Electric Shock Drowning

Electric shock drowning (ESD) is a serious issue that injuries, and kills, people every year. As we continue our series on safety focused articles this month, we look at the silent and invisible killer that occurs when water and electricity mix.

ESD can occur when faulty wiring sends an electrical current into the water. One of the places for this to occur is at a marine that provides electrical outlets at their docks. If an individual enters water which has an electrical current in it, it will cause instant paralysis which could result in drowning. 

It is often called the silent killer, or the invisible killer because there is no visible warning that water is electrified. 

Water and electricity don’t mix

The Electrical Safety Foundation International(ESFI) states that as of 2017 National Electrical Code now requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection to help prevent water electrification. You can contact your marina to see if they have proper GFCI protection. The National Electrical Code also requires that marinas and boat docks post electrical shock warning signs where electricity is used near the water. 

So what should you do if you see electric shock drowning taking place?

  • Turn power off
  • Throw a life ring
  • Call 911
  • NEVER enter the water – you could become a victim too

The last bullet point is extremely important. If you suspect someone is drowning from an electrical current in the water, do not enter the water! You will be electrocuted as well. 

Important Safety Tips

ESFI is a great resource for those looking to learn more about the safety surrounding electricity. The information they provide is relevant to everyone. Some of their top safety tips when it comes to electric shock drowning are:

Tips for swimmers:

  • Never swim near a marina, dock or boatyard, or near a boat while it’s running.
  • While in a pool, hot tub or spa, look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker or work intermittently.
  • If you feel a tingling sensation in a pool, hot tub or spa, move away from the source of the shock; get out of the water without using a metal ladder; touching metal may increase the risk of shock.

Tips for pool owners:

  • If you are putting in a new pool, hot tub or spa be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations.
  • Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and— where necessary—replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool, spa or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure any overhead lines maintain the proper distance over a pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If unsure, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.

Tips for boat owners:

  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat.  Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification.
  • Each year, and after a major storm, have the boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes for your area, including the National Electrical Code (NEC) and American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC).
  • HaveGround Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)installed on the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are “UL-Marine Listed” when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.