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If You Feel a Shock, Swim Away from the Dock

Date: June 28, 2019
Topics: Press Releases

Whether at home or on vacation, boating, fishing, and swimming can be fun ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Safe Electricity wants to help keep the fun in these activities is sharing the message, “If you feel a shock, swim away from the dock,” to educate people on how to stay safe from a hidden hazard called electric shock drowning (ESD).

Amber Sabin, Safe Electricity Advisory Board member explains, “Electric shock drowning occurs when electric current is present in fresh water and passes through the body of someone in that water. This causes muscle paralysis, which leaves the affected individual unable to swim to safety. It’s a particularly dangerous hazard because it’s impossible to tell by sight if the water is energized.”  

Outdated wiring and a lack of proper safety equipment on boats and docks can cause such situations where electricity “leaks” into the water. According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, between 10 and 15 milliamps, which is just 1/50 the wattage of a 60 watt light bulb, can cause drowning. They also report that most ESD deaths have occurred in public and private marinas and docks.

Safe Electricity recommends that individuals do not swim around docks with electrical equipment or boats plugged into shore power. If you are in the water and feel electric current, shout to let others know, try to stay upright, tuck your legs up to make yourself smaller and swim away from anything that could be energized. Do not head to boat or dock ladders to get out.  

If you see someone who you suspect is getting shocked, do not immediately jump in to save them.  Throw them a float, turn off the shore power connection at the meter base, and/or unplug shore power cords. Try to eliminate the source of electricity as quickly as possible; then call for help.  

Safe Electricity, along with the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers/National Electrical Contractors Association, recommends adhering to these steps in order to enhance water recreation safety and accident prevention:

  • • All electrical installations should be performed by a professional electrical contractor familiar with marine codes and standards and inspected at least once a year.
  • • Docks should have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breakers on the circuits feeding electricity to the dock.
  • • The metal frame of docks should be bonded to connect all metal parts to the alternating current (AC) safety ground at the power source. That will ensure any part of the metal dock that becomes energized because of electrical malfunction will trip the circuit breaker.
  • • Neighboring docks can also present a shock hazard. Make your neighbors aware of the need for safety inspections and maintenance. Marinas should comply with NFPA and NEC codes.
Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind for your boat’s electrical system, particularly those with AC systems:
  • • Regardless of the size of boat, maintenance of the electrical system should be done by a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.
  • • Have your boat’s electrical system checked at least once a year. Boats should also be checked when something is added to or removed from their systems.
  • • Boats with AC systems should have isolation transformers or equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI) protection, comply with ABYC standards, and should be serviced by an ABYC Certified® Technician.

"The cost of boat and dock maintenance is definitely worth it when it comes to saving lives,” adds Sabin. Take time to inspect all of the electrical systems on or near the water.”  

For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.

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