A recent boating fatality on Shuswap Lake has prompted a request to houseboat companies to consider additional safety measures.
Rob Sutherland, station leader for Shuswap Station 106 of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, said he will be reaching out to local houseboat companies, suggesting they consider the use of propeller guards and other safety devices that may help reduce the risk of propeller-related injuries or deaths.
Sutherland says Shuswap Station has responded to three propeller-related accidents in the past two years, two of which occurred last year over the course of a few days. In one, a man’s ankle was slashed by a propeller on a speedboat. The other involved a woman swimming behind a houseboat. Sutherland said someone had started the engine and the woman ended up losing her leg.
The third accident happened on July 10, and resulted in the death of a 22-year-old Alberta woman.
“I was going to talk to (local houseboat companies) about propeller guards and/or cameras at the back, like back-up cameras in cars,” said Sutherland. “It would be a good idea, especially, you know, because of the severity of accidents with propellers and that.
“It’s just something they should be looking at.”
Sutherland noted these are only suggestions, and that neither he nor his RCMSAR volunteer team have studied or used propeller guards, or are mandated to recumbent their use.
“We just wanted to get people thinking of what could be done,” said Sutherland.
However, Todd Kyllo says the industry has thoroughly looked at the use of propeller guards. And, while he doesn’t deny one might have prevented the recent fatality, the owner/operator of Twin Anchors Houseboat Vacations says use of the guards can open opportunities for a variety of other accidents to occur.
“The reason a prop guard can’t be utilized, not just on houseboats but on most boats, is if there’s a log strike or a ground strike on that prop guard, it pushes it into the prop itself, and now the whole boat is disabled,” said Kyllo. “So then you’re looking at bigger and more accidents.”
Backup cameras are already in use, but Kyllo says they would not have prevented the recent accident. He noted there are other safety devices available too, such as a gate for the back that, when open, disables the engine. Again, he said, it becomes a matter where one preventative measure can lead to other trouble.
“The only thing that I see us doing is education,” said Kyllo. “There are issues back there, there are dangers behind the boat. No difference from anything else we get in that’s motorized.”
Kyllo said he expects he’ll see about 16,000 people on his boats alone this summer, adding about 85 per cent of those who end up in the captain’s seat have already acquired their pleasure craft operators licence.
“They’re more educated on how their boats work and what they do,” said Kyllo. “A few years ago we didn’t have that.”
Additionally, there’s mandatory training/orientations provided at the local level by the houseboat companies.
“We as an industry promote that education, even if you have your boating licence. So we give it to you again,” said Kyllo.
Asked if cost might also be a factor as to why propeller guards aren’t used, Kyllo commented on one houseboat rental company in the U.S. that does use them. He said that company is repeatedly having to replace the guards because of damage.
“They probably have about 400 of them piled up because they were bent and smashed in certain areas and they’re not re-usable. So you throw them away and you put another one on…,” said Kyllo. “Last week… on one day alone, I changed out 15 props because of the low water. If you’re thinking I’ve got to change out 15 prop guards, then the cost does become ridiculous.”
But Kyllo stressed there are many more reasons for not using prop guards.
“As a company, we’ve researched all this and looked at the different issues of having them and not having them…,” he said. “You certainly can’t use the cost of a prop guard over a person’s life. Don’t get me wrong there, because there’s no cost for that. But we have to make sure the boat can run at all times, and with a prop guard, that could not happen.”