Fresh Water + Alternating Current = Danger

As people who live and play on the water it is important to educate everyone we can about the dangers of electric shock drowning (ESD).  I am amazed at how many people, even some who work in the industry, do not know about this danger.  It is typically a concern at marinas, but as it is becoming more popular for private dock owners to run power to docks at home, it is important information for all of us as well.

Electric Shock Drowning happens when electricity from a dock, boat, pool, hot tub, or marina seeps into the water and electrifies it. As swimmers enter the water the electricity paralyzes their muscles, causing them to drown. What’s more, trying to rescue someone experiencing electric shock drowning remains difficult because anyone entering the water receives a disabling stun.

If you need electricity on your dock, it is critical you hire a licensed electrician and make sure the wiring meets the requirements in NFPA 303 and NEC 555. If your dock is already wired, hire an electrician to check that it was done properly. Because docks are exposed to the elements, their electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year, and experts explain there is a simple and inexpensive life-saving step of including ground fault devices on power sources at the breaker. A ground fault device protects the entire power source from its start, and prevents the current from following any unintended paths during a ground fault (contact between an energized conductor and the ground).

Although Electric Shock Drowning can occur virtually in any location where electricity is provided near water, the majority of Electric Shock Drowning deaths have occurred in public and private marinas and docks.  Many marinas have signs indicating “No Swimming” but do not explain why.  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources along with the Michigan Waterways Commission, Boat U.S. and other organizations are working together to help educate the public on what to do and what not to do in the case of ESD.

You can help by making sure your friends and family know to never swim at a marina or within 100 yards of any dock using electrical power without first shutting down all shore power to the boat and dock.  Tell them what to do if they feel a tingling or shock in the water, which is to swim away from the dock and the source of the electricity.  Be sure everyone knows how to turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords.  For more valuable information on this subject from the Michigan DNR please click here.

Happy Boating!
– Nicki Polan, Executive Director, Michigan Boating Industries Association