Propeller Injuries and Boat Awareness Campaign

Campaign Announcement

Sadly, within the first four months of 2018 there have been at least three fatalities of divers/snorkellers caused by collision injuries from boat propellers; one each in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. It is likely there were additional incidents, as many injuries often go unreported.

These figures are of great concern to DAN and should be of concern to all divers. At DAN World, we felt it was timely to revitalise a safety campaign that focuses on creating awareness of propeller safety.

Propeller injuries are unfortunately far too common in diving accident reports despite often being preventable. Many propeller incidents occur in remote locations where the medical facilities available to treat injuries sustained may be insufficient, and the licencing and regulating of boat drivers may be poorly regulated or not exist. This is not to say that countries like Australia and New Zealand are immune to such incidents, reporting simply highlights a greater occurrence in other countries of the Asia-Pacific.

For the remainder of 2018, we will be promoting this campaign and highlighting a variety of information, advice and tips to help prevent propeller-related incidents.

We encourage you to support the campaign and share the information provided with your diving friends so that we are all working together to prevent unnecessary injury and loss of life.

Main Causes of Propeller Incidents

Having reviewed reported incidents from the past ten years there seems to be four main categories of causes:

  1. Boat operators unaware of divers in the area coupled with insufficient lookout for the conditions.
  2. Boat operators attempting to move the boat while divers were nearby in the water.
  3. Divers/snorkellers surfacing in the path of boat traffic, failing to use a flag or buoy, or undertaking diving activities in an area frequented by boats.
  4. Divers being pushed into boat propellers by waves or currents.

Over the coming weeks and months we will look at how we can work together to reduce propeller-related incidents.

Propeller Safety Campaign: Did you know?

The U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Resource Center reports that from 2005 to 2013 boat-propeller strikes caused 636 injuries and 38 deaths of people engaged in water activities (boating, water skiing, swimming, snorkelling, diving, tubing, etc.); 442 of these injuries and 29 of these deaths were caused by a person being struck by a vessel. Preventing accidents while diving in areas with boat traffic requires that divers be aware of vessels at all times both while below the surface and topside.

Within the Asia-Pacific, DAN World has reports of 31 known scuba/snorkelling fatalities between 2009 and 2018 resulting from boat strike/propeller fatalities; however, this figure is likely to be significantly higher as not all cases are reported for incidents occurring within our region.

Fear of Shark Attack?

"Have you seen any sharks? Aren’t you scared of being attacked?" … "I could never go diving because I’d be too scared of sharks!"

How many of you have heard these, or similar comments, when you’ve told people that you’re a diver? One great fear preventing many people from diving is the fear of shark attack. In reality, as many divers know, shark attacks on divers are relatively rare. However, one potential danger that is often not considered seriously enough is the danger that boats (even those we dive from) and jet skis can present to divers and snorkelers, and others.

Within the Asia-Pacific, DAN World has reports of 31 known scuba/snorkelling fatalities attributed to boat/propeller strikes, between 2009 and 2018; however, this figure is likely to be significantly higher as not all cases are reported for incidents occurring within our region.

Stay as Close to the Dive Flag as Possible

Although laws vary by jurisdiction, divers should stay within 100m of a diver-below flag in open water. When surfacing, stay as close to the flag as possible. Unfortunately, many boat operators are not familiar with the flag’s meaning or the related laws and will still come within exclusion zones. The safest place for any diver on, or near, the surface is as close to the dive flag as possible.

More Incidents Occurring in Developing Countries

DAN World statistics highlight that there is a larger incidence of propeller-related accidents occurring within developing countries in the Asia-Pacific. Why is this?

The training and regulating of boat drivers is not as stringent in developing countries as it may be in other parts of the world;

* Medical facilities in remote parts of these countries are basic; and
* There is a general lack of awareness of dive flags.

If you are snorkelling or diving in developing countries of the Asia-Pacific or anywhere else in the world, make it a priority to use Dive Flags and Surface Marker Buoys and be aware of boat movement at all times while at or coming to the surface.

Case Summaries

DAN World has case summaries of propeller-related incidents that have occurred in our region. These summaries are not easy or comfortable to read, in fact they are very confronting, and it is difficult to fathom the trauma these people experienced. We questioned whether we should share any of these incidents with you as part of our campaign. What we have learned over the years is that people learn through the experiences of others, which is why we continue to share DCI-Incidents. For that reason, we are sharing brief summaries of a small number of propeller-related incidents. If you would prefer not to read any of the reported incidents, please don’t follow this link, but continue to follow our Safety and Awareness campaign and share the information with your dive buddies to become safer in the water. CLICK HERE

Fly the Flag

Flying the flag to inform other water users that there is a diver in the vicinity is vital.

- Alpha Flag: Internationally recognised, the Alpha flag is flown when the mobility of a vessel is restricted, indicating that other vessels should yield the right of way. The alpha flag may be flown along with the Diver Down flag when divers are in the water.

- Diver Down Flag : This flag explicitly signals that divers are in the water and should always be flown from a vessel and/or buoy when divers are in the water. When flown from a vessel, the diver down flag should be at least 50cm by 60cm and flown above the vessel's highest point. When displayed from a buoy, the flag should be at least 30cm by 30cm.

- Surface Marker Buoy: Internationally recognised, the Alpha flag is flown when the mobility of a vessel is restricted, indicating that other vessels should yield the right of way. The alpha flag may be flown along with the Diver Down flag when divers are in the water.

Be Attentive Underwater

In addition to using signalling devices and paying attention to boat traffic topside, divers must be aware of passing boats when they are underwater. Looking and listening for boats overhead is a good practice, but keep in mind that poor visibility and sound localisation when underwater can interfere. In most cases, a diver should be able to hear a boat from underwater, but it may be difficult to determine the direction from which the sound is coming because sound travels approximately four times faster in water than in air. Wearing a hood may alter hearing thresholds even more.
A safety stop for three minutes at 5 metres allows a diver to decrease nitrogen uptake and is also an opportunity to scan for boat traffic before ascending to the surface. Divers should be careful not to rely on quick reaction time in the event that they must move away from a passing boat while underwater. A boat can rapidly close on an unknowing diver without always granting enough time to move a safe distance away. For these reasons it is not advisable for divers to rely on observing for boats under the surface without a surface signalling device. 

Have an Action Plan

A plan for treatment and evacuation of a diver struck by a boat or propeller should be in place before arrival at the dive site. To treat a laceration wound, stem the loss of blood by applying pressure bandages or a tourniquet, and get the injured person to medical services as quickly as possible. Know who to call and what role others play in responding to a medical emergency.

Propellers, not sharks, threaten abalone divers

As we continue evolving DAN World’s Propeller Injuries & Boat Awareness Safety Campaign, we came across an article about another group of divers impacted by boat propellers.

The article appeared in “The Standard” and it highlights that the main risk faced by the south-west’s abalone divers, is other people and their boat propellers, not Great Whites.

As part of an effort by Western Abalone Divers Association (WADA) and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation’s (FRDC) to improve occupational health and safety for fishers, WADA convened a training session for abalone divers and their deckhands on the use of advanced major trauma first aid kits.

WADA Executive Officer, Mr Harry Peeters said the kits had equipment such as limb tourniquets to help deckhands deal with major trauma such as limb loss and massive blood loss that might be suffered by divers following a propeller strike. First aid given in the first few minutes of a major trauma was critical in saving victims’ lives.

Let’s keep working to create awareness of this important issue and strive to eliminate unnecessary injury caused by propeller strikes.

Propeller Strike Prevention 101: This One Tip Helps Save Lives

Officer Robert Dube from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received reports of several incidents involving divers being hit by the boat’s propeller when entering or exiting the water from the rear of the boat. His tip is simple:

Disengage the propeller and remove the key from the ignition EVERY TIME someone enters or exits your boat.

It began as an idyllic day...

DAN Member, Dennis, was on a diving holiday on a Thai liveaboard. He was enjoying a dive in the Andaman Sea at a dive site called Silvertip Bank: a large, scenic reef with crystal-clear water and plenty of marine life. Everything was going according to plan, until he surfaced. READ MORE

Be prepared.

Depending on your location, a call to Local Emergency Services via a mobile phone may not be an option, so knowing who to contact for assistance and having multiple forms of reliable communication in which to reach them, is critical.

Keep in mind that if it took you several hours (or days) to get to your current location, it could take emergency personnel the same amount of time to reach you; so make sure you have well-equipped first aid kits and oxygen units aboard and that you know how to use them.

Have an emergency action plan in place. Prior to arriving at a dive site or anchoring point, make a plan for how you will respond to and evacuate someone who was injured by a boat or propeller. If you’re travelling on someone else’s boat, find out if the owner/operator already has a plan in place and, if so, get the details.

Avoiding Propeller Injuries: More tips for divers

Propeller safety should be taken as seriously as every other aspect of dive safety. Much of the responsibility certainly lies with the driver of a boat, but there are several things divers can do to help increase their safety margin when sharing the water: 

Never assume the boat can see you. The glare of the sun, the height of the waves, and even distractions on deck can make it difficult for boat driver to spot divers in the water. Give them a hand; use a dive flag or marker buoy when you're underwater. When you surface, signal nearby boats to make sure they're aware of your presence (be sure to use the "OK" signal so they don't think you're in distress).

Use your safety equipment. Safety gear is not just for emergencies. At the very least, every diver should carry a surface marker buoy (SMB), an audible signalling device and some sort of dive light or beacon. Each item can be used to communicate with boats. 

Clarify priorities if exit options are given. If you're given multiple options for how to end a dive, make sure you clarify which is the preferred method. If there's still any confusion, tell the crew directly which option you'll be exercising. 

Don't ride on the swim platform or bow. Accidents can happen when feet dangle or balance is lost, so make sure you stay within the confines of the boat. 

Stay alert. As with so many aspects of diving, one of the best things you can do to stay safe is simply be aware of your surroundings. 

These Flags Indicate Diver Below: Help Spread the Word

Helps us create awareness for DAN’s Propeller Injuries & Boat Awareness Safety campaign: Doing so will help to improve the safety of divers sharing the ocean (and other waterways) with boat users. Share our Campaign Flyer as widely as you can.