You probably know not to use a hair dryer or other electrical appliance when taking a bath, due to the potential risk of electric shock or even electrocution. But you may not realize that a boat or marina that is powered with electricity can pose a similar risk for anyone swimming in the water nearby. Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) is a little known hazard that can have deadly consequences.
ESD is the result of stray AC current in water, which can occur when faulty electrical equipment and wiring cause electricity to leak from a boat or dock into the water. The current enters the swimmer’s body and can cause muscular paralysis. The victim may be rendered unable to swim and eventually drowns. At higher levels of AC current, the victim can be electrocuted. Although this hazard may be present in salt water, it is most likely in fresh water.
Unfortunately, there is no visible way to determine if a body of water contains stray current. A victim’s body may show no signs of electrical injury and the drowning may be attributed to other common causes.
How can I protect myself and my family from ESD?
no swimming signESD is most common when swimming near boats and public or private docks. It can occur anywhere there is AC wiring in or near water so that an electrical fault can send stray current into the water. The current may be intermittent so the victim does not feel it immediately upon entering the water. The best protection is to avoid swimming near any potential source of electricity, especially near boats or docks.
Boat owners also can take steps to reduce this and other potential electrical hazards. Have your boat regularly inspected by a certified marine electrician. Check shore-power cables and receptacles for signs of wear, corrosion or burn marks, especially the cord ends, which are more susceptible to damage. Finally, consider installing an equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI). This article describes these measures in more detail.