In the summer, the enjoyable activities of 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, known as electric shock drowning, occurs when an electric current escapes boats, docks, electric lines or lights, shocking and paralyzing nearby swimmers making them unable to swim to safety. There are no visible signs of electrical current seeping into water, and many electric shock drowning deaths are usually recorded as drowning because victims show no signs of burns, so many instances remain undocumented.
But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the hidden danger of electric shock drowning and common boat electrical hazards with these handy tips from Electrical Safety Foundation International.
- Never allow anyone to swim near docks. Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat.
- Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines. When fishing, make sure to cast the line away from power lines.
- If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified. Get out as soon as possible and avoid the use of metal objects such as ladders. Don’t ever go in the water to save someone who has been shocked because you could be shocked, as well. Turn off the power and then use a nonmetal object to pull the swimmer out of the water.
- Have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician who is familiar with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes 303 and NFPA 70.
- Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) – fast-acting circuit breakers designed to shut off power when they sense an imbalance – installed on your dock, boat and outlets for lighting around pools and spas and test them once a month.
- Consider having Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCIs) installed on boats to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into the 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.
- Build pools and decks at least five feet from all underground electric lines and at least 25 feet away from overhead electric lines.
- Do not put electric appliances within 10 feet of a swimming pool and use battery-operated appliances near pools if possible.
- When you get out of the water, don’t touch any electrical appliances until you are completely dry.