Boat Propeller Injuries – Georgia Law

by: Casey W. Stevens

I grew up around boats, and became a boat owner myself about eight years ago. Many years ago I was an insurance claims manager. Now I am a personal injury lawyer. So I’ve seen more than my share of tragic accidents including boats, jet skis and pretty much anything you can ride, in or on. Because of this, my wife and I are extremely cautious about boat passenger safety. We stand on the dock, barking out rules like “don’t follow behind tubers with the jet ski”, “stop jumping wakes so close to the boat”, “don’t dive there, it is too shallow”, “do not try to spray the people on the dock”, “no, mom said she can’t take you tubing again tonight because she had a glass of wine”, and so on, and so forth.

Monday I read an article about a 16-year old girl who suffered a 16-inch laceration to her left thigh at Lake Lanier. She was attempting to climb aboard the back of the boat from the water when she slipped and fell into the boat’s propeller. The boat operator states the vessel was in neutral at the time. Hall County emergency responders carried her to East Bank Park where she was stabilized and ultimately transported to Gwinnett Medical Center for treatment. Yes, she is left with a large scar, and perhaps even experience loss in mobility, so if boater negligence or equipment failure were involved, she may have a claim. Even so, this accident could have been much more tragic. The rotation of a propeller can cause deep lacerations and even death.

This is one of our worst nightmares. And to be honest with you, we thought propellers didn’t spin when boats are in neutral. But as a precaution, we always turn our boat off when swimmers are around.

Operating a boat or PWC on a popular body of water such as Lake Lanier that is occupied by other watercraft, swimmers, skiers, etc. requires diligence and strict observance of safety by everyone. While boating safety has been a hot topic in the metro area since Governor Deal signed Senate Bill 136 into law this past spring, the focus has been on boating under the influence and serious negligence and not on general safety concerns such as propeller safety.

According to Boating Magazine, propeller safety should be taken seriously at all times. Even when the boat is in neutral, as was reported in the case on Lake Lanier this past Sunday, the propeller can continue to spin proposing a serious risk to anyone trying to get on or off of the boat from the rear. There are several safety devices that can help to insure propeller safety, (such as propeller guards, rearview cameras, sensors, etc.), but establishing clear rules for passengers getting on and off the boat and safe operation are the best way to prevent accidents such as this from occurring. It is YOUR boat, and therefore you are responsible for the safety of everyone aboard and for people in the water around you. Accidents happen quickly and without warning, so do your best to prevent them.

Here are some rules to abide by to ensure the safest boating experience possible:

  • Be sure to establish rules for your passengers and stick to them – notify everyone aboard of the location of the propellers and the safety hazards associated with them.
  • Always turn the engine completely off before swimmers get into the water.
  • Do a head count of all passengers and swimmers before starting the engine or moving the water craft. Just because you don’t see a swimmer in the water, doesn’t mean they are not there. Someone may be swimming near or under the vessel, and may not be readily visible when you glance into the water.
  • Never allow passengers to sit or stand on the edges bow or swim platform of the boat when the engine is running. Passengers should be seated in designated seats anytime the engine is running and everyone (including you as the driver) should be required to wear a life jacket at all times.
  • If your boat is equipped with a kill switch or other safety devices, use them. If your boat is an older model, consider having such equipment installed by a qualified marine mechanic.
  • Never back up to retrieve a swimmer. Always look around to ensure the swimmer is safe from other vessels, and quickly circle around to retrieve them. Never head directly towards a swimmer, and always keep a distance of fifteen feet or more between your PWC and a swimmer when you are returning to retrieve them.
  • Do not allow yourself to get distracted, and do not drink alcohol when operating a boat or a PWC.

While boating injuries can be the result of reckless behavior, manufacturing defects, or failed safety equipment, statistics have shown that most boating accidents are the result of the negligence of the boat’s driver, the passengers, and a failure to implement a few basic and simple safety precautions. Setting rules and sticking to them is the best way to insure that everyone comes home from a day on the water with good memories.

For more information of Georgia boating safety laws, manufacturing defects, and boater liability, please visit the “ Articles” page on our website.

If you have been injured in a boating accident that resulted from what you believe to be negligence or a manufacturer’s defect, and would like a complimentary evaluation of your rights, call my office today at 770-408-6364.