With the summer in full swing, NFPA and Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) are joining forces to remind boaters, marina operators and swimmers to be aware of the potential electrical hazards that exist on boats and in the waters surrounding boats, marinas and launch ramps where the electrical infrastructure has not been installed and maintained in accordance with applicable safety standards. Electric shock drownings (ESD) can occur when marina or on board electrical systems leak electrical current into the water. The leak can cause a shock that can injure, disable or kill a person, as reported in the NFPA Journal article, Troubled Waters.
ESFI has boating and marina safety resources including brochures, toolkits, reference guides, and checklists that cover safety devices, common ESD causes and prevention methods, response protocol, and marina electrical safety considerations. The ESFI website also spotlights five key tips for boat owners: swim safety, put it to the test, use the right tools, know your surroundings, and learn the code.
Three NFPA fire and life safety codes play a prominent role in marina and boat safety - NFPA 302: Fire Protection Standard for Pleasure and Commercial Motor Craft, NFPA 303: Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards, and NFPA 70: National Electrical Code® (NEC). The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) also has relevant standards that boaters and marina operators need to learn. The Fire Protection Research Foundation (the Foundation), the research affiliate of NFPA, commissioned ABYC to study marina and boating electrical safety. The Foundation report, Assessment of Hazardous Voltage/Current in Marinas, Boatyards and Floating Buildings, clarified the problem of dangerous voltage in marinas, boatyards and floating buildings, and developed a mitigation strategy to address identified hazards. Ten months later, in August 2015, the Foundation conducted a Marina Shock Hazard Research Planning Workshop that took a deeper dive on technical, awareness and regulatory solutions related to ESD.
Addressing marina and boating electrical safety is a multi-faceted issue due to different jurisdictions and codes; the question of where land and water begin and end; consideration of where boats enter and depart; and opposing views from the boating community and marina operators - but all sides agree that it is essential to elevate boating and marina electrical safety awareness.
At a recent Foundation Electrical Safety Research Advisory Committee meeting, it was announced that a new research project on marina risk reduction had been commissioned. The advisory group determined that marina risk reduction is bigger than any one code or standard, and deserves to be looked at as an important micro issue. In addition, the 2017 NEC®, which will become available for adoption at the end of August 2016, features three significant changes proposed for marina and boat docking facilities. See Jeff Sargent's blog on these proposed NEC changes.
Across the country, different authorities are also looking at electric shock drowning and the need for testing, regulation, public education and outreach. In recent years, Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee have passed legislation regarding marina safety standards. Recently, the Commonwealth of Kentucky also adopted new regulations that require boat owners signing slip agreements to comply with NFPA, NEC, and ABYC electrical test requirements at least once a year to ensure that vessels do not discharge electricity into the water. Any boat found to be discharging electricity into state-owned waters will be subject to immediate corrective actions including removal of the vessel from the water, at cost to the owner. Potential new regulations governing the infrastructure for marina wiring in Kentucky are also being considered by state officials.