Coast Guard Shelves Propeller Safety Rule

Saying the proposal might have cost at least five times more than it originally estimated, the Coast Guard has withdrawn a December 2001 proposed rule that would have require owners of recreational houseboats with propeller engines located aft of the transom to install a propeller guard or other devices to prevent propeller injuries.

The rule was drafted because the agency believed it would significant reduce the number of boaters who are seriously or fatally injured when struck by these propellers. USCG received about 190 comments from people who have been injured by boat propellers; relatives and friends of those injured or killed; health care providers; boating safety and environmental advocacy groups; and others. Some wanted pontoon houseboats included and wanted the phase-in period to be reduced to one year, but others preferred using propeller guards instead of swim ladder interlock systems because they expected propeller guards to give better protection. Some said too few people are hurt by propellers to justify the rule or said guards demand high maintenance costs and there is an increased danger of collisions when swim ladder interlock systems disable propellers.

In the end, cost was the deciding factor. USCG had said guards, the least expensive option in the rule, could be self-installed for about $300 each -- or $30 million for the estimated 100,000 houseboats that would be covered by the rule. A reassessment "revealed that most boats would need to be lifted out of the water for propeller guard installation, boats with twin engines would require a guard for each engine, and installation would be beyond the capabilities of most owners and operators. For these reasons, a more realistic average cost per boat is approximately $1,500, for a total cost of $150 million. This figure does not include costs of periodic maintenance to clear debris from guards or the resulting decrease in fuel efficiency," the Coast Guard said, explaining that it is now exploring ways to prevent propeller injuries at a lower cost to the economy.

Jeff Ludwig, project manager in the USCG Office of Boating Safety (202-372-1061 or [email protected]) is the contact for more information.

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