It is common knowledge that electric shock itself has the potential to cause death. When it comes to electric shock drowning (ESD), electrical shock in the way we might normally think of it, such as stopping your heart from beating, is not necessarily what causes death. In many cases, current levels within the water that would typically be considered rather low, still have the ability to cause paralysis, which limits a person's ability to swim and in turn, causes them to drown.
Such was the case recently when a mother and father lost not only one child, but two, in a recent boating incident in Lake Pleasant in Arizona. The article states that a thorough investigation took place at the scene with a group of experts and, with all facts gathered, it was determined that the two brothers lost their lives due to ESD.
You can almost picture the scenario: man jumps into the marina water to cool off and begins to feel the effects of unforeseen current in the water; another man sees the first man is struggling to swim and jumps in to save him and is now susceptible to the unseen current; woman sees both men struggling to swim and jumps in to save them and is now impacted by that same unseen current… The cycle goes on and on until a person witnessing the cycle decides to end it, not by entering the water, but by using another means such as throwing a lifeline to those they see struggling, and shutting off any accessible sources of power such as at a power pedestal. The duration of the cycle will more than likely be a direct result of how many lives are lost or, at minimum, negatively impacted. So how do we shorten the cycle? Or better yet, how do we prevent the cycle from starting altogether?
Here are some tips that can help individuals avoid harm to themselves, or put others at risk, as a result of ESD:
- Avoid swimming in marinas, boatyards, or areas where boats are docked in or travel through
- Look for, and obey, posted signage
- Have electrical work within boats and marinas performed only by licensed, qualified electricians
- Use shore power cords intended for the purpose and built to UL standards
- Have the electrical system on your boat tested annually by a qualified party to ensure it is working properly
- NEVER modify the electrical system on your boat or shore power to make something that work that isn’t. The code required safety mechanisms that are in place are intended to tell you if something is wrong both with your boat and also with shore power. Find a licensed, qualified professional to help you determine the cause of the problem.
NFPA is dedicated to helping eliminate death and injury due to ESD. Watch NFPA’s latest “Learn Something New" video about the dangers of ESD above, put together by NFPA Journal Staff Writer, Angelo Verzoni.
Find additional free information and resources to share by visiting NFPA's electrical safety around water webpage.