agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that operating personal watercraft is inappropriate for children under 16 years old.
Education is still a key step towards greater safety for all ages. Not only is it important to learn safe PWC operation, but also it is imperative for all passengers to wear personal flotation devices and protective wetsuits.
The risk of injuries can also be reduced by traveling at safe speeds appropriate for conditions and during daylight hours. Additional educational issues include avoiding designated swimming areas and refraining from jumping the wakes generated by other vessels.
In addition to promoting safety education through articles, web sites and the media, PWC manufacturers should encourage designs for PWCs that promote safety. The advance of technology that will increase the safety of boaters is in their hands. PWC manufacturers can also contribute to safety education by promoting PWC operation by persons 16 years of age or older and by depicting safe and age-appropriate advertising. To go one step further, they can also offer training for operators on safe operation with the sale of every PWC. As members of the public, we can encourage the manufacturers to take the above-mentioned steps. We can also stress the important role they can play in strengthening PWC regulations to protect youth from injury.
In the end, PWC operators are not only responsible for their own safety, but the safety of others in and around their watercraft. If you own a PWC, make the safety of everyone with you a top priority. Make passengers know that they must wear personal flotation devices at all times and that horseplay is not acceptable. Remind them that although playing on the water is fun, it is also a big responsibility. Their safety and possibly their life may depend on how well they follow your safety rules.
Although accidents do happen, plan for a safe time on the water and take the steps to minimize the risk of an accident. You’ll be glad that you did!