Safe Electricity Advises, "If You Feel a Shock, Swim Away from the Dock"

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With Memorial Day weekend ushering in the unofficial start of summer, Safe Electricity is sharing the message, “If you feel a shock, swim away from the dock,” to help keep people safe from a hidden hazard called electric shock drowning (ESD).

plugged into shore power

Help prevent ESD, and inspect all electrical systems on or near the water.

It’s so important to know what to do if a swimmer feels anything akin to electric current, such as tingling on the skin or a pulsing sensation in the water.

Whether at home or on vacation, boating, fishing, and swimming can be fun ways to enjoy the great outdoors. With Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of summer, Safe Electricity is sharing the message, “If you feel a shock, swim away from the dock,” to help keep people safe from a hidden hazard called electric shock drowning (ESD).

As Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program explains, “If electric current is present in fresh water and someone swims into that energized water, the result can be electric shock drowning. If the electrical current is strong enough, the electric shock can cause muscle paralysis, which leaves the affected individual unable to swim to safety. It’s a particularly dangerous hazard because it’s impossible to tell by sight if the water is energized.”

“That’s why it’s so important to know what to do if a swimmer feels anything akin to electric current, such as tingling on the skin or a pulsing sensation in the water. They must swim away from anything that could be energized, like a dock with electrical service, or a boat that’s plugged into shore power. If possible, swim to the shore instead.”

Outdated wiring and a lack of proper safety equipment and routine maintenance on docks and boats can cause such situations where electricity “leaks” into the water. According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, between 10 and 15 milliamps, which is just 1/50 the wattage of a 60 watt light bulb, can cause drowning. They also report that many ESD deaths have occurred around private docks and boats plugged into shore power while docked.

Safe Electricity recommends that individuals do not swim around docks with electrical equipment or boats plugged into shore power. If a person is in the water and feels electric current, that individual should shout to let others know, try to stay upright, tuck his legs up to make himself smaller, and swim away from anything that could be energized. Do not head to boat or dock ladders to get out – if possible, swim to the shore.

If people see someone who they suspect is getting shocked, they should not immediately jump in to save them. Throw them a float, turn off the shore power connection at the meter base, and/or unplug shore power cords. Try to eliminate the source of electricity as quickly as possible; then call for help.

Safe Electricity, along with the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers/National Electrical Contractors Association, recommends adhering to these steps in order to enhance water recreation safety and accident prevention:

  • All electrical installations should be performed by a professional electrical contractor familiar with marine codes and standards and inspected at least once a year.
  • Docks should have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breakers on the circuits feeding electricity to the dock.
  • The metal frame of docks should be bonded to connect all metal parts to the alternating current (AC) safety ground at the power source. That will ensure any part of the metal dock that becomes energized because of electrical malfunction will trip the circuit breaker.
  • Neighboring docks can also present a shock hazard. Make your neighbors aware of the need for safety inspections and maintenance. Marinas should comply with NFPA and NEC codes.

Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind for a boat’s electrical system, particularly those with AC systems:

  • Regardless of the size of boat, maintenance of the electrical system should be done by an ABYC Certified® Marine Technician, a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.
  • Have a boat’s electrical system checked at least once a year. Boats should also be checked when something is added to or removed from their systems.
  • Boats with AC systems should have isolation transformers or equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI) protection, comply with ABYC standards, and should be serviced by an ABYC Certified Technician.

“The cost of boat and dock maintenance is definitely worth it when it comes to saving lives,” adds Hall. “Take time to inspect all of the electrical systems on or near the water.”

For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.

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Kyla Kruse
@EnergyEdCouncil
since: 08/2010
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