Fouled Propeller – Are You Prepared?

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Senior Member
Oct 6, 2007
It was early December; we were nearing our chosen anchorage, Shark River, on Floridas west coast at the western most point of the Everglades. The seas were calm; the weather has been partly cloudy and warm all day. A nice cool cocktail on the fantail watching the sun set over the Gulf would be great. In just another hour or so we would be there.

Suddenly, thump, thump and the port engine died. What happened? A quick look down below by me produced nothing amiss. But our First Mates watchful eyes spied a crab trap float, suspended from a line attached to the boat.

We had been avoiding these floats all day; there were thousands on them in the gulf set by the local crabbers. But we obviously missed spotting one and now had the line and the crab pot wrapped in our prop. We were miles from civilization and we didnt have a mask and fins, much less any dive gear. There was neither cell phone service out here nor any VHF reception. Things didnt look good, not at all.

Could that hypothetical scenario happen to you? Think again! Most of us boaters dont think about it often as it is rare that things like that do occur. I have made the same trip I described numerous times, praying that we could avoid those traps and we always did. But the possibility is there and its best to plan and be prepared for the worse.

On a calmer note, how about just checking the bottom of your boat regularly? For most of us trawler owners, especially in salt water, inspecting your yachts bottom regularly is a necessity.

Yes, bottom antifoulant paints do keep marine growth such as barnacles and oysters from the bottom, but the running gear always manages to lose the paint and attract the growth. And the boat zincs, the sacrificial metal placed there to protect the remainder of the boat, they need checking too as they only last for 6 months or so. And of course, there is always the slime that manages to grow at the waterline.

But finding a diver isnt always easy to do. Here in north Florida, divers are rare, pricey, and they are usually less than dependable. And you never know exactly what they did or didnt do below either. So whats a mariner to do?

Some time back I determined that if I wanted my trawler to have her bottom inspected as often as I liked, my best choice was to do it myself.

After all, most mariners learn early on that you must become reasonably self sufficient to own a boat. Its not that saving some cash wasnt good, but you just cant rely upon others to help maintain a boat.

I had seen divers go under my boat saddled with tanks and such and felt it must be cumbersome to get all that gear on and it must surely get in the way. There had to be a better way. I came across a gentleman named Dennis Parker. Dennis is a boat owner himself and had his trawler here in Florida at one time. Dennis and his team had developed a tank less dive system that might do the trick.

His dive systems began in 1996 as an effort between several boaters, divers, research & development field engineers, mechanical engineers and manufacturing professionals. The common need was to come up with a practical system for the average boater to clean the bottom of their own boat, or do underwater inspections without expensive scuba diving outfits.

The system was born, utilizing an oil-less electric compressor to supply air to the diver without fear of carbon monoxide. A regulator, air hose and belt comes with the package. All you need to furnish is a mask, wetsuit and fins. Although the system is designed to allow divers to descend to 30 feet, most boaters will go under only about 3-4 feet.

All total, including the system, wetsuit, mask, and fins the price came in at under $1000.00.

It works great. I can now clean and inspect my trawlers bottom when I want to. A complete inspection and water line scrub only takes about 30 minutes. And if I ever do encounter that stray crab pot, I have what I need to correct the problem.

Mike Dickens, the author, is a boat owner and owner/Yacht Broker of Paradise Yachts located in Florida USA
"It works great. I can now clean and inspect my trawlers bottom when I want to"

Perhaps in some areas , but where we live 12 to 14 ft Alligators sun on the bank every day.

Shine a torch at night and you will count dozens of pairs if eyes reflecting back .

Some eye pairs are over 2 ft apart by the look of them.

You ALWAYS have to fear carbon monoxide if there is any engine running near a compressor. Of course, if everything is shut down, you should be fine. Even filling tanks you have to be careful there's no CO source nearby.

Make sure you're scuba certified before using a hookah system like this. Even though you may only go 2-5' under the boat, the temptation to go down deeper is real tempting. The pressure doubles at about 30'. From there to the surface is where most diving accidents occur.

The answer to the question is yes. I'm a certified scuba diver with full gear on board. Serrated dive knife, hacksaw blade in a handle and a very sharp sheetrock knife to cut stuff off.
High on any boaters list should be the need to safely go in the water to cut a rope off the prop or kelp off stablizers- and being in shape to do same. Just like spare filters, spare anchor, wooden plugs etc.
I just hold my breath???
Yea, I did that once. It only took maybe 50-60 dives to cut a 3" hauser off the boat's prop and shaft. I went the following Monday to get a dive knife, then ended up getting scuba certified. Sure was worth it!
A line came loose from my dingy and trailed about 25' behind. When I got to my anchorage while looking for a good spot several boats pointed this out. I don't know what I was thinking but I thought I'd take care of it after I got settled in. Anyway, got a good spot, dropped the anchor and backed up.
Well, you know what happined. Checked the water temp which was 52 degrees. Got a good knife and free dived it about 50 times cutting the line wrapped around the prop for about 10 to 15 second and giving myself an extra 15-30 safety factor coming out from under the hull incase I got tangled up somehow. About thirty minutes later it was clear.

Sure would be great if they could come up with a small breather unit for shallow water use like the one James Bond used. I'd buy one.

Anyone try one of these "hooknife" tools to cut line once it is fouled looks like it might be useful with line not too thick. They aren't very expensive $55.00 Might serve double duty to spear a pirate!

Steve Willett
If I go over the side to work under the boat, I wear a kayaker's helmet - the one with the holes in it (let's the air out!) - to protect my head from being bashed by the boat.
And bring a serrated knife , they seem to hack melted pollypro (local lobster pot float line) better than a smooth knife.
Not sure I like this idea from it a wind-up?

Breathing through a hose fills the hose with more and more CO2, therefore less oxygen with obvious consequences...
I think he was kidding. Besides, you couldn't go very deep (maybe a couple of feet at best) because of the pressure difference between your lungs and the outside air. That's one of the reasons why SCUBA units feed pressurized air.

I'm not a diver, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Actually, truth-be-told, I tried the same trick in my pool while trying to vacuum from in the water while swimming. It didn't work... so I looked it up.
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