Electric shock drowning- what you need to know

Despite being categorized as leisure activities, swimming and boating can quickly become dangerous. While water-safety behaviors such as wearing life jackets and maintaining safe boating speeds have become commonplace, a serious hazard remains that is often overlooked. This silent killer, classified as electric shock drowning, occurs in fresh water when a typically low level alternating current (AC) passes through the body, which causes muscular paralysis and eventually leads to drowning.

Protect yourself and your loved ones from the risk of electric shock drowning and common boat electrical hazards with these handy tips.

Don’t allow yourself or anyone else to swim near docks. Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat.

Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines.

  • If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified. Get out as soon as possible avoiding the use of metal objects such as ladders.
  • Have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician who is familiar with National Fire Protection Association Codes: NFPA 303 and NFPA 70.
  • Have GFCIs installed on your boat, and test them once a month.
  • 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 Intertek (ETL).
  • Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered.
  • Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices or switches.
  • Electric Shock Drowning can also occur in swimming pools, hot tubs and spas. Have an electrician inspect and upgrade your pool, spa or hot tub in accordance with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code (NEC).