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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Raising Awareness About Electric Shock Drowning

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We would never take a hair dryer into the bath tub, nor jump in a swimming pool if an electrical cord was submerged in the water. Yet, most of us would have no qualms about letting our kids jump off a dock into the water. Why would we, you might ask? There could potentially be a “silent killer” lurking.

  • Last July, four children and one young adult were killed in separate incidents at docks on freshwater lakes.
  • At a marina on Cherokee Lake in Tennessee, a 10-year-old boy died instantly and his 11-year-old friend was critically injured and died the following day after swimming near a docked houseboat. Five adults who tried to rescue the boys were also affected.
  • A 26-year-old woman died while swimming from a private dock at the Lake of the Ozarks.
  • In a separate Lake of the Ozarks incident, an 8-year-old boy and his 13-year-old sister both died while swimming from a dock that reportedly had improper wiring.
  • Last week, two Alabama teens jumped from a boat dock into a fresh water lake to take a swim, but one teen never resurfaced. Her body was found about an hour later.

What do all these deaths have in common? They were the result of Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)!

ESDs have been on the rise, mostly among children and young adults, as boats and docks are being stocked with more electric appliances and devices such as electric boat lifts and underwater lighting. If the dock has 120-volt AC power, lethal amounts of electricity could be finding their way into the water from faulty wiring on the dock or a boat. It doesn’t take much to incapacitate or electrocute a person; as little as 15 milliamps can cause skeletal muscular paralysis. Although this only lasts an instant, it is long enough to incapacitate the swimmer, and he/she drowns.

It is unclear how many people die each year from EDS because it is often not recognized as the cause of a drowning death. Why? There is no visible way to determine if the water was energized enough to cause the death. With growing concern, some states have passed bills to enforce marina safety; others are considering a bill that would ban swimming in marinas. Yet, many states have been resisting legislation because of what they perceive as the imposition of government on private commercial boat dock marinas.

Soon boats will be launched and kids will be swimming. Marinas will be fully operational. With this in mind, now is a good time to educate yourself and others of this “silent killer” lurking in our recreational waters. The ESD Prevention Association recommends the best way to prevent EDS is:

  • Never swimming within 100 yards of any fresh water marina or boatyard.
  • If you own a boat, have it inspected to make sure it is not leaking electricity and meets all safety standards.
  • Have electric work on a dock or your boat conducted by a qualified electrician.
  • Do not use a household extension cords for powering your docked boat.

If you feel “tingly” in the water, you could be at risk for shock. (In the first Ozark incident, two teens felt a tingling sensation and swam toward a different dock, probably saving their lives).

  • Have someone turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords. (There could have been more fatalities in the Tennessee incident had someone on the dock not disconnected the houseboat’s shore power cord).
  • Tell anyone in the water to move away from the dock.
  • Stop anyone else from entering the water.

If you believe someone has been shocked, reach, throw, row, but don’t go into the water.

  • Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16.
  • Try CPR on the person; don’t stop until trained help arrives.

For more information on electric shock drowning, visit the ESD Prevention Association website.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.