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Beware of hidden boating and swimming danger: Electric Shock Drowning

Posted By Gail Kulp, Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 8, 2020
GUEST BLOG: The Sea Tow Foundation has partnered with Safe Electricity to bring you this important information.
Beware of Hidden Boating and Swimming Danger: Electric Shock Drowning

by Erin Hollinshead, Executive Director, Safe Electricity

Safe Electricity and the Sea Tow Foundation have overarching missions: to save lives and reduce accidents.

Much like Sea Tow  Foundation’s job is to increase awareness about safe boating practices, our job at Safe Electricity is to educate about dangers associated with electricity, including electrical sources near water.

Most electrical dangers cannot be seen or heard, and Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) is no exception.  ESD happens when electrical current leaks into water from a nearby electrical source, such as a yacht, boat or marina dock.

Just as you wouldn't use a blow dryer with one hand submerged in a sink full of water, you would not knowingly jump into a body of water that has electricity running through it. Once someone jumps into the tainted water, an unsuspecting person can become paralyzed and drown due to the electrical current invading his or her body.

Boating enthusiasts and marina employees can play a huge part in preventing ESD, since outdated wiring and a lack of proper safety equipment on boats and docks can cause electricity to leak or spread into the water.

Safe Electricity offers these ESD safety tips:

While Swimming or Boating

·         Do not swim within 100 yards of any freshwater marina or boatyard or around private or public docks with electrical service.

·         If you are swimming and feel tingling or shock, swim away from the dock or any other electrical source. “If you feel a shock, swim away from the dock”  is a good way to remember this. Yell to someone on shore to cut the power source.

·         If you think you are swimming in water that could be electrified, try to stay upright, tuck your legs up so that you are more compact, and swim away from anything you think could be energizing the water.

·         Do not jump in to help if you suspect someone is in electrified water; instead, cut the power, throw a float, and call 9-1-1.

·         Never dive into water or work on underwater components when your boat is plugged into shore power.

Prevention and Maintenance

·         Make sure your boat’s electrical system is always in good working order and have it inspected annually by a qualified electrician who is trained to American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) specifications. Consider purchasing your own clamp meter to test for stray electricity.

·         Have your qualified electrician install an ELCI (equipment leakage circuit interrupter) on your boat or use a power cord that has an ELCI.

·         Do not use a common household extension cord to provide shore power to your boat. Use, and encourage others, to use shore power cords that meet UL standards.

·         Talk to marina owners and operators about the dangers of ESD.

·         All docks should have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on the circuits that feed electricity to the docks. GFCIs should be checked often to make sure they are in working order.

 For more information about safety around electricity, visit

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 (not-for-profit organization) established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.

Tags:  2019-20  boating safety  Electric Shock Drowning  Guest Blog  Safe Electricity 

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