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Dealing with a fouled prop

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What is the issue?
Occasionally you will get a rope or bag around the propeller that will drain away all the propulsion or, as is often the case be it a mooring line, tether the vessel to the spot.

Why address this?
The prop needs to be cleared to get underway and make the boat manageable under power.

How to address this?
Once you discover the prop has been fouled place the engine into reverse. Sometimes, if you are very lucky this alone can unwind and throw the rope off.

If this fails you need to cut the offending article off the propeller. This can be a challenging undertaking depending to a large part upon the type of stern the vessel has and how deep the propeller is. Suffice to say, getting beneath any stern that is bashing up and down in the waves with a sharp knife in hand is a second incident waiting to happen.

After wrapping two enormous grain bags made of thousands of individual plastic strings off Casablanca harbour we got a lot of experience of this one. We found the best approach is to avoid getting in underneath the hull in the first place and keep the knife at a distance. This can be achieved by quickly whipping the knife onto the end of the boat hook as presented in figure 1 and to try cut the rope away from dinghy level. The kitchen devil knife as shown is broadly accepted as being the best knife for the purpose.

Firstly, if possible, try move the boat to a calm area where the stern is not beating up and down and a dingy can be kept reasonably under control. Looping a warp around the hull or even a sink plunger can be used to get a grip on the topsides. This is very important as you need to anchor the dinghy in place and have something to brace yourself against to cut. Once this is all in place you should be able to cut way at the item from that level.

If you cannot see, or need further reach, don a snorkel and mask and semi deflating one of the dinghy tubes to dip into the water. If you are getting your head under the boat make certain to pad your head. Even if you have managed to find a quiet backwater to perform the operation the wake from a passing boat is enough to lift and drop the stern enough to knock you into unconsciousness.

If you have tried all of these to no success your only option is to go in with the snorkel. Again use a warp pulled round the hull as a holding to rise up and down plus as a brace for the cutting. Have a weight that you can ditch easily so you are not fighting your own buoyancy whilst working.

Finally never carry out this operation alone and attach a life line for safety.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.

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