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Saved by a kill switch

A safety feature on motor boats that most users might not even be aware of could have prevented injuries in an incident on Rice Lake in April that seriously hurt a woman.

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A safety feature on motor boats that most users might not even be aware of could have prevented injuries in an incident on Rice Lake in April that seriously hurt a woman. She and another person fell out of a boat, but the engine stayed on and sent the boat into a "circle of death," striking her in the process.

A safety feature on motor boats that most users might not even be aware of could have prevented injuries in an incident on Rice Lake in April that seriously hurt a woman.

She and another person fell out of a boat, but the engine stayed on and sent the boat into a "circle of death," striking her in the process.

According to U.S. Coast Guard nationwide statistics for 2015, there were 158 accidents where someone was struck by a propeller, which killed a total of 27 people and injured 150 more.

Jeff Ludwig of the Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division said safety cords can help prevent more people from being hit by their own boat after they fall out.

The safety cord or "kill switch" is worn by the boater, on their wrist or life vest. On smaller outboard motors where the operator steers the boat using the tiller, the cord goes directly into the engine. With larger motors like those on a speedboat, the cord is connected to the dashboard near the boat's "helm" or steering wheel. If the boat operator falls out or falls over, the cord detaches and the engine is cut off.

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Pete Chisholm, product safety manager for Mercury Marine, said not many people use safety cords in general, but their use "absolutely" could have prevented the Rice Lake incident. The cords should already be hanging on the dash or the tiller.

"People just think that boating's fun, and they don't want to think about the possibility that bad things can happen," he said.

While it's not mandated that manufacturers install safety cords, since the 1970s, the vast majority of companies put them in. The Coast Guard is in the process of issuing a rule requiring boaters to use the cords, Ludwig said, but it's unclear when the rule will come down.

The safety cord isn't the only safety measure boaters can take, Ludwig said. Boaters shouldn't drink while operating, and should make sure to wear life jackets as well as informing someone on shore about their plans before they head out, he said.

There are also wireless safety killswitch mechanisms where boaters don't have to wear a cord. However, Ludwig compared the supposed inconvenience of wearing a cord with the terrible consequences of not wearing one.

"People ... don't want to be attached to the boat, they feel like it impedes their movement or something, " he said. "But these are horrific injuries."

 

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

Related Topics: ACCIDENTSRICE LAKE
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