Most of us who swim in lakes or other bodies of water don’t think about being electrocuted. However, even swimming near a boat dock can be dangerous. Electrically charged boat or fishing docks kill people every year due to lack of maintenance. Best practice is to not swim within 50 yards of any known electrical source.
Electrical Shock Drowning, ESD, is known as “A Silent Killer.” ESD happens when an electrical ground fault leaks into water. Electrical currents as low as 10ma cause paralysis that result in drowning. (The electrical current for a 60 watt light bulb draws 500ma). In other words, a very small amount of electricity can incapacitate someone and cause them to drown. Even worse, because someone electrocuted cannot talk or swim, people sometimes jump into the water and also drown when trying to save them!
Lives can be saved by being proactive about your home pool and boat dock. This article covers the best practices for avoiding ESD at a boat dock.
1.Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) GFCI’s protect against electrocution in and around your home, but are often not enough protection to trip a circuit breaker at a boat dock due to the low current of electricity. This doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. GFCI’s are required, but often overlooked at boat docks. GFCI will trip in 1/40th of a second if an imbalance of power is detected, stopping the lethal electrical charge. All outdoor receptacles must be GFCI protected.
2. Fishing Out the Fishing Lights Lots of people love to fish, and lights in the water attract fish. However, installation of permanent lights in the water is very dangerous. Many of these lights are installed under boat docks. Although these lights may start as waterproof, time in the water will eventually corrode even the best protection and allow an electrical current into the water.
3. Stay Bonded for Life Without bonding, if one piece becomes energized from a fault in the system, the electricity travels to any other object – including people. With bonding, the electricity travels to the grounding system. Grounding is when the equipment is electrically attached to the ground system. If there is a short in the system, it shuts off at the GFCI circuit breaker almost immediately.
All metal components of a dock and all equipment must be bonded to a ground rod on shore. Bonding jumpers and all electrical connections should be inspected annually. Otherwise a single loose or corroded wire can energize the entire dock and surrounding water.
4. Other Safety Tips
Even strings of party lights can energize the water and electrocute someone. Make sure they are installed correctly and GFCI protected.
It is required for any dock (fishing or boating) to have a Warning Sign against swimming if any electrical wires are present for any reason.
There should be no ladders on the dock that would suggest or imply a dock with electricity is alright for swimming.
Because the electrical current that may cause ESD is so low, a low amperage meter is supposed to be present.
What To Do If you see someone struggling in the water and suspect an electrical condition, DON’T JUMP IN THE WATER. Instead, cut off all electrical power sources nearby. Call 9-1-1 and throw a big life ring to them or push them away from the source with a nonconductive pole. Hopefully this will move them out of the electrical field.
As of this post, the last recorded ESD incident around Houston was a 14 year old child on Lake Conroe. It is suspected that many incidences of ESD are not recorded because a doctor can assume the person had a heart attack.
Make sure to have your boat or fishing dock inspected annually.
*Visit MikeHolt.com/docks Or Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association (ESDPA) website for more information.