Electric Shock Drowning is a Real—and Often Hidden—Danger

Most people know about the dangers of rip tides, swimming without a life jacket or venturing out too far. Yet there’s another danger that many aren’t aware of.

Electric shock drowning occurs when an alternating current (AC) from a boat or dock passes through the water and paralyzes a swimmer. Victims are unable to swim to safety, which can lead to a fatal drowning accident. If the current is strong enough, a swimmer can even be electrocuted. Sadly, the electrified water can make it impossible for someone to jump in and rescue the victim.

Electric shock drowning is especially common by docks, marinas and boatyards. That’s because electricity flows through the marina’s or dock’s wiring or boats connected to the marina’s or dock’s power supply. If there is a faulty wire, it can energize the surrounding water. There is no way to tell whether the water in a dock is energized—and water that was once safe can become energized in a matter of seconds.

While the electric shock drowning is a real danger, many people have never heard of it.

Today, more awareness has been brought to the topic, thanks to the efforts of people who’ve lost loved ones to electric shock drowning and the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association. Still, many people have no idea it can happen.

How to prevent electric shock drowning

  • Never swim in areas by docks, marina and boatyards. There is no way to tell whether the water is energized—and water that was once safe can become energized in a matter of seconds.
  • Tell others to avoid swimming in docks, marinas and boatyards. Many people have never heard of electric shock drowning, and knowledge is power.
  • Encourage dock, marina and boatyard owners to post electrocution warning signs around the perimeter of their property.
  • Make sure your dock, marina and boatyard follows electrical and inspection standards. The National Fire Protection Association issues these electrical standards and inspection standards.
  • Make sure your boat conforms to electrical standards set for by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC).
  • Only hire licensed professionals when it comes to electrical work or inspections to your dock, marina or boatyard.
  • Have your boat inspected each year by an electrician with a current ABYC certification.  

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association has more information about this hidden danger. Make sure to check out its wide variety of free educational resources.

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