Every year, serious injuries and deaths occur when operators let go of the steering wheel or outboard steering handle while the boat is moving. A phenomenon called steering torque forces the motor to slam left causing the boat to swerve sharply to the right, throwing the victim into the water. The boat continues to travel in a circle and returns to strike the victim in the water, inflicting massive propeller wounds. Thus the term “circle of death.”
The way to avoid circle of death accidents is to avoid letting go of the steering wheel or handle until the boat ceases all forward motion. If you notice that it takes extra pressure on the steering wheel or handle, have your boat serviced immediately. On some smaller outboards, repair may be as simple as tightening a bolt. For outboards and inboard-outboard craft, corrective measures may involve resetting the boat’s trim tab, the small fin mounted on the anti-ventilation or cavitation plate just behind the prop.
Automatic Kill Switches
If the motor is equipped with an automatic kill switch, be sure to fasten the lanyard to your life jacket or some article of clothing such as a belt loop. If you do fall out of your boat, the lanyard, which is attached to the electrical system, disables the motor, keeping the boat from circling back to hit you. Be sure that clamp-on swivel seats are tightly secured and that seat backs are sturdy enough to withstand the shock of a victim being thrown against them.