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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 device. Learn from these stories and stay safe on the water. To request a print copy of this story collection, please contact outreach@safeboatingcouncil.org.

Aaron Steely


Age 13
Greeley, CO
Boyd Lake




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.




age 13
lexington, ky
herrington lake


motor boat + 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.


Learn about Alex’s mission to create a culture where driving drunk in a boat is as unacceptable as in a car.


ashleigh iserman


age 17
rochester hills, Mi
long lake


PWC + motor boat 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.


bob & phyllis kopytko


age 47 & 38



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 device. 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.


brandon fugate


age 18
dallas, tx
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.


Brian & Nathan Keese


Age 36 & 8
Stockton, MO
Lake Stockton


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.






age 15
north richland hills, tx




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 8:15pm, 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. Forty 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.


david civile


age 26
shrewsbury river


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 vests and the knowledge of environmental factors.



age 16
plano, TX
lake texoma




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.

desirae stennis


age 14
enid, OK




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.

emilio irving cruz


age 20
simi valley, ca




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.

hunter bland


age 21
lake seminole


motor boat + steering SYSTEM malfunction


January 14, 2017, Hunter was participating in a college fishing tournament. With life jackets on and engine cut-off device 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 device did its job, they reached the boat safely.


Learn how Hunter works each day to share about boating safety as a professional bass angler.


jackson helbig


age 4
southport, nc
big lake


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.

john sullivan


age 43




On December 10, 2011, John and his wife, Meghan, stepped onto a 63’ 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.



age 11
canandaigua lake


power BOAT + 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.



age 23
miami, FL




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.

Robyn Seel Boggs


Age 46
Fairfax, VA
Potomac River


Motorboat + 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

Ryan Swain


age 17
Amity, AR
Lake Degray>




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.

shirley kay@3x
shirley brocchini-jones


age 24
klammath falls, or
lake shasta


PWC & houseboat + propeller strike

shirley kay.

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.

TRENTON alexander


age 13


MOTOR BOAT + 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.

vanessa mauffray


age 19
bayou caddy


fishing boat + motor boat collision, IMPAIRED 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.







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.

Join us in working together to prevent boating and water tragedies.