Preventing Electric Shock Drowning
Electric Shock Drowning
Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) is the result of the passage of a typically low-level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis, rendering the victim unable to react, while immersed in fresh water, eventually resulting in drowning of the victim. Higher levels of AC current in the water will also result in electrocution. Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) has become the catch all phrase that encompasses all in-water shock casualties and fatalities.
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. The typical victim is a child swimming in or around a marina or dock where electricity is present; it can also be someone working on their boat or dock using electricity.
In the typical scenario, the victim’s muscles become paralyzed by the electrical current, he or she is unable to swim, and ultimately drowns. Unless there is a witness nearby to experience and report the sensation of electric shock in the water, the victim’s death is typically labeled a common drowning. In the vast majority of Electric Shock Drownings, the victim’s autopsy shows no signs of electrical injury and investigators often never learn that electricity was the cause of the drowning.
Faulty wiring or the use of a damaged electrical cord or devices not approved as “shore or marine rated” can cause the surrounding water to become energized from electricity leakage.
How to Avoid Electric Shock Drowning
- Obey all “No swimming signs”.
- NEVER swim near a marina.
- NEVER swim near a boat while it is running.
- 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.
How to Respond to a Potential Electric Shock Drowning Situation
- Do not enter the water!
- Call 911 or VHF Channel 16 immediately
- If possible, turn off all nearby power sources
- Extreme caution should be taken when removing the victim from the water.
- If the victim does not have a pulse and is not breathing begin CPR or use (AED) Artificial Electrical Defibrillator if available.
Electric Safety Tips for Boat Operators
- Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines.
- Have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician regularly to be sure they meet your local and state NEC, NFPA, and ABYC safety code and standards.
- Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) installed on your boat and insist that your marina/dock owners have them installed on the dock. Test them once a month.
- 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.
- Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered. Damaged cords exposed to water could result in electrical shock or electrocution.
- If you question the safety of your boat’s electrical system, immediately turn off the power supply at the electrical panel and do not turn it back on until it has been checked by a qualified electrician.