Boating Atlantic 2022

Electric Shock Drowning

By Andy Adams

ESD stands for Electric Shock Drowning and around yacht clubs, marinas and any place where electricity is close to the water, there can be danger.

Especially in facilities where larger boats can plug into shore power, wiring problems on a boat that’s connected, can result in stray current leaking into the water. A previously safe boat, can develop a problem after a run without giving the operator any warning.

With Canada Day tomorrow, Wednesday, July 1st, this is an especially important message to share with your boat owner customers and their families. We have heard many stories about families cancelling or delaying their plans to vacation down south in the winter, or to travel by air to more distant destinations, in response to COVID-19.

Many more Canadians will stay at home this summer and will still observe the social distancing rules, but on a really hot summer day, we have to expect that people, (perhaps more people than usual) will take the plunge into the cool water where they might not have done in the past. We are all looking for some fun and to blow off some steam.

Sadly, each year some people are injured or killed from electric shock drowning. Electric shock drowning happens when marina, or onboard electrical systems leak electric current into the water. The current then passes through the swimmer’s body and causes paralysis. When this happens, the person can no longer swim and ultimately drowns.

Compounding these tragedies, it’s not uncommon for an onlooker to see the person in the water struggling, so they dive in to help and become victims themselves.

These deaths are commonly reported as drownings, not electrocution, and I suspect that contributes to the low public awareness of this serious problem.

The National Fire Prevention Association in the United States released the following valuable tips for marina operators and boat owners. Share these as widely as you can this summer and be sure to post proper signage in any club or marina dock area saying that swimming is prohibited.

  • When heading out for a day on the water, follow all existing navigation and safety rules. Practice good seamanship and avoid becoming a boater in distress. With the current pandemic, there may be fewer staff at the marina and fewer rescue personnel available to come to your aid.
  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. These areas can contain stray electrical currents in the water.
  • Each year, and after any major storm that affects the boat, have the boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs if recommended.
  • Check with the marina owner who can also tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes.
  • Have ground fault circuit protection (GFCI and GFPE) installed on circuits supplying the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that bear the proper listing mark for marine applications when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.