Capt. Robert McCullough of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said sheriff’s deputies and representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were training together on Lake Hartwell when Hodges was critically injured about 9:30 a.m.
“It appears that three people were ejected from a boat and that the empty boat came back around and the propeller struck one of the people who had been ejected,” he said.
Lake Hartwell was the scene of the tragic death of an Anderson County officer when he was ejected from the boat he was occupying and subsequently entangled by his life jacket in the propeller, causing him to drown. Unfortunately, an ejection from a moving boat occurs all too often. The sequence of events in this type of accident, often ending in a “circle of death” is:
- A violent roll.
- The ejection of the pilot and all crew.
- The boat continuing to operate at speed.
- The boat carving a circle and one or more of the occupants being struck by the circling boat or the propeller.
By understanding the causes of this type of accident, you can prevent this from happening to you and your family.
How Ejections Happen
There are several possible causes of the violent roll:
- During a high speed run the steering linkage becomes disconnected.
- Cruising parallel to waves or a wake causes a snap roll.
- The boat hits a submerged object.
In these incidents, the pilot is easily ejected, especially if standing at the helm in a boat with low gunwales. If a kill switch, either lanyard-connected or remote, is not used by the pilot to kill the motor, the results are often fatal. The crew is also easily ejected during this high speed turn before any corrective action can be taken. With no one at the helm, torque steer swings the motor into an abrupt turn, resulting in the so-called “circle of death” in which the boat or propeller or both hits some or all of the vessel’s occupants.
Understanding Your Boat
As the skipper, safe operation of your particular boat is entirely your responsibility. Here are some things to keep in mind.
First, you must understand your boat’s behavior. Some are more prone to causing ejections than others. For example, flat-bottomed, skiff-type boats and flats boats have become very popular, both powered by high-horsepower outboard motors. These boats have a very high initial stability and strong righting moments, meaning if waves or wakes cause them to roll, they snap back to level very sharply. Additionally, in a hard turn, these boats can actually skid sideways, even carving a complete circle. During this snap roll or skid, the pilot and crew normally lose their balance and often become ejected. Their only salvation is a functioning kill switch.
A high-deadrise or deep-V boat with a hard or reverse chine cruising nearly parallel to waves or wake can experience an abrupt yaw-roll that can violently pitch occupants into fittings or eject them. A wise pilot will adjust his course and speed to prevent this behavior and keep an eye out for rogue waves or unexpected wakes.
You must be attentive to your boat’s maintenance. Check your steering linkage often. Vibration or corrosion can cause this to come undone.
Cruising so fast that a lookout’s alarm about a submerged object cannot prevent contact must be avoided. Submerged objects may be a semi-floating log or dock structure caused by a recent storm, a shoal or ledge or a sand bar. Striking these or similar objects when going fast or in conditions of darkness or fog can cause an ejection, with disastrous results.
Here is a bass boat ejection incident; the cause was a steering linkage failure at a speed of 57 mph. Fortunately, the pilot was connected to the kill switch by a lanyard.
The Skipper’s Responsibility
As skipper, it it critical for you to know the dangers and be able to avoid dangerous conditions. You can lessen your risk of ejection and a “circle of death” be several precautions:
- Always use a lanyard or remote electronic kill switch.
- Check the condition of your steering linkage often for loose fasteners and corrosion. Use stainless steel fasteners, including ny-lok nuts, cotter pins, ring pins and clevis pins. Check for tightness and corrosion often and replace any damaged or missing parts. Also check the steering shaft connection to the remote steering cabling under the dash regularly.
- Always keep a lookout for submerged objects and shoals. Do not go too fast for conditions.
Learn More About Safe And Damage-free Boating
How can you be sure you have done everything possible to understand ejections and how to prevent them? A time-proven way is for you and your boating family to take America’s Boating Course presented by the Lake Hartwell Sail & Power Squadron. The one-day Saturday course also includes an optional on-the water seminar the following Saturday. The whole package is an enjoyable way to make sure you’re boating safely and with proper seamanship and courtesy. The course is great for all family members. The next one is September 16, with on-the-water on September 23. Learn more about ABC here. Hope to see you there!