ABYC and Coast Guard join on propeller guard test

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A new propeller guard test developed by the Coast Guard and the American Boat and Yacht Council seeks to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of various guards.

“There really wasn’t anything out there that portrayed the performance or maneuverability of a boat, with and without a guard,” ABYC president John Adey told Trade Only Today. “This test serves as a baseline that all device manufacturers will use to evaluate their products. We’re hoping it will help consumers. Everyone just automatically thinks that a prop guard will save your life in all situations.”

The purpose was to test the viability of propeller guards across several scenarios, Adey said. “It’s a non-accident-specific test and first of its kind. The idea is that the guard manufacturers would test their guards before putting them to market. Everyone gets evaluated the same way, which is a breakthrough.”

Engine and boat manufacturers have defended themselves against lawsuits in instances of people being injured or killed by boat propellers. In a high-profile case from 2010 a federal jury ordered Brunswick Corp. to pay $3.8 million to Jacob Brochtrup after he lost part of his leg while wakeboarding.

Because propeller guards can compromise the safety of a boat, the National Marine Manufacturers Association initially opposed the test, director of environmental and safety compliance John McKnight told Trade Only.

“If you go over 15 mph on the boat, propeller guards create a very dangerous situation and it says that very clearly in the report,” McKnight said.

The guards, typically large pieces of metal added around the engine, can create buoyancy and steering issues, as well as compromising a boat’s ability to get up on plane and maintain plane, McKnight said.

“A good analogy would be putting a guard on a propeller plane,” McKnight said. “People have been hit with them. It would be all right to drive the plane around the runway, but don’t try to take off or you’ll die. This could be a tool if someone does design a propeller guard that actually works under all conditions of a vessel.”

In the past, there had been several “snake oil salesmen designing guards in their garage,” McKnight said. “In litigation, the question would be asked, ‘Why wasn’t one of these put on?’ Though we don’t endorse the document, we can live with it.”

Keith Jackson, a partner at Maritech Industries in Redding, Calif, also was involved in the testing process. His propeller guards are used by San Francisco police divers on boats that travel at slow speeds, among others. He agrees that his company’s propeller guards aren’t safe for all applications.

“Everybody will make claims about what their product will or won’t do,” Jackson told Trade Only. “Now they know how to test it out in the real world before they take it to market. If you’re a developer of guards and you don’t know how to test it appropriately, you might cause more harm than good. What you don’t want to do is try to give somebody a device for safety and cause another hazard. Sometimes we have to say, ‘Sorry, our guard is not designed for continuous high-end use.’ Every product has limitations, but that’s OK as long as you educate the customer.”

The test has been several years in the making, Adey said, and it involved physical testing with ballistics gel samples, which mimic the density and viscosity of human muscle tissue. “We ran over objects, and we did it guarded and unguarded,” Adey said. “Some of it was real ‘MythBusters’ stuff. We were mixing up ballistics gels and even had MIT involved at one point. It was a good project.”

— Reagan Haynes


7 comments on “ABYC and Coast Guard join on propeller guard test

  1. enginecom

    Prop guard use has been debated over the years. There is one currently on the market which is the jet drive. Unfortunately many boats are not designed for this type of drive. They are very inefficient with many hull forms needing greater horsepower and fuel to operate. The only guard we have seen work is the Kort Nozzle which is limited to displacement boats. Human flesh and rotating machinery do not mix without catastrophic results. Blunt force trauma would be a greater problem than prop injuries. I can see some use of guards but mandating them would be a non starter in this industry. Safety can only be 100% effective by eliminating all moving machinery.

  2. PGIC

    As to Brochtrup “lost part of his leg”, we consider that a bit of an understatement for an amputation at the hip.

    This test procedure has been in development for many years. We posted an initial review of the actual test procedure last week at: http://www.propellersafety.com/8464/test-propeller-guards/uscg-propeller-guard-test-procedure-review/

    Although we may not always agree with John McKnight at NMMA we like him because he tells it like he sees it. We particularly liked his quote about “snake oil salesmen designing guards in their garage.”

    We also noticed the total absence of mention of CED Technologies, a contractor that performed some of the testing and much of the writing of the earlier versions of the procedure/protocol.


  3. Bob

    It’s unfortunate that there are prop strikes. But if you want to stay safe, stay on your couch at home. Don’t try to venture outside, where bad things happen.

    When people climb ladders, they fall on occasion. Why don’t all ladders have an air bag system that automatically deploys to cushion a fall? That could easily be bolted to any ladder. At what point do we decide safety is over the top?

    When I go out on my boat, I understand that I am taking a risk. I am risking the weather, the waves, the water. That’s what makes it fun and exciting.

    And to enginecoms point about jet drive. Jets can be just as unsafe. I read about a young lady that was riding on the back of a PWC, with her PFD securely fashioned. Other then her PFD, she was only wearing a bikini. She fell off the back of the PWC while at high speed. The water pressure was coming out the nozzle at such high speed that it actually impaled her. She had severe internal injuries. The author recommended that all persons riding PWC’s should wear wetsuits.

    Things are only as safe as the people operating them. There is nothing inherently unsafe about a boat, that can not be solved with operator education.

  4. Roy Crittenden

    There are a number of safe boating practices available to greatly reduce the chance of injury by propeller. My guess is that when this unfortunate accident does occur, one of the practices have been violated.

  5. Robert Alden

    In response to Bob and others like him, while you may believe you are in control and safe, the people that get struck in the water are most often innocent victims who have no control over the situation. Every year there are hundreds of innocent people in the water that get maimed and killed by propellers, regardless how safe or unsafe the operator might be. Consider the victim’s position. I represented Jacob Brochtrup, and the guard that we used at trial was tested ad nauseum by us as well as Mercury Marine. The FACTS are that it had no adverse effect on the use of the boat. Top end speed was reduced by 2-3 MPH, but the boat was still able to be used for all intended purposes, including pulling skiers. The guard enhanced acceleration and steering. There was no reason to not use such a guard on the boat that outweighed saving Jacob’s leg, or anyone’s life or limb. A unanimous jury of unbiased citizens heard the same BS arguments Mr. McKnight is quoted as making in the article — and saw them for what they were: rubbish. Mercury Marine had a $60 million a year R & D budget, and at the time of the 2010 trial had not spent a penny on trying to develop a guard. OMC and Mercury Marine have been fighting the use of guards for decades because they know that once they acknowledge the use of guards is a safer design, they have admitted liability.

  6. Paul

    wow , testing last century technology to put on new boats, good thinking. We can put brake systems on vehicles to prevent accidents, I am sure someone Can come up with a similar system to prevent moving propeller contact.

    Then next is improving the kill safety switch to something that people will actually use .

  7. Clay Gist

    The propeller really is a very dangerous part of the boat, because it is unnoticed by every divers whenever they dive, so sometimes they can be fatal. I hope the test project of ABYC and Coast Guard are the most effective solution in safety of the boat. Hopefully this test will prevent some of the accident in propeller.

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