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Electric Shock Drowning

Beware of a hidden swimming danger: Electric Shock Drowning 

Before taking the plunge, know what could be lurking in the water 


As temperatures rise outside and the cooling water beckons, know the signs of a hidden danger that could be lurking in lakes and other water sources: electric shock drowning (ESD). 


A type of drowning that many people are not familiar with, ESD happens when electrical current seeps into water from a nearby electrical source, such as a yacht, boat or marina dock.

“As a child or adult swims in or near water that is electrified, his or her body can become a conductor for that electricity," says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of Safe Electricity. “Once that electricity moves through the body, a person can become paralyzed and drown.” 


Just as you wouldn't use a blow dryer with one hand submerged in a sink full of water or stand in a flooded basement and plug something in, you would not knowingly jump into a body of water that has electricity running through it. 


How does the electricity escape from its source into the water? Outdated wiring and a lack of proper safety equipment on boats and docks can cause it to happen. While ESD is an invisible danger, “Knowing how to prevent it, what to do if you think you are approaching electrified water and how to properly help someone else can definitely save your life or someone else’s (life),” Hollinshead said.  


Safe Electricity and Southeastern Indiana REMC offer these safety tips to recognize and avoid electric shock drowning: 


While swimming 

  • Do not swim around docks with electrical service or boats that are plugged into shore-to-dock power. 
  • If you are swimming and feel tingling or shocks, swim away from the dock or any other electrical source, such as a security light. Yell to others to cut the power source. If you feel a shock, swim away from the dock is a good way to remember this. 
  • If you think you are swimming in water that could be electrified, try to stay upright, tuck your legs up so that you are more compact, and swim away from anything you think could be energizing the water. 

When helping someone else 

  • Do not jump in to try and save someone you suspect might be exposed to electricity in the water. Instead, throw them a float and turn off shore power by using a switch or other mechanism (usually found on the meter base) or by unplugging the shore power cords. 
  • While on shore assisting someone in the water, eliminate the source of power first, then call 9-1-1. 
  • After the power is shut off, get them to shore or on the dock by pulling them in with the float rope. If you cannot find a pulse, perform CPR until the local fire department or emergency responders arrive. 

Prevention and Maintenance 

  • If you own a boat that has an electrical system, make sure it is always in good working order and have it inspected annually by a qualified electrician. Consider purchasing a clamp meter to test for stray electricity in between inspections. 
  • All docks should have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on the circuits that feed electricity to the docks. Check GFCIs often to make sure they work. 
  • Faulty electricals in any water source could cause a problem.  This includes hot tubs, pools and water parks. If you feel tingling or other unusual sensations, get out of the water. 

While it is impossible to know if water is electrified just by looking, learning about the dangers of ESD can help keep you safe in the water. 


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