What Piece of Equipment on a Boat is Most Important in Preventing Propeller Strike Injuries?

Table of Contents

We understand that acing the boating test can be quite challenging, but it’s a crucial component of keeping yourself and others safe on the water. As you prep for your test, you’ll come across one question that a lot of people get wrong: what piece of equipment on a boat is most important in preventing propeller strike injuries?

In this article, we’re going to answer this question and explain in great detail what you must do to prevent propeller strike injuries.

What Piece of Equipment on a Boat is Most Important in Preventing Propeller Strike Injuries?

A boat’s ignition safety switch lanyard, or kill switch, is the #1 most important piece of equipment to prevent propeller strike injuries. If the captain must leave the helm, passes out, or has a medical emergency, the kill switch will cut the engine.

You will likely also see the following answers on the boating test:

  • Steering control
  • Ignition safety switch lanyard
  • Self-circling device
  • USCG-approved life jacket

However, the correct answer to this question is “ ignition safety switch lanyard.”

More important than knowing the right answer is understanding why it’s such an important question to ask. Here’s some useful background information on this question:

In 2022, at least one person in 173 accidents was struck by a propeller. These propellor-related boating incidents resulted in:

  • 41 deaths
  • 182 injuries

The good news is that the total accidents involving propellers are down 30% since 2020. A lot of this improvement is attributed to more robust captain’s training and advancements in safety features, such as ignition kill switches, resulting in fewer boating accidents involving propellers.

So how does this work? The ignition safety switch lanyard works by connecting to the captain’s wrist or belt loop.


Picture of a boat’s ignition safety switch lanyard.

It’s essentially a cord (or rope) that connects from the boat’s ignition (where the key goes in) to the captain’s body. If the captain moves away from the steering wheel (also known as the helm of the boat) for any reason, the tension on the cord will pull the switch from the ignition, cutting the engine and immediately turning the propeller off. Though these lanyards have been around for a while, a law passed in 2021 requires their use on all boats under 26ft in length. Captains should never avoid wearing the lanyard because it’s one of the most important (and easiest to use) safety features on your boat.

What Must You Do Before Getting Underway to Prevent Propeller Strikes?

There’s a lot to be said about preparation when it comes to boating. Before any boat trip, one of the best things you can do is review your day on a nautical chart, whether that be on a paper chart, a chartplotter or on a marine navigation app. Similar to checking directions and traffic conditions like you would on Google Maps or Waze, a boat gps app allows you to review weather conditions and water depths. Knowing where you’re going, and what the water conditions are, is a big part of being prepared.

Here’s a great way to help prevent incidents. Before you start up your boat’s engine for a lovely afternoon of fishing, be sure to:

  1. Inspect the area around the boat and double-check near the propeller to ensure it’s safe to start your engine. Never assume that you’re alone on the water because it can lead to a propeller injury.
  2. Educate your passengers on the risk of propeller injuries and that they need to keep any items or clothing far away from the propeller. If you plan on anchoring and someone goes for a swim, it’s easy for them to forget about the propeller and get caught in the blades. One teen in Alabama had this happen to him when he was being pulled on a tube and the boat tried picking him up.
  3. Attach the kill switch lanyard to your pants or wrist before starting the engine.

We recommend considering additional equipment to prevent boating injuries, such as a propeller guard, which we’ll talk about in the coming sections.

What Prevents Most Propeller Strikes?

Education and awareness…because most propeller strike accidents can be prevented. Being an attentive boat operator and following a few safety practices can help keep everyone safe on (and in) the water.

  • Shut off the engine when passengers are getting on or off the boat.
  • Take steps to prevent passengers from falling overboard. Everyone should be seated properly before you head out, and the boat should never be started with the engine in gear.
  • Put someone in charge of looking for people in the water. If that’s not possible, make sure that you always remain alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • Always slow down when approaching anchorages or congested areas.

Understanding what different buoys, beacons and lights mean can also help you navigate the water safely while preventing propeller strikes. Keep your boat away from warning buoys that mark hazardous and swimming areas.

What Other Pieces of Equipment on a Boat Are Most Important?

The right equipment can save lives when you’re out on the water. An ignition safety switch lanyard is most important in preventing propeller strikes, but there are other pieces of equipment that can prevent strikes and keep your party safe, like:

  • Propeller guards: Also known as prop guards. These guards are steel cages that protect the propeller and gearbox from damage, but they can also protect a person if they come in contact with the propeller.
  • Ladder interlocks: These devices sound an alarm or switch off the engine whenever passengers use the ladder to get into or out of the water.
  • Wireless cut-off sensor or wearable devices: These devices or sensors will trigger an alarm or turn off the boat’s engine if someone falls overboard.
  • Life buoy (or life ring): Life rings are an essential piece of safety equipment. These personal floatation devices can help rescue passengers who have fallen overboard. Always make sure that your life ring is in good shape before heading out onto the water.
  • Fire extinguisher: Shorted switches, loose connections and fuel leaks are just a few of the many causes of boat fires. Having a fire extinguisher on board can save lives and stop the flames from spreading.
  • Knife: Having a knife on board means that you can cut a towline in an emergency or break a fishing line if there’s entanglement
  • Anchor: Every boat should have an anchor. If your engine fails or you find yourself in bad weather, an anchor will keep you from drifting toward obstacles or other hazards.
  • Bailing devices: Used to remove water from the inside of the boat. The volume of your bailing device will depend on the size of your boat.

When you tie up your boat at the end of the day, be sure to check that all of your safety equipment is accounted for and that no one has fallen in the water. It’s the perfect time to complete a safety check.

Getting Certified: Passing Your Boat Exam

Safety starts with the captain and completing an online course is the first step in passing your exam. No matter how much experience you have, it is important to know boater safety, etiquette and the rules of the water. BoatTests101.com is an accredited provider of boater education in the United States by NASBLA, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. They make it easy with interactive courses, available on all your devices.