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After sailing camp tragedy, lawmakers seek safer boat propellers

Do propeller guards make boats safer? If they do, should boaters be required to have them?

There’s disagreement about how effective propeller guards are (some boat manufacturers say they may even make boats less safe), but there’s no disagreement about the danger of propellers. Last year at least 24 people died in boating accident involving propellers, and 175 were injured, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Long Island lawmakers are taking these risks especially seriously in the wake of last month’s tragic death of a 12-year-old boy in Northport. The boy suffered fatal injuries when he got caught in the propeller of a Zodiac dingy. He was participating in a capsizing drill at a sailing camp at the time.

Now, several New York assemblymen are planning to introduce legislation that would require propeller guards to be installed on any boat used to teach children under age 18. Some lawmakers and experienced mariners say that such guards could have prevented the tragedy in Northport.

According to CBS New York, boat manufacturers have opposed such requirements when they have been suggested before, arguing that propeller guards can actually suck objects into the propellers — and thus increase the risk of entanglements. (There are arguments against propeller guards that have nothing to do with safety, too: they could slow down boats, and they typically cost a few hundred dollars to install.)

Whether the legislation passes or not, the recent accident is a stark reminder for boaters of all ages to take care around propellers. If your child is interested in learning how to sail, you may want to talk to instructors about the safety precautions they will take.

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