Electric Shock Drowning: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

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Electric Shock Drowning: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

We want to remind everyone of the dangers of electric shock drowning.

Boating and swimming are popular recreational activities, and most people are familiar with looking out for typical outdoor hazards like shallow waters, rocky areas, snakes, and other wildlife, etc. 

But how many think about possible electrical hazards?

A popular place to swim is near a dock. Whether docks are privately owned or publicly maintained, electrical equipment, such as lighting and power outlets, can be found in these areas. If these power sources are not routinely and carefully maintained, accidents can happen.

Recently, at the Kentucky State Fair, brochures were distributed to raise public awareness of what can happen when electricity and water mix: electric shock drowning.

Electric Shock Drowning

Electric shock drowning (ESD) occurs when there is an electrical current in water that immobilizes a person, causing him or her to drown. Those around the victim may attempt to rescue him by jumping in the water, but they end up getting shocked by the same electrical current. Not only is the rescuer unable to help the first victim, but, in many cases, ends up needing to be rescued as well.

Electrical Installation and Maintenance Requirements at Docks and Marinas

Some states, like Tennessee and West Virginia, have put regulations into place that require electrical maintenance at public docks and marinas using a qualified electrician. Other states are following suit with similar legislation.

In Kentucky, legislators passed the Samantha Chipley Act, in KRS Chapter 235. In the unofficial web copy of the act, boat dock and marina owners must comply with certain regulations, including the installation of electrical wiring by a KY licensed electrician, the use of ground-fault protection, the biennial inspection of the dock/marina by a KY-certified electrical inspector, and permanently installed proper signage throughout the dock or marina.

In addition to state regulations, standards have been set, and are still being discussed, to make recreational water areas safer. The National Electrical Code® has construction requirements concerning the installation of electrical equipment around water. These include the required use of ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) at boatyards and marinas.

The NFPA 303 addresses the construction and operation of marinas and related facilities. The American Boat and Yacht Council develops electrical safety standards for recreational boats. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) teams up with other like-minded organizations to educate the public on electrical safety and ESD.

Water and Electricity Don't Mix Well!

While standards are in place and awareness of ESD is slowly growing, ESD deaths continue to be in the news.

For your own safety and the safety of those around you, make sure you maintain the electrical systems on any boats or at docks you own.

If you’re ever boating or swimming near a dock or marina, it would be a good idea to follow the advice electricians and emergency personnel are taught to do: take time to look at your surroundings.

Look for any power sources; note where they are and observe what shape they’re in.

If nothing else, don’t swim anywhere near a dock or even near a boat that may have an electrical source.

And before going out on the water, take time to learn more about ESD and the steps you can take to help someone else who may get in trouble.

While much work has been done to educate the public on ESD, much more is yet to be done, both in education and consensus standards.  Please join us in spreading the word on this electrical hazard and how to keep safe in the water.

See these online resources for more on ESD. How can you help save a life?

Ken Sellars

Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide. Read more about Ken.

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