On February 3, 2011, a young boater made a Boating Safety mistake that cost a 14 year old friend to possibly lose her leg but still lucky enough to be alive.
The headlines read: Girl, 14, struck by boat propeller near Juno Beach pier, in critical condition
Updated headlines: Gardens girl hit by boat propeller scheduled to have leg amputated today
Boating Safety around people in the water is First and Foremost!
Rule 1 in Boating Safety: Never, ever have your boat in gear when around people in the water. Rule 2: Read Rule 1.
Lack of Boating Safety: Here’s what Happened
It’s a beautiful day in Juno Beach, Florida which is near West Palm Beach. It is a little windy and the surf was a little choppy but still a great day to be Boating. Friends are playing on the beach, the driver of the boat has friends onboard and he wants to pick up those friends from the beach. He starts to nuzzle his 22′ Cobia boat toward shore and even though the lifeguards were telling him to get his boat out of the swimming area, he challenges them by ignoring them. I assume that he was thinking that he was only there for a short time to pick up his friends from the water.
The waves are building and as every surfer knows, they come in sets so that you can be in 1 foot waves and then a set of 3 foot waves will show up. In this case, the girls walking out to the boat commented on how high the waves were. Because of their perspective of standing in the water and seeing the videos after, they were probably only about 1 or 1 1/2 feet tall. It is very choppy and boats do not ride well in waves near the beach and it is easy to lose control if you don’t keep it into the waves. They are only in about 3 feet of water. Friends now approach the boat and start to get in. The driver, trying to keep the boat from going ashore is putting the boat into gear to keep it straight. One girl is starting to get in when a wave hits the boat, knocks her down and over and the boat driver throttles up to keep the boat off the beach and she rolls back and the propeller hits her leg, causing major damage. He knows that something has happened and apparently leaves the scene, not to escape, but to keep the boat from beaching and also to get to the dock quickly to get back and help out. The driver and his friends were not going to be able to help while in 15 feet of water. The boat, a 22′ Cobia, has several versions and the police have not released which one it is but I’m going to assume that it is this version since it is the most popular in South Florida. Please Note: This is not the boat, just pictures of a boat that I think is like it. The point here is to look at the location of the propeller to the location of the swim ladder. In a panic, a driver might not even see a person by the props.
First and foremost, this is a strong case for Licensing Boaters. Boating Safety, Courtesy and Rules of the Road should be required of all boaters. Many don’t even know that they are totally responsible for what their boat does, whether it be what their wake does or, in this case, an accident. I’m sure the PI lawyers have swarmmed to the girls side to get this business because there is no defense around it. Friendships and relationships are now going to be broken, a girl will lose her leg, millions of dollars will be sued for and criminal charges will probably be filed for negligence, just because a few Boating Safety rules were broken.
How could this Boating Accident been Prevented?
This could have been totally prevented in very simple terms. I heard today that the girl will lose her leg. At age 14, that is a very sad situation. The driver of the boat wanted to pick up his friends on the beach. There is pressure from everyone to pick them up. Regretfully, most boaters feel that they can’t be touched so when being told to leave the swimming area by the life guards, he totally ignored them and moved in anyway. By looking at the situation, experience would have told him that the boat is going to be pushed into the shore and it will be rocking and rolling the whole time. A little more boating safety experience would have told him how much time he had before reaching the danger point based on the incoming waves and how long it takes for others to get in the boat. The waves pushed too hard and the kids took too long. Just by being out another 10 or 15 yards or at least tossing an anchor to keep the boats bow into the waves and the engine in idol and having the kids swim up to the boat would have avoided this horrible accident.
Final Boating Safety Notes
Here is another dangerous situation that I see all the time and have cost lives and limbs. People sitting on the bow with their legs hanging over. Think about this. One wave, wake or sudden movement can cause a person to slip off and before you, the driver, can react, they are under the boat and into the propeller. If you feel the absolute requirement to allow someone to sit on the bow or on the side, make sure that the stanchion is between their legs so that they cannot just slide off the edge. The best rule… no sitting with legs hanging over. You don’t want to feel like this kid is going to feel for the rest of his life.
Every boater needs to be aware of their surroundings at all times. In Boating Safety, you learn that your boat has no brakes and is not stable. If you are going into an unstable situation, like this young man did, make sure you understand what is going on around you and that you, your friends and the boat are safe. Make Boating Safety your primary focus.