Unlike peanut butter and jelly, some things just don’t go well together: vinegar and milk, kids and white furniture, loaning money and friendship. While these can have some unpleasant results, mixing water and electricity can be fatal. The threat is invisible and can lead to electric shock drowning (ESD), which occurs when electrical current from a dock, boat, or marina leaks into the water and paralyzes a swimmer’s muscles. Unable to move, the swimmer often drowns. The electricity also makes it nearly impossible for rescuers to intervene without risking their own lives.
It doesn’t take much current to incapacitate a person. As little as 15 milliamps can cause skeletal muscular paralysis, while 100 milliamps can cause death in a matter of seconds. In comparison, it takes just 300 milliamps to light a 40-watt light bulb. Electrical current always seeks to complete its circuit. To do so, it takes the path that is the most conductive and the least resistant. Human bodies have a higher salt content than that of fresh water, making them better conductors for electricity looking to finish a circuit. As of July, it is estimated that there have been at least 77 fatalities nationwide due to ESD, including a Macon woman who was electrocuted while swimming in Lake Sinclair due to improper dock repairs. To make matters worse, it is believed that there are many unreported cases of ESD because electrocution is not typically considered as a possible cause of death in a drowning accident.
So, how does the current get into the water in the first place? Frayed wires, improperly wired systems, or grounding systems that are damaged or malfunctioning are common culprits. Although there are marine codes that regulate docks and boats, they don’t adequately address circuit interrupter protection. Tragedies could be avoided if power boats were required to install Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCIs) to prevent electrical shorts and if marinas and docks were required to have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) at all electrical hookups.
Because it’s impossible to tell if water is energized, consider adopting these safety measures:
- Not swimming within 100 yards of any fresh water marina or dock using power.
- Testing your boat annually to make sure it is not leaking electricity.
- Not using household extension cords for powering your docked boat.
- Having a qualified electrician trained to American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards do any electric work needed on a dock or on your boat.
- If you feel a tingling on your skin or pulsing sensation in the water, swim away from anything that could be charged. Do not touch anything metal, even ladders.
- If you suspect that someone is receiving a shock, fight the urge to enter the water. Instead, throw the person a float and eliminate the electrical source by disconnecting the power, then call for help.
Take a moment to educate yourself about electric shock drowning and do what you can to share the information with others. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a water accident that you suspect was caused by someone’s negligence with electricity, or if you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the Georgia electrocution attorneys at The Mann Law Firm. We have over 50 years of experience helping people, and we can help you. Based in Macon, we have been the trusted advocates for countless victims and their families throughout Georgia. Contact us to discuss your unique situation by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.