Florida Lags Behind Other States in Boating Safety Law

A boat ride in the bay or on a river would feel so good in this heat. So when a neighbor invites us, we go. It's fun in the sun and water for a while until one of the teenage kids falls off the boat, and suddenly the water turns red. She's been struck by the boat's unguarded propeller. Most of Florida's boats have outboard motors. A big majority don't use propeller guards. They've never had them, because the boat or engine manufacturers wanted to save a hundred fifty bucks.

The story I told you was true. The teenager was horribly cut as the prop sliced from the thigh to the bottom of her foot and broke the big bone in the lower part of her leg in three places. After eight hours of surgery, 130 stitches, and placement of metal plates and screws to hold the bones together, she was in the recovery room.

Other prop strikes are even more catastrophic. A woman in a life vest, relaxing in a river, was hit by a boat whose driver was distracted. Her damages? Left arm deeply cut, knee destroyed, slashed face and vision permanently damaged, breast sliced, and a lung punctured. A few bucks spent by the boat owner or the manufacturer would have prevented most.

Prop guards have been around for a long time. By 1964, eighteen varieties of them were on the market. Today's models are plastic or alloy metal cages that fit around a propeller. They create less drag for the boat and are engineered for easy installation. They protect against horrible bodily injuries and also protect a prop from damage by sandbars and occasional rock strikes.

Florida has a million boats registered but still has no statute requiring prop guards. But the negligence law of Florida and other states can help. Injured people can make successful claims against boat owners and manufacturers for the unnecessary injuries they suffer. Economic pressure from those suits may eventually cause manufacturers to install prop guards on all motors. It would be nice, too, if our legislature would wake up.

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