With the arrival of summer and the July 4th holiday weekend just around the corner, people across the country are eager to take advantage of the easing of stay-at-home orders. As many states begin allowing for more outside activities, it’s important to recognize potential electrical hazards that exist in swimming pools and hot tub, onboard boats, and in waters surrounding boats, marinas, and launch ramps.
While most people are unaware of electrical dangers posed in water environments such as electric shock drowning (ESD), each year people are injured or killed from these hazards. Electric shock drowning happens when marina or onboard electrical systems leak electric current into the water. The current then passes through the body and causes paralysis. When this happens, a person can no longer swim and ultimately drowns.
In the current pandemic situation, with limited staff at marinas and people obeying social distancing protocols, the onus is on individuals to keep themselves, their loved ones, and the people who might have to rescue them out of harm’s way.
Here are some tips for pool and boat owners, as well as swimmers:
Tips for swimmers
- Never swim near a marina, dock or boatyard.
- While in a pool, hot tub or spa, look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker, or work intermittently.
- If you feel a tingling sensation while in a pool, immediately stop swimming in your current direction. Try and swim in a direction where you had not felt the tingling. Exit the water as quickly as possible; avoid using metal ladders or rails. Touching metal may increase the risk of shock.
Tips for pool owners
- Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and — where necessary — replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
- Make sure any overhead lines maintain the proper distance over a pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If you have any doubts, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.
Tips for boat owners
- 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.
- Contact your local marina or boatyard in advance to learn about any local requirements in response to the pandemic that must be followed - especially if you are a transient customer.
- Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. These areas can contain stray electrical currents in the water, possibly leading to electric shock drowning or injury from shock, including death.
- 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 of your area, including the National Electrical Code (NEC).
- 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.
For industry professionals, the 2020 edition of the NEC has been revised to improve marina and boatyard safety and help reduce the risk of ESD. Some specific revisions to Article 555 include the addition of floating building requirements, modified signage requirement, and the reduction of power distribution system maximum voltage.
NFPA has additional codes and standards that apply to boatyards, marinas and floating buildings as well as swimming pools, hot tubs, and fountains, and their related electrical safety issues. Find these resources and more by visiting NFPA’s electric shock drowning webpage.
NFPA has resources for swimmers, boat and pool owners, including tip sheets, checklists, and more that can be downloaded and shared. Please visit www.nfpa.org/watersafety.