This page contains safety guidelines designed to avoid the risk of serious injury from spinning boat propellers. The use of the ‘Alpha’ flag indicates that divers, snorkellers and/or spearfishers are in the water.
Boat propellers pose a risk that can too easily be ignored because they are ‘out of sight and out of mind’. A strike from a propeller can cause serious injury or even death.
Propeller-related injuries are preventable and the skipper should take precautions to ensure the safety of all on board.
Spinning props a ‘hazard zone’
The skipper should consider the area around the prop as a ‘hazard zone’, being vigilant to ensure that no part of any person comes near a spinning prop.
Being aware of this hazard zone is particularly important for people involved in tow sports, like water-skiing and wakeboarding and where powerboats are used near swimmers or children, such as sailing schools or surf clubs.
Roads and Maritime recommends some basic safety guidelines as follows:
- Inspect the area near the stern to ensure the area is all clear before starting the engine
- Turn the engine off near people in the water as some propellers may continue to spin, even in neutral
- Keep a proper lookout at all times when underway, especially when near swimmers, divers or other people in the water
- Stay out of designated swimming areas
- Observe ‘distance off’ rules and keep clear of people in the water, passive craft and other vessels
- Brief any person driving the powerboat on the risks
- Keep all arms and legs inside the boat and not over the bow or sides
- ‘Bowriding’ and ‘teak surfing’, holding onto the stern of a boat that is underway, are illegal in NSW
- Wear a kill switch lanyard whenever driving a vessel under power. A kill switch lanyard is attached to the arm, or securely to your clothing or lifejacket, and stops the engine when pulled out.
Skippers can also consider technology such as wireless engine cut-off switches, propeller guards and alternative propulsion systems. The best action, however, is for skippers to take care, keep a proper lookout at all times and keep people out of the ‘hazard zone’.
Divers and swimmers
Make sure you keep a good lookout for snorkellers, spearfishers, divers and swimmers.
Be especially alert when you see the Alpha flag, which means divers, snorkellers or spearfishers are in the water nearby.
If you are diving or snorkelling from a vessel you must display this flag and it is strongly recommended that you use the Alpha flag at all times while snorkelling, diving and ocean swimming. Attach a fluorescent yellow/green flag below Alpha for increased visibility.
See Diving activities for more information.