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PA Boating Handbook
Propeller Strikes
When people and motorboats share the same water, propeller strikes can and do occur. A typical recreational propeller can rip an average person from head to toe in less than one-tenth of a second.


Before starting your boat:

  • Put on your life jacket!
  • Walk to the stern and look in the water to make certain there is no one near your propeller (people near the boat’s propeller may not be visible from the helm).
  • Attach your engine cut-off switch lanyard to your life jacket. If the lanyard is removed from the switch, the engine will shut off.

Educate passengers:

  • Explain the dangers of a motorboat running into a swimmer.
  • Show the location and danger of the propellers.
  • Establish clear rules for swim platform use, boarding ladders and seating (if possible, passengers should remain seated at all times).
  • Talk about safety procedures and emergency action plans.
  • Discuss preventing falls overboard:
    • Maintain three points of contact, keep your weight low and close to the centerline (balance issues may occur).
    • Watch crew members and frequently check that everyone is aboard.
    • Wear deck-gripping shoes (bare feet have poor traction).
    • Avoiding rough water and weather conditions whenever possible.
    • Limit alcohol use and discuss physical effects resulting from on water activities.
  • Discuss swamping and capsizing prevention.
    • Don’t overload your boat.

If capsizing occurs, stay with the boat and make sure everyone has a life jacket. Stay calm. If the boat can be righted, bail out as much water as possible, get in and paddle towards shore. If capsized or overboard in a river, swim downstream, feet first, to avoid potential head injury and entrapment.

Keep a lookout:

  • Assign a passenger to keep watch around the propeller area of your boat when people are in the water.
  • Never allow passengers to board or exit your boat from the water when the engine is on or idling (your propeller may continue to spin). Turn the engine off.
  • Be especially alert when operating in congested areas and never enter swimming zones.
  • Take extra precautions near boats that are towing skiers or tubers.
  • Never permit passengers to ride on the bow, gunwale, transom, seat backs or other locations where they might fall overboard.
  • Children should be watched carefully while onboard.

Consider purchasing propeller safety devices for your boat. A variety of safety devices are available to help prevent propeller strikes.


  1. Shout “Man Overboard” immediately.
  2. Signal for assistance from passengers, crew, or other boaters. Have someone call for assistance over the radio, if available.
  3. Stop the boat immediately.
  4. Toss a life jacket to the person overboard or any item that will float such as an empty ice cooler. Even if person is wearing a jacket, it will help improve visibility and provide additional flotation.
  5. Assign someone to constantly point at the person in the water. Never let the victim out of sight.
  6. Avoid running the person over.
  7. Approach against the wind, waves or current.
  8. Come close to the victim.
  9. Shift into reverse to stop forward motion.
  10. Put engine in neutral gear or shut off the engine to stop the propeller from turning. It may be safer to trail a life jacket on a line astern and circle till the person can grasp it.
  11. If the boat has a low freeboard, bring the person over the transom. Be alert for hot motors, exhaust pipes and carbon monoxide.
  12. High freeboard, use a swim platform or ladder and rig a sling, rope ladder or knotted line.
  13. A non-powered vessel must be stabilized before attempting to bring the victim into the boat.
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