The Captain's Blog

Keeping Your Dock Safe From Electric Shock Drowning

March 24, 2020 by Michael Kiel

Kids love to jump off the dock and splash around in the water. Until recently the biggest concern of parents was that there be a swim ladder nearby just in case. But today we know there may be a fatal danger in the water: Electric Shock Drowning (ESD).

dock jumping and swimming

What is Electric Shock Drowning?
Often called a silent killer because the deaths are misreported or attributed to other causes, ESD happens when electrical currents get into the water. The electricity can come from improperly wired pumps, boats, or lighting, improperly grounded wires, or stray current in the ground.

The electrical current sends volts through a swimmer’s body, paralyzing them, and they drown. But ESD is not limited to swimming only. Risk can occur anytime anyone is in the water, like when inspecting a prop or cleaning a boat bottom.

Even a low level of voltage is enough to result in drowning, with children and their smaller bodies being more vulnerable. To make the situation worse, the electricity in the water makes it difficult for people to rescue someone without also suffering a shock.

How Can You Stop Electric Shock Drowning?
Before we get too doom and gloom, know that there are ways to help prevent ESD. Here are eight tips on how to keep your dock safe from electric shock drowning:

  1. The simplest solution to ESD is not to allow swimming near your dock. Explain why and tell everyone about the potential danger in doing so. Find a swimming spot at least 50 yards away from any electrically-powered docks.
  2. Follow the latest electrical codes and standards and have your dock professionally inspected twice a year for faulty wiring or current in the water. This way, if someone accidentally falls off the dock (or sneaks a swim) there is less likelihood of ESD.
  3. Because electrical currents are invisible, consider using a device to notify you of electricity present in water. A popular option is Shock IQ from Shock IQ Midwest. Shock IQ prevents electric shock drowning by monitoring for electricity in the water near your dock or on the dock frame. Shock IQ shuts off the power to your dock if an electric current is detected.

shock iq midwest

  1. Any time an electrical current is detected in the water, call a Certified Electrician and have them identify and fix the problem.
  2. Remember a dock is subject to wind and waves that may harm electrical wiring. If there has been violent weather recently, you should re-check the safety of your dock and surrounding water.
  3. Electrical systems on boats can be another source of ESD. Never let children swim around a boat that is on AC power or has its generator running. (This is a doubly good idea, as carbon monoxide from a running generator is another safety hazard.)
  4. If at any time you touch metal on board your boat and get a shock, call a Certified Electrician. The same goes for a suspect shore power hookup or if you get any sort of alarm when hooking up your shore power cables.
  5. The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association recommends boat owners have their boats inspected by an electrician with current ABYC Electrical Certification or by an ABYC Certified Technician.

What Can You Do If Electric Shock Drowning Occurs?
Despite the best precautions, accidents can happen. If you or someone  nearby feel an electric shock while swimming, BoatU.S. advises:

  1. Stop, turn around and swim back to where you did not feel the shock. Resist the urge to swim toward the dock.
  2. Warn others in the water and shout for help, so people know there is trouble.
  3. Try to get to land at least 100 yards or more from the dock.
  4. Get out of the water and turn off the dockside power or have someone else do this.  
  5. If you are witnessing an ESD, DO NOT JUMP IN TO HELP. Call 911 immediately.
  6. Toss the victim a flotation device and have them swim away from the dock. If they are unresponsive, try to push them away from the dock with a nonconductive pole or object.
  7. Once the victim is out of the water, go to the hospital to make sure there are no lingering effects that could be dangerous.

We are well into a new millennium, and it is beyond time to get the word out about Electric Shock Drowning prevention. Supporting and passing along these safety tips can save the life of someone you love. Ignore them at your own risk.

Have you had a brush with electric shock drowning or have some additional tips that could help save a life? Let us know about them and prevent any more tragedies from happening.

Michael Kiel