Electric shock drowning is often the result of a situation similar to a hair dryer falling into a bathtub; in these cases the hair dryer is a boat and the bathtub is a lake. The cause is often an undetected ground fault that energizes the hull and causes a low-level current to flow through the swimmers, thereby disabling muscle function.
It’s referred to as electric shock drowning and not electrocution because there is no physical injury. The victims either lose muscle control or suffer ventricular fibrillation. Because victims typically show no sign of injury, many electric shock drownings are mislabeled as deaths attributable to alcohol intoxication or heart attack.
What Causes Electric Shock Drowning?
Most commonly, it’s faulty boat wiring that is not in compliance with standards. Specifically, the situation is created when faulty wiring causes underwater metals on boats to become energized.
Marinas in many states are inspected annually for compliance with national standards. Inspection of a boat’s electrical system is the responsiblity of the boat owner.
How Can Electric Shock Drowning be Prevented?
- Do not swim in marinas. If you feel a tingly sensation, get out immediately and alert marina operator.
- Marinas can post no-swimming warning signs.
- Electrical work on boats should meet American Boat and Yacht Council standards.
- Electrical work in marinas should only be completed by certified electricians.
- Boat and marina owners should insure that routine electrical inspections are conducted.
How do I rescue a victim of electric shock drowning?
- Learn to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and maintain training currency.
- Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16 as appropriate.
- Turn off the shore power connection at the meter base. If you don’t know how to do this, call the harbormaster and take no further action.
- Get the victim out of the water. Remember to reach, throw, row, but don’t go. Never enter the water to rescue someone.
- Practice retrieving a person from the water. It is a valuable skill and not easy to do.
- Perform CPR until the Fire Department, Coast Guard or ambulance can arrive.
- Victims of electrical shock drowning are good candidates for successful CRP efforts.