Firefighters warn swimmers, boaters of dangers of electric shock drowning

Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 4:56 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Firefighters are warning swimmers and boaters of the dangers of electric shock drowning over the summer season.

The National Fire Protection Association says with the arrival of summer and the 4th of July holiday weekend, it wanted to remind residents of potential electrical hazards in swimming pools, hot tubs, onboard boats, on docks and piers and in waters around boats, marinas and launch ramps.

While most are unaware of the electrical danger in water environments like electric shock drowning, the NFPA said every year people are injured or killed from these hazards. It said ESD can happen when an improperly installed or maintained electrical system results in an electrical current in the water, which can pass through a person’s body and cause paralysis that can ultimately result in serious injury or drowning.

“With continued education about the presence of electrical hazards in water we can help reduce the risk of electric shock drowning from happening,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach & Advocacy. “Before engaging in water activities, have a qualified electrician inspect your boat, swimming pool equipment, hot tub, and spa, and have them regularly maintained to ensure life-saving measures and protection systems are functioning properly.”

As summer begins, the NFPA said to ensure you know the risks and signals of electric shock drowning. It said the following tips for swimmers and pool and boat owners could potentially save a life this season:

  • Swimmers
    • Never swim near a marina, dock, or boatyard.
    • While in a pool or hot tub lookout 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 the direction you are heading. 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.
  • Pool owners
    • If you are putting in a new pool or hot tub, be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations.
    • 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 are positioned at 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.
  • Boat owners
    • 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 those set by the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs, if recommended.
    • Check with the marina owner who can 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.
    • NEVER modify the electrical system on a boat or shore power to make something work. The code-required safety mechanisms in place are intended to alert people if something is wrong with the boat and with shore power. Find a licensed, qualified professional to help determine the cause of the problem.

“As NFPA continues to raise awareness about this troubling trend, we encourage everyone to share these safety resources with people they know so everyone can safely enjoy the water this summer,” said Carli.

For more NFPA resources, click HERE.

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