An unconscious man in a runaway boat was rescued over the weekend near Westerly, Rhode Island.
First responders from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, used a 17-foot Boston Whaler and a 25-foot Defender Safe Boat to intercept the motorized inflatable boat that was doing circles on Little Narragansett Bay with a lone, unconscious operator aboard.
The operator was slumped against the side of the boat as it ran in a tight circle at moderate speed. Good Samaritans had unsuccessfully tried to match the speed and course of the circling boat in an effort to stop it. The first responders used the Boston Whaler to impede the forward progress of the boat and disabled its engine. The victim had suffered a serious medical issue and was transported to Westerly Hospital.
Unmanned boats going in circles are a relatively common boating phenomenon and can create extremely dangerous situations. In this instance, the operator was sitting low in the boat and was not thrown from the vessel, but when operators are thrown into the water they are sometimes maimed or killed by their own boats.
Unless an automated kill switch is properly utilized, the force of the rotating propeller blades causes the motor to pivot on its swivel mechanism and turn in the direction of the blades. Known as steering torque, it will cause the vessel to start running in an ever-tightening circle—called the circle of death—and run over its former occupant.
This is why the safety lanyard should always be attached to the operator so it will trip the automatic kill switch that stops the engine. By attaching the lanyard (and using a personal flotation device), operators can avoid the circle of death, and have a chance of returning to their boats.
Many operators do not use their corded kill switch because it restricts their movement. A “smart” alternative is a wireless kill switch like the MOB+ wireless man overboard system from Fell Marine or AutoTether Marine’s wireless engine cut-off and overboard alert.
You can use any of these devices to prevent a tragedy. The alternative is to watch your boat motor off until it runs out of gas or kills someone.
You can read more about last weekend’s rescue effort in the Westerly Sun.