In motorboats, there is a hidden danger — the propeller. Its blades are hidden under the water and invisible to most of its victims. The propeller blade itself is deadly, spinning three to five times faster than the forward speed of the boat.
When struck, even if the initial trauma is not fatal, many of the victims die from infection caused by lake and river water. Those lucky enough to survive are generally left with amputation or other permanently disfiguring injuries.
Estimates of propeller injuries vary with as many as 3,400 people injured annually. More tragically, over one quarter of all victims are between the ages of 16 and 19 years old.
An even greater tragedy, however, is that many of these injuries may be entirely avoidable simply by installing a propeller guard. Unfortunately, virtually no major engine manufacturer sells its engine with a propeller guard. Most manufacturers argue that a guard is simply not feasible.
Critics, however, point out that a propeller guard is not only feasible and protects the boater, but also protects the propeller. Engine manufacturers they argue have a vested interest in not protecting their propeller because of the substantial profits they make in selling replacement propellers when an unguarded propeller strikes a tree limb or other underwater object.
Critics also point out that more than 20 years ago, a boat builder in San Diego invented a guard by making a plastic pipe that surrounded the propeller. Soon after that, the United States Marine, Navy, Army, and rescue services from both coasts and in New Zealand and Australia were purchasing what was known as the Chadwell guard.
It is ironic that while the federal government has purchased propeller guards for its own use, it has not issued warnings or regulations for these life saving devices on recreational motorboats.