Safety Tips: Avoid Electric Shock Drowning

May 10, 2022

For many, swimming and boating are synonymous with summer fun. However, there are many electrical hazards that come along with these leisurely summer activities. This month is water safety month, and we encourage you to read further to learn about one of the potential electrical hazards and ways to stay safe this summer.

Just like your home, it is critical that you have your boat, pool, hot tub or spa inspected regularly by a licensed electrician and that you are familiar with the electrical system so you can identify and correct any potential hazards.

Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) severely injures and kills people every year. ESD occurs when faulty wiring sends electric current into water, which passes through the body and causes paralysis, which could ultimately result in drowning. As little as 10 milliamps, 1/50th the amount used by a 60-watt light bulb, can cause paralysis and drowning.

Common Causes of Electric Shock Drowning:

Along with the safety of your boat’s electrical system, it is critical for the safety of boat operators and swimmers to understand the hazard of electric shock drowning. Docks and boats carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water to become energized.

The 2017 National Electrical Code now requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection to help prevent water electrification. Check to see if your marina, and the boats in the marina, have proper GFCI protection.

How to Avoid Electric Shock Drowning:

  • Locate and label all power switches to pools, hot tubs, spa equipment, and lighting.
  • Make sure all pools, hot tubs, and spas are at least 25 feet from power lines.
  • All wiring and repairs should be performed by a qualified electrician.
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect your boat, pool, spa, or hot tub annually.
  • Install GFCIs, which can prevent electrocution, on all receptacles within 20 feet of water’s edge.
  • NEVER swim near a marina.
  • NEVER swim near a boat while its running.
  • Obey all “No Swimming” signs.
  • If you feel any tingling sensations while in the water, tell someone and swim back in the direction from which you came. Immediately report it to the dock or marina owner.
  • Check for any cracked or frayed cords on your dock or boat.
  • Use “UL- Marine Listed” portable GFCIs when using electricity near water. They will decrease the chances of shock or electrocution.
  • Consider having Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCI) installed on boats to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into water surrounding your boat.
  • Only use shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles, and extension cords that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or ETL SEMKO (ETL). They are specifically designed to keep you safe when using them near water.

What to do if you see Electric Shock Drowning:

  • Do not enter the water
  • Turn off source of power
  • Call 911
  • Use an insulated device (such as fiberglass rescue crook) to attempt to remove victim from water
  • If you can rescue the victim from the water and the victim does not have a pulse and is not breathing, begin CPR or use an AED.