I am of the belief that prop guards should be mandatory on all safety boats. As sailing instructors, we are responsible for our students safety, we need to ensure that we do everything in our power to minimise the risk of injury at all times. Installing a prop guard on your safety boat is a small price to pay to manage this risk and I urge all of you to find your voice and join me in advocating the mandatory use of prop guards on all safety boats used in our Clubs and Sailing Academies.
I was saddened to read a recent article in Scuttlebutt of another boating fatality, a youngster, attending sail training in the US, fell out of the safety boat and was killed by the boats propeller. Boating accidents involving propeller injuries are on the increase and are occuring all to frequently. According to the US Coast Guard's annual recreational boating accidents statistics, in 2012 there were 19 fatalities atributed to the propeller, while in 2013, 35 people were killed by there boats propeller and this is only in the US!
As Instructors, we teach children to capsize and right their dinghies, often in close proximity to the safety boat, the kids love being in the water in summer. Just one small mistake on the instructors part, believing they are doing the right thing by reversing in or coming in close to a youngster and that child not anticipating their actions, ends up with a potentially serious injury, or fatality.
Experienced Instructors know that things happen fast out on the water. It takes less than one tenth of a second for a typical recreational propeller to travel from head to toe on a person in the water. Prop guards add an important margin of safety for boats operated around people in the water. Prop guards are usually constructed of polypropylene or stainless steel, and can be fitted to any outboard motor using bolts, there is no rust or corrosion and there are no moving parts, no hydraulics or electrics and in addition to saving lives, it also protects the propeller.
There is marginal decline in top end speed when using a prop guard, but our instructors don’t need to be going 50 km/h. They spend 90% of their time while instructing moving along at idling speed or in semi-displacement mode. When they do need to go fast, we don’t mind the difference between going 45 km/h vs. 50 km/h. The difference in top end is worth it for the safety gain.
At the top echelons of our sport, The Olympic Games, since 2008 it has been required that all coach boats, media boats, and race official boats at the Olympic yachting competitions have propeller guards. If it is a requirement to minimize injury to the best sailors in the world, surely prop guards should be mandatory on all safety boats to protect those that are just starting out on their sailing journey!