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Posted on: June 11, 2018

Marina Electric Shock Swimming and Boating Safety Tips

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Boating and Marina Safety

Boating and Marina SafetyFor many, swimming and boating are synonymous with summer fun.  However, there are many electrical hazards that come along with these leisurely summer activities.  Just like your home, it is critical that you have your boat inspected regularly by a licensed electrician and that you are familiar with the electrical system so you can identify and correct any potential hazards.  Along with the safety of your boat's electrical system, it is critical for the safety of boat operators and swimmers to understand the hazard of electric shock drowning.  ESFI's Boating and Marina Safety resources have the necessary tools to ensure that fun in the sun doesn't give way to an emergency at sea. 

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Electric Shock Drowning - Unknown Danger Lurking in the Water

Electric Shock Drowning - Unknown Danger Lurking in the Water marina

Docks and boats carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water to become energized. NEVER swim near a marina or near a boat while its running.

  • There is no visible warning to electrified water
  • Electric current in the water causes the paralysis of muscles which results in drowning
  • The 2017 National Electrical Code now requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection to help prevent water electrification. Check to see if your marina, and the boats in the marina, have proper GFCI protection
  • As little as 10 milliamps, 1/50th the amount used by a 60 watt light bulb, can cause paralysis and drowning

What to do if you see electric shock drowning taking place:

  • Turn power off
  • Throw a life ring
  • Call 911
  • NEVER enter the water – you could become a victim too

The 2017 National Electrical Code requires marinas and boat socks to post electric shock warning signs where electricity is used near water

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Boating and Marina Safety Brochure

Boating and Marina Brochure - ESFI
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5 Tips for Boat Owners:

  1. Swimming Safety - Never allow swimming near the boat, marina, or launching ramp. Residual current could flow into the water from the boat, or the marina’s wiring, potentially putting anyone in the water at risk of Electric Shock Drowning.
  2. Put It to the Test - Be sure your boat is properly maintained and consider having it inspected annually. GFCIs and ELCIs should be tested monthly to ensure functionality. Conduct leakage testing to determine if electrical current is escaping the vessel. 
  3. Use the Right Tool - Never use household cords near water. Use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are “UL- Marine Listed” when using electricity near water.
  4. Know Your Surroundings - Know where your main breaker(s) are located on both the boat and the shorepower source so that you can respond quickly in case of an emergency. Be aware of any potential electrical hazards by checking for nearby power lines before boating, fishing, or swimming.
  5. Learn the Code - Regularly have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician to be sure it meets your local and state NEC, NFPA, and ABYC safety codes and standards.

Safety Device Guide:

  • What is a circuit breaker?
    Circuit breakers are designed to detect faulty electrical conditions within electrical systems and interrupt current flow.
  • What is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)?
    These outlets or circuit breakers prevent shock and electrocutions by quickly shutting off power to the circuit if the electricity flowing into the circuit differs by even a slight amount from that returning.
  • What is a portable GFCI?
    A portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install. Portable GFCIs should only be used on a temporary basis and should be tested prior to every use.
  • What is an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter?
    ELCIs measure current flow within electrical wires and immediately switches electricity off if an imbalance of current flow is detected.
  • What is a shore power cord or marine power cord?
    Shore power cords and Y-adapter cords are designed specifically for use near water to provide shore side electrical power to ships and boats while its main and auxiliary engine is turned off.
  • What is a power pedestal or dockside electrical system? 
    A power pedestal or dockside electrical system is a power box designed with corrosion-resistant materials to provide electricity safely on the dock.

Electric Shock Drowning:

Electric Shock Drowning occurs when a body makes contact with electrified water and becomes
 a conductor of electricity leading to the possibility of complete loss of muscle control, rapid or
 irregular heart beat (ventricular fibrillation), and even electric shock death.

Common Causes:
 Docks and boats can carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical
 cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water source to become energized.

How to Avoid:

  • Obey all “No swimming signs”.
  • NEVER swim near a marina.
  •  NEVER swim near a boat while it is running.
  • If you feel any tingling sensations while in the water, tell someone and swim back in the direction from which you came. Immediately report it to the dock or marina owner.

How to Respond:

  • Do not enter the water!
  • Call 911 or VHF Channel 16 immediately
  • If possible turn off all nearby power sources
  • Extreme caution should be taken when removing the victim from the water.
  • If the victim does not have a pulse and not breathing begin CPR or use (AED) Artificial Electrical Defibrillator if available.

Marina Safety Checklist:

Familiarize yourself with your marina and help prevent electrical hazards. Use this checklist to talk with the marina manger or owner about potential safety concerns

  • Are any cords cracked or frayed?
  • Is there corrosion or other damage on any of the power pedestals?
  • When was the marina last inspected? Inspections should be performed yearly
  • What edition of the codes (NEC, NFPA, ABYC) does the  marina comply with?
  • What type of ground fault protection does the marina provide?

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Boating and Marina Safety Toolkit: Avoid Electric Shock Drowning

Unknowingly, many swimmers and boat and marina operators place themselves in the face of danger by swimming near electric-powered boats and docks. This innocent act of fun can turn tragic as electric shock drowning occurs each year. Raising awareness among marina and boat operators can help prevent electric shock drowning or other electrical injuries while out on the water.

Boating And Marina Toolkit

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Electrical Safety Tips for Boat Operators

Although boating is considered to be a carefree activity, there are many electrical hazards that need to be considered before leaving the dock.  Reduce the risk of electric shock drowning and common boat electrical hazards with these handy tips from ESFI.

Electrical Safety Tips for Boat Operators:

  • Don’t allow yourself or anyone else to swim near the dock. Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat.  Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and potential electrical hazards by checking the location of nearby power lines before boating, fishing, or swimming. Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines.
  • If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified, get out of the water as soon as possible avoiding the use of metal objects such as ladders.  Notify the owner of the property immediately, as this tingle is a sign that power to the facility should be turned off until a proper inspection has been completed.
  • Have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician?regularly to be sure they meet your local and state NEC, NFPA, and ABYC safety code and standards. 
  • Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) installed on your boat and insist that your marina/dock owners have them installed on the dock. Test them once a month.
  • Use “UL- Marine Listed” portable GFCIs when using electricity near water. They will decrease the chances of shock or electrocution.
  • Consider having Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCI) installed on boats to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into water surrounding your boat.
  • Only use shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles, and extension cords that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or ETL SEMKO (ETL). They are specifically designed to keep you safe when using them near water.
  • Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered. Damaged cords exposed to water could result in electrical shock or electrocution.
  • If you question the safety of your boat’s electrical system, immediately turn off the power supply at the electrical panel and do not turn it back on until it has been checked by a qualified electrician.
  • Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices or switches to prevent shock or electrocution.
  • Notify the marina owner of any electrical safety hazards so that they can be fixed immediately.
     

Boat Owners Safety Tips

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Electrical Safety Tips for Marina Owners

Unknowingly, many swimmers and boat and marina operators place themselves in the face of danger by swimming near electric-powered boats and docks. This innocent act of fun can turn tragic as electric shock drowning occurs each year.  Raising awareness among marina and boat operators can help prevent electric shock drowning or other electrical injuries while out on the water.  Additionally, there are electrical safety precautions boaters must adhere to to ensure the electrical safety of the entire marina. 

Learn how to keep marinas and docks safe this summer with these tips from ESFI:

  • Do not allow swimming in or around your marina.  While you cannot prevent individuals from acting on their own accord, posting signs prohibiting swimming is an easy way to help prevent an electric shock drowning incident. Place warning signs in prominent areas around your marina such as: “ELECTRIC SHOCK HAZARD RISK: SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.”
  • Have your dockside electrical system (pedestal) inspected and updated by a qualified electrician annually. If you are thinking of having a new one installed, have it installed by a qualified electrician to be sure it meets the NEC and NFPA safety codes and standards.
  • Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) installed on the dock and test them once a month.Use portable “UL- Marine Listed” GFCIs when using electricity near water. They will decrease the chances of  electrically related injuries and deaths.
  • Require boat owners and renters to use only “UL- Marine Listed” shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles, and extension cords that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or ETL SEMKO (ETL).  They are specifically designed to keep people safe when using them near water. Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered. Damaged cords exposed to water could result in electric shock drowning or other electrically-related injuries.
  • If you question the safety of your dock’s electrical system, immediately turn off the power supply at the electrical panel and do not turn it back on until it has been checked by a certified marine electrician.
  • Immediately fix all electrical safety hazards and maintain routine inspections to prevent problems before they occur.
  • Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices or switches.
  • Plan annual safety events at your marina where owners can learn about boat and dock electrical safety and have their boats inspected by licensed electricians.


Tips for Marina Owners

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Boat and Marina Electrical Safety Device Reference Guide

Familiarizing yourself with your boat's electrical system is important in order to be able to identify and correct potential hazards. 

What is a circuit breaker?
 A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by an overload or short circuit. Circuit breakers were designed to detect faulty electrical conditions within electrical systems and interrupt current flow.

What is a GFCI?
 GFCIs are electrical safety devices that trip electrical circuits when they detect ground faults or leakage currents. These outlets or circuit breakers prevent shock and electrocutions by quickly shutting off power to the circuit if the electricity flowing into the circuit differs by even a slight amount from that returning.

What is a portable GFCI?
 While most GFCIs are outlets, a portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCIs. Portable GFCIs should only be used on a temporary basis and should be tested prior to every use.

What is an ELCI?
 Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCIs) are Circuit Breakers that provide protection from current leakage and overcurrent. ELCIs measure current flow within electrical wires and immediately switches electricity off if an imbalance of current flow is detected.  ELCIs provide whole-boat protection.

What is a shore power cord or marine power cord?
 A shore power cord is a cord designed specifically for use near water to provide shore side electrical power to ships and boats while its main and auxiliary engine is turned off.

What is a pedestal or dockside electrical system?
 A pedestal or dockside electrical system is a power box designed with corrosion-resistant materials to provide electricity safely on the dock meeting safety standards for use in marine environments.

Boat and Marina Electrical Safety Device Reference Guide

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