No one should see a picture of someone they love in this story collection. That one moment that changed our families forever could have been prevented. A life jacket. A propeller guard. An aware boat operator. An engine cut-off switch. Learn from these stories and stay safe on the water.
PWC + Powerboat Collision + Propeller Strike
On a Colorado lake, July 14, 1996, 13-year-old Aaron was operating a personal watercraft (PWC) when it collided with a 19-foot ski boat. Aaron had been taught the rules, spent years with adults on PWCs and had been allowed to operate on his own that year. Aaron was not operating recklessly, nor was the other operator intoxicated. It is known, however, that the other boater did not see Aaron. After the collision, the boat operator turned the boat. The resulting suction pulled Aaron through the propeller. He did not survive.
Learn how the Steely family is turning their tragedy into a learning experience for all. They founded The Aaron Foundation to remember and honor Aaron’s life, and help our youth and parents make educated decisions on the water. They want people to understand the need for off-throttle steering and propeller guards.
Salt Fork Lake
Powerboat + Carbon Monoxide
The Taylor family loaded up their boat, turned on their favorite song, and headed out to enjoy a day on the lake on June 30, 2019. While securing the boat for their trip back, seven-year-old Afton and his dad exchanged a thumbs up. Tragically, a few moments later Afton’s life was cut short by a silent, odorless, and deadly danger – carbon monoxide. The Taylor family was completely unaware that carbon monoxide poisoning can happen while open-air boating.
The Taylor family urges boaters to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Traveling at slow speeds, or idling, can cause carbon monoxide to build up on the boat. The same applies to a tail wind, which may blow exhaust towards passengers. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek immediate medical attention. Learn more how the Taylor family is honoring Afton at lovelikeafton.com.
Powerboat + Drunk Driver
On July 2, 2010, Alex was sitting on a personal watercraft (not running), 40 yards from where her mother was tying up their boat. A nearby bass boat was barreling down the lake. Alex let her mom know she saw it and would remain stationary. In seconds, the boat veered, hitting Alex at over 60 mph. On impact, the boat “climbed” the PWC, landing on top of her. Alex suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck and loss of her leg, among other injuries. Alex survived, but endures ongoing painful surgeries. She is forever changed.
“I am Alex Otte. At just 13 years old, I lost my right leg, suffered far more traumatic injuries than one small body should ever bear, and gained scars that will never fade. I did nothing wrong that day. My story is the result of two choices made by a stranger: the choice to drink and to operate a boat. Others chose not to stop him. My mission is to create a culture where driving drunk in a boat is as unacceptable as in a car.” Learn more at madd.org/bui.
Powerboat + Carbon Monoxide
It was supposed to be a fun boating outing for the Free family at Lake Eufaula on June 6, 2020. The family has spent their entire lives on the lake, and they know all the boating safety rules and follow them.
By the end of the day, everyone was tired and ready to get home. The family didn’t know that carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for the same symptoms as too much sun or dehydration. Other symptoms may include: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Tragically, Andy’s life was cut short by a silent, odorless, and deadly danger – carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Free family urges boaters to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Traveling at slow speeds, or idling, can cause carbon monoxide to build up on the boat. The same applies to a tail wind, which may blow exhaust towards passengers. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek immediate medical attention. Learn more how the Free family is honoring Andy at The Little Dude Ranch.
Rochester Hills, MI
PWC + Powerboat Collision
On June 5, 2004, at her friend’s graduation party, Ashleigh was given the keys to a personal watercraft (PWC) to take out on the lake. The owner did not ask Ashleigh if she had a boating safety certificate (required by state law) or if she had experience operating a PWC. Ashleigh had neither. While operating the PWC, Ashleigh looked back at the tuber she was pulling. She was killed instantly when she collided head on into a boat. This was the first time, the only time, and the last time Ashleigh ever operated a PWC.
Learn how the Iserman family is helping keep children and families safe on waterways. They founded the Ashleigh Iserman Boating Safety Foundation to be an advocate for responsible PWC owners and boating safety education.
Age 47 & 38
Ellicott City, MD
Table Rock Lake
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
bob & phyllis.
June 11, 1994, Bob and Phyllis were enjoying their last day of fishing on what was a perfect 19th anniversary celebration weekend. Suddenly, the boat torqued hard right, throwing the captain away from the wheel and tossing everyone on board out to the left, with the boat circling like a shark. The hired captain had failed to wear his engine cut-off switch. The propeller struck both Bob and the captain, as well as Phyllis. Neither the captain nor Bob survived. Phyllis sustained multiple injuries, including the loss of her arm.
Learn how this one day changed the lives of Phyllis and family and friends, and working with other advocates founded the group SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now). They have reached out to hundreds of others struck by propellers to let them know they are not alone.
Lake Ray Hubbard
Fishing Boat + Drowning
On November 29, 2008, Brandon and two friends set out to quickly check a trot line. On the way back, a front blew in with heavy winds, making the waters very choppy. Brandon and his friends were thrown from the boat into 42-degree water. All three boys survived going into the water. Brandon attempted to swim for help, but never made it. The other two were pulled from the water by a passing fisherman. Brandon was not found that night. His body was recovered 29 days later.
Learn how the Fugate family is educating the public on the importance of life jackets and honoring Brandon’s life through The BMF Project. Drowning prevention is not about blame. It’s about education. Please learn from these stories so there will never be one more.
Age 36 & 8
Fishing Boat + Drowning
brian & nathan.
On March 27, 2010, 36-year-old Brian Keese and his 8-year-old son, Nathan, headed out for a fun day of fishing. An unexpected spring wind and thunderstorm popped up, catching the pair off-guard. Life jackets were on the boat, complying with Missouri boating safety laws which required jackets to be on board, but not worn unless under age seven. The boat capsized tossing both father and son into the cold water. Neither survived. Brian’s body would not be found until six weeks later and Nathan’s, two months later.
Learn how the Keese family is giving back and honoring Brian and Nathan’s lives through the Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Foundation. They have funded life jacket loaner boards in six states and educate others about boating safety.
Palm Beach, FL
Diving + Propeller Strike
Thanksgiving Day 2019 was a perfect diving day. Marine biologist Carter Viss was snorkeling just offshore of Palm Beach when he looked to his right to see a large hull rapidly approaching. With seconds to act, he swam away from the boat and braced for impact. The boat’s propeller severed Carter’s right arm and caused massive injuries to his left wrist and both legs. Miraculously, he survived. Carter is now using his story to improve boater awareness and to protect swimmers and marine life.
What started out as a perfect day quickly turned into a life and death situation. Carter wants to remind boaters to use caution, pay attention, and to maintain 360 degree awareness of your surroundings. Operators should avoid any distractions, and, if there are passengers, ask them to help lookout. Watch for traditional red and white diver flags as well as other divers down warning devices and buoys. Together, we can work to protect and enjoy the ocean safely.
Powerboat + Drowning
In 1978, avid water enthusiasts Chuck and Lou Ann Best took in a squirrel who fell from a nest during a rainstorm. Soon after, Chuck taught the squirrel to water ski after his friends teased him that the remote-controlled boat for his daughter’s birthday was really for him. News spread of the water skiing squirrel, and Twiggy has performed all over the world since 1979. Tragically, in November of 1997, Chuck had a heart attack and drowned while attempting to rescue his stepfather during a boating incident.
Chuck’s legacy lives on. Upon her husband’s passing, Lou Ann made water safety an important part of Twiggy’s act from 1998-2018, including a squirrel-sized life jacket for Twiggy to wear. Today, Chuck Best Jr. has reimagined the show for a new generation of fans to honor his parents. Each show is an opportunity to share the importance of water safety with Twiggy fans of all ages. Twiggy is also the mascot for the National Safe Boating Council’s Safe Boating Campaign, a worldwide effort focused on responsible boating. Learn more at twiggysinc.com.
North Richland Hills, TX
Possum Kingdom Lake
Lake House + Drowning
On August 31, 2012, Connor went to a friend’s birthday party at the lake and didn’t come home. At the lake house late in the day, the boys were allowed to swim. Around 8:15 pm, while playing a game with his friends, Connor jumped from a high boat dock. He landed badly and didn’t resurface. Life jackets were not required at this party, the sun had set, and the light was faded. No one could see or reach him. 40 minutes later, Connor was recovered by a dive team, but could not be resuscitated. Connor had just turned 15.
Learn how the Gage family is celebrating Connor’s life and helping people LiVe and LoVe buoyantly, on water and in life, through The LV Project. Connor was a lifelong lake kid, an excellent swimmer, yet he died in the lake. Most people don’t know that open water drownings triple at age 15. Teenagers are at the greatest risk. Life jackets on lakes should be like seat belts in cars. A must.
Tinton Falls, NJ
Kayak + Windy Conditions + Cold Water
On November 17, 2010, David had purchased his kayak three weeks prior and felt confident having the flotation seat cushion on board he’d previously used canoeing. He had a false sense of security kayaking in a river, being athletic and a swimmer. David was unaware of the dangers of wind and cold water temperature. It was a sunny 65 degree November day, but the water was only in the 50s. He had purchased waterproof pants that morning to keep his legs dry. His remains were recovered two years later.
Learn how the Civile family is educating others about boater safety and saving lives. The David P. Civile Foundation for Boating Safety Awareness is dedicated to promoting boating safety, the importance and use of life jackets and the knowledge of environmental factors. They seek to inform ALL boaters, but with a targeted emphasis of novice boaters, using non-motorized recreational crafts such as kayaks and canoes. Education can, and will, save lives.
PWC + Collision
July 4, 1998, Deborah joined two friends at a lake gathering, where the host family had a boat and three personal watercrafts (PWCs). To avoid creating a wake, the host took the boat to a different area and left the teens to play on the PWCs. Deborah had never operated a PWC. Hers stalled unexpectedly. Her friend, who had been looking in another direction, turned to see Deborah directly in front of her. She let off the throttle and tried to turn, but the PWC didn’t have off-throttle steering, so it went straight for Deborah. The crafts collided and she died instantly.
The Boles family encourages youth boat operators to take a boating safety course, and have a supervised and guided experience. After losing their daughter, Ed and Nita Boles learned the risk of dying is highest in the first 20 hours of operation of a vessel. Youth operators need education, supervision, and guided experience. Once your teen becomes mobile, be certain that activities are supervised and pre-determined. Make sure you communicate directly with the adults who are hosting, no matter how impromptu a gathering is.
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
In 2014, 14-year-old Desirae went to her dad’s house for Labor Day Weekend when a tragedy occurred. While getting ready to tube behind the boat, Desirae’s left leg got caught in the boat propeller, tearing her muscles and tendons, causing complete loss of feeling in her leg. Desirae was transported by ambulance, then medi-flighted to a large hospital where doctors performed an 8-hour surgery to try and save her leg. Five surgeries and several years later, Desirae still struggles with everyday tasks.
Desirae’s family shares her story so others will know the importance of boating safety through Waves of Hope and SPIN. If you’re operating a boat, make sure you understand how to safely board passengers. Because a life can be lost in a ﬂash.
Simi Valley, CA
Houseboat + Propeller Strike
While enjoying Spring Break in 1993 with his UCSD Sigma Chi brothers on Lake Havasu in Arizona, Emilio and his friends rented a houseboat. Unknowingly, as Emilio jumped off the boat, one of his brothers started the engine. Emilio was sucked into the unprotected boat propeller, and a major leg artery was severed. Screams from witnesses had the operator kill the engine and many onlookers jumped in the bloody water to save Emilio. He lost consciousness immediately and was pronounced dead in the helicopter en route to the hospital.
Marion Irving de Cruz, Emilio’s mom, fought tirelessly for the memory of her only child by founding SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now) until her death in 2016. SPIN lives on and continues the pursuit to educate and advocate for propeller awareness. Propellers are non-discriminating and will kill if left unprotected.
Kent Island, MD
Sandbar + Powerboat + Propeller Strike
On September 5, 2020, after a beautiful day of boating and swimming at a local beach, Hannah and three friends were returning to the marina in her 17-foot open bow boat. It was around 4 pm on a perfectly calm, sunny day, and they were unaware of the extreme low tide compounded by a full moon the night before. Hannah was standing at the open windshield when the boat unexpectedly hit a sandbar. The sudden impact threw Hannah off the front of the bow and into the water. It happened so quickly that there was no time to prevent the boat from running her over. Tragically, Hannah passed away that night.
Learn how the Ash family is turning this tragedy into a learning experience while also supporting young women ages 18-26 with useful tips and resources to become the best versions of themselves. Learn more at InspiredByHannah.org.
Powerboat + Steering System Malfunction
January 14, 2017, Hunter was participating in a college fishing tournament. With life jackets on and engine cut-off switch attached, Hunter and his partner passed a boat check, then headed out. While en route, the boat’s steering assembly malfunctioned, causing the boat to fishtail wildly. Both were violently thrown out, trapping Hunter under the boat. After struggling a few long seconds under water, Hunter’s partner reached him in time, pulling the cord on his inflatable life jacket. Because the engine cut-off switch did its job, they reached the boat safely.
Learn how Hunter works each day to share about boating safety as a professional bass angler and member of Yamaha’s Pro Fishing Team. He travels around the country sharing his story and the importance of living each day like it’s your last. That’s why his motto is “Not Finished.”
Powerboat + Wind + Cold Water
On April 23, 2022, Jack made his first solo run of the season on his family’s new boat. It was a nice day, but the water was still cold. While practicing turns in the boat, a sudden windstorm swept Jack from the boat into the frigid cold water. Unfortunately, while familiarizing himself with the boat’s new gear, he forgot to attach his engine cut-off switch. The boat continued to circle at full throttle. Jack swam over one mile for an hour before the local water rescue team found him. He was treated for hypothermia and other injuries.
Jack is on a quest to make people safer on the water and help save lives. Always use an engine cut-off switch and understand how to use your safety gear.
Lake House + Drowning
At their family lake house, Jack was excited to show his grandparents how he could jump off the boat dock and swim to the ladder with his life jacket on. His mom reminded him of the rules: always go with a grown-up and wear a life jacket when around the water. A short time later, after the children were taken inside for dry clothes, it became obvious that Jack was not with his siblings. A search began. Jack was found in the lake, unconscious, life jacket on the porch. Jack could not be resuscitated.
Learn how The Jack Helbig Memorial Foundation works to prevent drowning through education and awareness. They empower kids to make safe choices around water and provide a framework for this to occur.
St. Helens, OR
Yacht + Drowning
On December 10, 2011, John and his wife, Meghan, stepped onto a 63-foot yacht, newly married, anticipating a fun night of mixing and mingling with local business owners during the annual Christmas Ship Parade. Less than three short hours later, Meghan stepped off that same boat a widow. John fell into the river from the top deck, which was icy and had no safety railing. Life jackets were not used at this outing and John was not wearing one. Despite an exhaustive search, John was not found for 164 days.
John’s family founded John’s Jackets to raise funds for life jacket donations and loaner stations along our rivers, as well as water safety education. It takes 30 seconds for a loved one to put a life jacket on correctly, but a lifetime wishing they had.
Aransas Pass, TX
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
On July 20, 2012, Kali was on a fishing trip with family friends off of Port Aransas. As the boat operator made a gradual turn, the boat suddenly swapped ends by 180 degrees. Kali was thrown from the boat and struck in the head and neck by the outboard engine’s propeller. The boat operator had failed to use his engine cut-off switch. It was later found out that the type of boat had a defective hull design. Kali passed away as her friends held her while the boat raced to the dock for help.
With the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, legislators, and state officials, Kali’s Law was passed requiring that Texas boaters operating a powerboat under 26 feet in length must use an engine cut-off switch while the boat is on plane or underway. And this is now federal law. This will reduce the risk of boaters getting struck by the boat or propeller if the operator is thrown into the water or off their feet.
Remember Kali. Use an engine cut-off switch and boat responsibly.
Grayton Beach, FL
Swimming + Rip Current
While vacationing with his family at Grayton Beach, Ken rushed to help a boy who was swept out in a rip current. After the boy was safely on shore, Ken swam out to save the boy’s father who had also been carried away by the current. When first responders arrived, they were able to revive Ken, but not the other father. After two days in the ICU, Ken passed away from drowning complications on what is now known as “Black Sunday” on the Florida Panhandle.
The KBM Foundation honors Ken with providing boating and water safety advocacy, swim scholarship assistance, and continuing Ken’s legacy of always being a good Samaritan to help those in need.
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
Sixty years ago, Kitty fell off a boat driven by a young, reckless driver. His instinctive, but incorrect, reaction of turning the boat away from her brought the propeller to Kitty’s head, slashing her skull. A metal plate was placed in her head, allowing Kitty to have an active life… a fortunate outcome. But her parents suffered greatly, worrying about Kitty. They died young. Physically, Kitty recovered, but not one day goes by without thought of the day she was almost killed by a propeller strike, a tragedy that continues to this day.
Kitty continues to share her story to prevent propeller injuries from happening to others. She supports Waves of Hope and SPIN.
Spring City, TN
Watts Bar Lake
Powerboat + Carbon Monoxide
On Memorial Day 2022, Maddie and her brother, along with a few close friends, headed out on the water. She was so excited, sharing the day with her mom on FaceTime as her brother and friends were tubing. Maddie took off her life jacket and decided to get in the water to cool down. She remained near the swim platform talking with others. She went under twice, and the third time, Maddie did not resurface. Later it was revealed that Maddie had passed away from drowning due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Her CO blood level was 54%.
The Taylor family urges boaters to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Traveling at slow speeds, or idling, can cause carbon monoxide to build up on the boat. The same applies to a tail wind, which may blow exhaust towards passengers. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek immediate medical attention. Remember Maddie. Be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning while boating.
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
After enjoying a day boating in 2007 with 11 other passengers at Elliott Key, the boat owner sped back to the marina and made a sudden left turn which threw Osmany “Ozzie” off the boat. The boat owner did not turn off the motor, nor did he have an engine cut-off device. Ozzie was struck by the propeller. Neither the passengers on board, nor the boat owner, rendered aid or attempted to rescue him. Ozzie remained submerged in water and drowned.
Learn how Ozzie’s family honors him with the Ozzies Angels Foundation, working tirelessly to educate the boating public in hopes of saving others. Florida is consistently a national leader in boating fatalities and child drownings. These accidents are preventable.
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
On August 17, 2003, Robyn was at a family lake gathering. The family took the boat out to water ski. Robyn and her niece, Sarah, decided to swim instead. The operator was turned, watching the skier, when the boat banked directly toward them. Sarah froze. Robyn had no choice but to swim to Sarah and shove her under. The boat’s propeller struck Robyn 11 times, severing her arm and her leg, among countless other injuries. After a horrifying rescue, Robyn’s life and leg were saved, but they could not save her arm. Robyn has endured years of rehabilitation.
Robyn and her family give their voice to boating safety through Waves of Hope, SPIN, VSBA, and others. No family should suffer as theirs has. This was 100% preventable.
Lake + Drowning
On September 7, 2013, Ryan and three friends went to their favorite hunting spot near the lake, just 15 minutes from home. From the bank of the lake, the boys shot a duck which fell in the water. Ryan took off his boots and carefully left his wallet, cell phone, and pocket knife on the bank. Ryan waded into the water to retrieve the duck and for unknown reasons, went under in only six feet of water. He did not resurface. Several hours later, Ryan was recovered by a search and rescue team. Ryan was 17 years old.
Learn more why the Swain family founded Ryan’s Call Foundation to honor Ryan’s life, to educate and increase water safety awareness, and to assist families facing injuries related to outdoor recreational accidents.
Great Sacandaga Lake
Pontoon + Drowning
Sean Craig was a happy, fun-loving, 4.0 student in his first year of college. He grew up boating with his family and worked in the recreational boating industry. He took swim lessons and passed the required boating safety course at the age of 16. On July 30, 2016, Sean was boating alone when something went wrong. The pontoon boat he was driving was found circling without an operator. Sean was recovered from the lake the next day. There were no signs of injury, and his death was ruled an accidental drowning.
Sean’s family established the Sean Craig Memorial Fund with a mission to secure resources for safety education, response, and rescue services. They partner with others to conduct outreach to prevent future injuries and tragedies. For example, they have installed life rings and life jacket loaner stations at waterfronts, and donated equipment to marine patrols and emergency response agencies. The Craig family encourages boaters to prepare for the unexpected by wearing a life jacket, using an engine cut-off switch, and knowing how to use all required safety gear.
Klammath Falls, OR
PWC + Houseboat + Propeller Strike
On what was supposed to be a relaxing, fun day on the water, Shirley Kay had taken a personal watercraft (PWC) out for a spin on the lake. Upon Shirley Kay’s return, she exited the PWC to board the houseboat when it was accidentally put into reverse, sucking her into the propeller. The force mangled her legs and she sustained significant injuries. She was life-flighted by helicopter to a large hospital where Shirley Kay succumbed to her injuries days later, leaving behind her one and only child, a 7-month-old baby boy.
Shirley’s family continues to educate the public about the importance of boater education and safety equipment through groups such as Waves of Hope and SPIN. Mandatory engine cut-off switches, along with propeller guards and intense education on how to use these devices properly, can save lives nationwide.
Coeur d'Alene Lake
Powerboat + Propeller Strike
Trenton was out on the lake for a fun day of wakeboarding. Trenton was standing at the back of the boat, switching from one life jacket to another. The boat was in neutral, not moving. However, a malfunction caused the propeller to continue to turn slowly, unbeknownst to anyone on board. The propeller hooked the ski rope that Trenton had wrapped around him, pulling him off and under water, where the propeller cut him under his left arm pit area. Trenton did not survive. He was only 13 years old.
Trenton’s family tells everyone they know who has a boat to look into a propeller guard and to take a boater safety course, and support groups such as Waves of Hope, SPIN, and more.
Fishing Boat + Powerboat Collision + Drunk Driver
On June 26, 2016, Vanessa Mauffray was enjoying a morning of fishing with her boyfriend. As they checked crab traps from the boat, they noticed another boater approaching fast. The operator was looking toward his stern. The boat crashed broadside into theirs leaving Vanessa critically injured with internal bleeding. Her boyfriend miraculously survived. After transport to a hospital, Vanessa succumbed to her injuries that same day. She was only 19 years old. The driver of the boat was charged with manslaughter.
Vanessa’s family works to create a culture where driving drunk in a boat is as unacceptable as in a car.
Age 17, 16, & 11
Marion County, TX
Lake O' The Pines
Catamaran + Power Line
will, heath, & thomas
Each summer, the Scouts of Troop 620 held a campout where more experienced Scouts taught powerboating, sailing, and canoeing skills. All precautions were observed. On August 5, 2017, an electric transmission power line came in contact with the top of the mast of a small catamaran piloted by Will, Heath, and Thomas. All three young men were electrocuted and died while everyone watched helplessly from shore. The power line was not at the required height and there were no warning signs or buoys.
In 2019, the families of the boys worked with legislators, state officials, and industry stakeholders to pass Texas HB 4150, later named the William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act. This new legislation created utility accountability and oversight regulations to bolster public safety on Texas public lakes. The parents also established the Power Line Safety Initiative. Utilities and lake controlling authorities should be held responsible for public safety.
Dangerous looking power lines should immediately be reported to both the electric company and law enforcement. Learn about the Power Line Safety Initiative.
Possum Kingdom Lake
Lake Swim Area + Drowning
July 7, 2013, was a hot, but beautiful, summer day. The swimming area at the lake was full with families celebrating the last day of the July 4th weekend. Staying just long enough to cool off, Wyatt and his sister were playing while their daddy turned to put their shoes on the beach. In five seconds, silently, Wyatt slipped in and under. He was not wearing his life jacket. The search began, Wyatt was found, and emergency responders were called. CPR was performed but Wyatt did not go home that day.
Learn about the Terasas family’s mission to honor Wyatt and to “Save Lives One Jacket at a Time” by providing free life jackets to children, swim scholarships, and water safety training to families in the hope that no family loses another child to drowning.