Have an electrically safe boating season

Blog Post created by jsargent Employee on Jun 28, 2016

As we head into the summer boating season across the country (unfortunately I live in a region of the US where boating season is only a few months from late spring to early autumn) it is a good opportunity to talk about some of the proposed changes for the 2017 NEC focused on improving electrical safety at marina and boat docking facilities.

First a little background.


The first Article 555 covering installations at marina and boatyard areas was introduced in the 1968 NEC® (the article title was Boat Harbor Wiring) and contained requirements to address the power consumption and personnel safety concerns unique to these facilities. The requirements of Article 555 have continually evolved to meet the safety needs of the marine community.


Most recently, the topic of electric shock drowning (ESD) has been in the cross-hairs of the electrical safety community.  NEC Code-Making Panel 19, supported by the Fire Protection Research Foundation have jumped into this problem with both feet as tragedies at marina facilities have made headlines.  In addition several states have passed legislation requiring increased code enforcement and re-inspection at marinas.


To improve safety for marina users a requirement for an enhanced level of ground-fault protection (set to open the circuit at ground-fault currents exceeding 100 milliamperes or 1/10 ampere) of marina service equipment was introduced in the 2011 NEC.  The goal requirement was to extend this enhanced level of protection to the entire marina electrical distribution system.  The same requirement was also accepted into Article 553 which covers Floating Buildings.  The 2014 NEC maintained this level of protection but concern was expressed that the 100 ma threshold was too high. 


In response to the need for more research and data on electrical safety within the marina environment, and in particular to support any additional changes to the requirements of Article 555 the research arm of NFPA, the Fire Protection Research Foundation initiated a project titled Assessment of Hazardous Voltage/Current in Marinas, Boatyards, and Floating Buildings.  The report of the first project was issued in 2014 and can be obtained freely though the Foundation website.


Several changes to installation requirements for marinas and boat docking facilities are proposed for the 2017 NEC and one of these changes is based on a recommendation from 2014 FPRF report to lower the threshold at which ground-fault protection of circuits supplying docking facilities will respond from 100 ma to 30ma.  This change has only been proposed for Article 555 and current threshold remains at 100 ma for Floating Buildings in Article 553.  It is important to note that this protection does not override requirements for GFCI protection (4-6 ma) also specified in Article 555 for those receptacles not providing shore power to watercraft.


Other proposed changes include expanding the scope of Article 555 to cover commercial and noncommercial docking
facilities.  The impact of this proposed change is that now docking facilities on residential property (including one-family dwellings) are subject to the requirements of Article 555. A proposed new requirement in the 2017 NEC calls for sign(s) warning of the electrical hazard with the command to not swim in these areas.  These NEC changes are one piece of larger effort involving all stakeholders within the marine community to improve electrical safety at marinas and boat docking  facilities.  Working collectively, the headlines of tragic ESD incidents at these facilities will become a thing of the past.