'Circle of death': Unmanned boat circles dangerously during rescue off Massachusetts coast, video shows

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(NEXSTAR) – Two men were rescued off the coast of Massachusetts on Tuesday after their motorboat entered what’s called a “circle of death,” according to officials.

The captain of a nearby fishing boat alerted the Marshfield Harbormaster’s office to the incident at around 10 a.m. after spotting the 24-foot vessel “in a circling pattern” and pulling two men from the water, according to Marshfield police, who shared the above footage with Nexstar.

This type of tight, circular pattern is also known as a “circle of death,” police noted in a news release. These situations occur after a boater loses control of the steering mechanism, sending the boat — which is still powered by a motor — into tight circles. Occupants of the vessel can also be thrown into the water, putting them at risk of serious injury or even death when the boat circles back around.

Such an incident could have been avoided if the boaters had been tethered to a kill switch that would shut off the motor upon ejection from the boat, but neither was tethered to such a mechanism, police said.

Fortunately, the two men who were ejected from the boat — and who were not wearing life jackets — were uninjured, according to police.

The unattended boat, meanwhile, was still operating in tight circular patterns, prompting Marshfield Harbormaster Michael DiMeo to close a nearby beach and clear a section of the water in case the vessel came out of the spin and flew off in another direction.

“It was a pretty big vessel, 250 horsepower,” DiMeo told Nexstar. “We were getting different reports, that the boat was still full of fuel or half full. But it had 40 gallons of fuel left, it could have gone for four more hours.”

A short while after police became aware of the situation, a local boat-towing and recovery service arrived to help get the boat under control, as seen in drone footage shared to the Marshfield Police Department. The towing service, Sea Tow, was able to stop the vessel by floating a rope toward the propeller, snagging the engine and slowing the boat just enough to maneuver alongside and pull out the emergency cut-off switch.

DiMeo added that boaters who operate vessels less than 26 feet in length have been required by the Coast Guard since April 2021 to use such cut-off switches.

“Things on the water happen quickly and with no notice. It’s immediate,” DiMeo said. “If the use of lifejackets and the kill switch were used in this situation, if the boat would’ve stopped, it would have eliminated the need to put other people in harm’s way.”

Experts say boaters can avoid falling victim to “circle of death” accidents by not letting go of the boat’s steering mechanism during operation. Boaters can also connect a body-worn lanyard to the motor’s kill switch, which would cut the power to the motor if a boater is ejected from the vessel.

“The use of the kill switch and the use of the lifejackets is really the takeaway here,” DiMeo said.

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