Watercraft propellers as a mechanism of orthopaedic injuries: injury patterns, management, and complications

Michael G. Rizzo, Sohil S. Desai, Dillon C. Benson, Fernando Vilella-Hernandez, Seth D. Dodds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction and purpose: Recreational watercraft use is popular across the United States, and there is a high rate of injury associated with the use and misuse of these vehicles. Watercraft propeller injuries represent a particularly devastating mechanism of injury. We aim to describe and analyze the range of orthopaedic injuries sustained from a watercraft propeller with a particular focus on the mechanism, injury pattern, management, and complications associated with these unique, high-energy injuries. Materials and methods: A retrospective review of 42 patients who sustained injuries from watercraft propeller that presented to a level 1 trauma center was performed. Data collected included patient demographics, mechanism of injury, surgical management, antibiotic use, and complications. Results: Forty-two patients sustained 96 fractures. Ninety-one fractures (94.8%) were open and 5(5.2%) were closed. Twenty (20.8%) were of the upper extremity, 70(72.9%) were of the lower extremity, and 6(6.3%) were of the pelvic ring. The majority of open fractures were Gustilo–Anderson Type IIIA or greater (54, 59.3%). There were 9 total infections affecting 8 of 96 fracture sites (cumulative risk of 8.3%), and other complications included stiffness (3), heterotopic ossification (1), non-union (1), flap failure (1), DVT (2), PE (1), and systemic infection (1) for a total of 19 complications. Conclusions: Watercraft propellers often result in devastating injuries with high rates of morbidity. The high rate of open fractures and neurovascular injury, necessity for multiple surgeries, and extended length of hospital stay show the need for continued awareness about boat safety and the danger of propellers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEuropean Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Aquatic injuries
  • Motorboat propellers
  • Open fracture
  • Orthopaedics
  • Propellers
  • Watercraft injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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