Boat Propeller Safety Tips to Prevent Injuries

Most boat prop injuries and deaths are preventable, yet a fun day of boating can instantly turn tragic when safety precautions aren’t taken. Boat prop safety comes down to alertness and common sense.

Boat prop safety tips

Propeller strikes can disfigure, amputate and kill people, and these things happen mostly due to neglect. The rotating force of a boat propeller can easily suck a person into contact with the prop and severely injure them, as it takes about one-tenth of a second for a person to get sliced from head to toe. 

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Boat propeller blades are made of a variety of materials, most notably aluminum and stainless steel. A boat prop can easily cut through a human body, and there’s no response time once a spinning propeller makes contact. With that in mind, here are a few safety tips to prevent boat propeller injuries. 

Brief Your Passengers on Prop Safety

As the boat captain, you’re responsible for informing your passengers about prop safety, so make them aware of hazardous activities near the propeller.

Boat prop safety tips brief passengers

As mentioned, most propeller accidents are preventable, so the first step before taking off for the day is briefing them on the location and dangers of the propellers. Point out any propeller warning labels around the boat, and inform them of how to properly use the swim platform and ladders, and where not to sit while the boat is in motion. You should also assign a lookout to monitor in-water activities around the prop, as well as taking head counts on deck before you start the motor up again.  

Shut the Engine Off 

Never turn on the motor until you know for certain the propeller and its surrounding areas are cleared of people. You might not see somebody in the water near the prop while you’re at the helm, so check and double-check before firing up the engine.

Boat prop safety tips engine kill switch

Always keep the engine off while people are entering or exiting your boat. Keep in mind too that the propeller might still being spinning while at idle, so make sure the motor is completely shut off until everybody has safely boarded or exited the boat. Also, keep an engine cut-off switch (kill switch) connected to you and the control panel in case you’re suddenly thrown overboard. That’s because if you go overboard while the engine is still running, it puts you in danger of a propeller strike. 

Look Out for Swimmers

Both you and your assigned lookout need to keep a constant eye on swimmers near the prop, even when the motor is shut off. Swimmers and people who wipe out off towable watersports equipment can be hard to see. 

Boat prop safety tips swimmers

Maintain a sharp alertness in congested areas of swimmers and boaters participating in watersports like water skiing, tubing, and wakeboarding, and take every precaution to avoid them. Always check for people near the prop, and never start a boat until everybody is onboard and accounted for. Also, never allow boarding or disembarking while the engine is on or idling. And even if you assigned a lookout, still check for yourself at the area around the propeller before starting the engine. 

Take “Man Overboard” Precautions

Never allow anybody to ride on areas of the boat where they might fall overboard, including the bow, gunwale, transom and seat backs. If a person falls overboard, stop the boat immediately. 

Boat prop safety tips man overboard

When you’re coming around to pick them up, never put the boat in reverse. Doing so can cause the person in the water to get sucked right into the propeller. Keep watch on the person overboard at all times and approach them slowly, with the bow of the boat toward the person, before attempting to move the boat alongside them. Shut off the engine before trying to bring the person back on board. Once the motor is off and you’re pulling in alongside them, toss them a line attached to a flotation device and bring them in. 

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Buy life preserver vests

Buy Prop Safety Equipment

Besides necessary personal safety equipment like life jackets or vests, you should also have safety equipment for your boat’s propellers. There’s a variety of safeguards available for propellers, including:

  • Propeller guards: Small cage- or ring-like devices that fully or partially encase the prop to prevent contact with humans and other obstacles. 
  • Anti-feedback steering: Safeguard that detects if your hands come off the steering wheel to keep the prop from spinning and the boat from turning dangerously if the driver falls overboard. This steering mechanism keeps the boat on a straight path so that it doesn’t do the “circle of death”, where the boat circles around and strikes a man overboard in the water.

Once again, most boat propeller tragedies are preventable. Keep safety in mind at all times and you'll likely never have to experience one for yourself.