In January 2009, just northeast of the St. Lucie Inlet, 26-year old Rob Murphy was struck by a boater who ignored the diver’s properly displayed diver down flag and ran him over, striking both of Rob’s legs below the knee with his propellers. Rob lost half his blood volume and nearly lost his life. Due to the actions of his friends he survived but tragically the medical team could not save his legs. Below is a compelling video that, along with relating Florida’s dive flag law, includes footage of Lisa Rollins – currently featured in the Weather Channel’s spearfishing docudrama Catching Hell – as she relates the horrific experience of working to save Rob’s life after he was struck.
The two biggest risks to freedivers are propeller injury and freediver blackout. Both can be avoided which is why it is worthwhile to learn and employ sound safety techniques while engaged in the sport of freediving. It’s easy to get rusty on the details, and sometimes regulations change, so here’s a handy link to help you brush up on your knowledge.
The US Coast Guard maintains statistical data on reports of individuals struck by a vessel or propeller. In 2013 alone, 518 individuals in the US were injured by a prop or vessel. Forty-seven died. I have personally heard far too many stories related to me by divers who have experienced near misses by boaters who ignored their displayed diver-down flag. Here’s a prime example of how this stuff happens:
Rob Murphy is a very inspiring individual. Since his accident he has worked tirelessly to increase awareness of the proper use of the divers-down flag. And after he recovered and healed, he went right back to diving with the help of special prosthetics with fins. He continues to do what he loves best. I am thankful for Rob and all he has done for the diving community.
Propeller and boat strike injuries are preventable. Make sure you know your state’s dive flag regulations and abide by them. Talk about this with your boater friends to increase awareness. Look out for each other. The life you save just might be your own.