Hidden summer danger: boat dock electrocution

As Memorial Day weekend ushers in the official opening of summer tourist season, Missouri’s lakes will fill with people of all ages out to enjoy a little fun in the sun. For those who who actually get in the water, as opposed to just sitting back and enjoying views of it, a caution about safety is in order.

Marinas and docks are generally thought of as safe places. After all, both provide a harbor for small watercraft and large vessels alike. Some parents are warning others to be especially careful around docked boats, though, and they should know. They lost a daughter in the spring of 2017 when electric shock drowning killed her. 

CBS News reported the story, pointing out these types of drownings are hard to track, and they often happen without warning. Called a “silent killer,” electric shock drowning occurs when water becomes electrified around a boat, dock or marina. If the power has lost its grounding and fills the water, the instant someone jumps in or swims near that area, the “voltage ‘takes a shortcut’ through the human body,” a danger that can cause paralysis and lead to drowning. 

Parents say there are few things to do that may prevent a tragic accident:

  • Check the ground fault circuit and other wiring around the dock
  • Swim away from the dock if the slightest bit of tingle is in the water
  • Get a Dock Lifeguard that can detect electric currents on the dock and in the water

The Boat Owners Association of The United States offers additional tips for preventing boat dock electrocution:

  • Get a “qualified electrician with experience in dock electrical service” to conduct an annual inspection of the dock
  • Post warning signs: “No swimming” 
  • Stay out of the water where boats and docks use electricity
  • Ask the marina manager if ground-fault protection is in place

Finally, the BOAUS cautions: “No one should ever swim in a marina.”


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