Electric Shock Drowning.  What is ESD?



USCG FY2006 Grant In-Water Shock Hazard Mitigation
Authored by James D. Shafer and Capt. David E. Rifkin (USN, Ret)
James D. Shafer, Harbor Marine Consultants, Inc, Vero Beach, FL, 772-284-0855,
kp2r@bellsouth.net, www.marinaguard.net
David E. Rifkin, Quality Marine Services, LLC, Jacksonville, FL, 904-382-7868,
qualitymarinesvcs@comcast.net, www.qualitymarineservices.net
The authors and principal researchers for this USCG Safety Grant began their fieldwork in the area of Electric Shock Drowning nearly eight years ago. Jim gained extensive experience in marine electrical application and troubleshooting through his former service business and worldwide cruising experiences. Dave gained his electrical experience in the Navy’s nuclear power program in submarines. They are ABYC certified in Marine Electrical, Corrosion and Standards.
In Water Shock Hazard Final Compiled - w[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [4.5 MB]
Electric Shock DrowningThe Invisible Killer! presented to ABYC in 2012 by Kevin Ritz
Kevin's 8 year old son, Lucas, died August 1, 1990 while swimming behind boat docks located in a fresh water river in the Pacific NW. The local fire, police and the coroner's report insisted (in error) that his son had drowned. They reasoned that because there were no burn marks on the deceased the death could not be electrically related. Kevin developed his own testing equipment and found the boat that was improperly wired and leaking current to ground.
Adobe Acrobat document [38.3 MB]
Marina Dock Safety and Electric Shock Drowning by Chris Dolan
Instructor  Bio  -­‐‑  Chris  Dolan

•  Senior Applications Engineer •  13 years of experience with Eaton - Marina Power and Lighting •  Oversees more than 600 electrical designs a year •  Experienced in power pedestals and distribution, and electrical safety and efficiency •  Speaker at numerous industry events •  Contributor to the upcoming ASCE manual for marina design
•  Director, Educational Programming, American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) •  Award winning author of multiple best selling marine books. •  Titles include: Outboard Engines, Power Boaters Guide to Electrical Systems, 12 Volt Bible for Boats 2nd Edition, Advanced Marine Electrics and Electronic Troubleshooting, Co-Author, Fundamentals of Marine Service Technology •
Adobe Acrobat document [10.9 MB]
ESD Explained What every boater needs to know about Electric Shock Drowning by Beth A. Leonard
3 page article published in Seaworthy July 2013 BoatUS publication
Adobe Acrobat document [479.4 KB]
Best Management Practices for Marina Electrical Safety publication developed for the Association of Marina Industries by 4 industry experts
The intent of this document is to provide an overview of the electricity encountered at a marina, what tools of the trade a marina should have for dealing with electrical components, how a marina operator can use regular observation and inspection to avoid most electrical hazards, and how to best educate boaters on what they need to do while in a marina. While regulations pertaining to electrical systems at marinas will be included here, the guidelines within this document are not intended as a means to ensure your marina is meeting your local, state, and/or federal regulations.
Marina electrical system design and construction are specialized crafts requiring knowledge and skills that are unique to these types of facilities.
Marina Electrical Safety.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [3.1 MB]
Electric Shock Drowning Incidents – Marinas© (In-Water electrocution fatalities included)
A list of 74 ESD(fatalities) occurring from 1986 to 2015 and 42 Electric Shock near misses occurring from 1981 to 2015 compiled by J.D.Shafer and Capt D.E. Rifkin. Use this when an uneducated member of your organization says "What is the big deal with this dock/boat electrical safety stuff?" and the person has not done the homework.
Adobe Acrobat document [55.8 KB]




What every parent needs to know about electric shock drowning

by: Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk Updated: Apr 22, 2016 - 10:39 AM
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Two Alabama teens jumped from a boat dock into a fresh water lake to take a swim after a day of picnicking and enjoying the warming spring weather. But sadly, one of them never made it home.
The body of one of the girls, Carmen Johnson, 15, of Hartselle, didn’t resurface. Her body was recovered an hour later, having drowned in the fresh waters of Smith Lake in Winston County, Ala.
While authorities have not said for sure what caused Carmen’s death, they believe the Priceville High School cheerleader may have drowned after she was electrocuted by  a 120-volt alternating current that was “leaking” into the water.
Carman’s death last week highlights a little-known but growing danger that comes with swimming near docks and the boats secured to them. And it sounds like every parent's nightmare.
The incidents of  Electric Shock Drowning – or drowning that happens as a result of an electric shock – have been on the rise as boats and docks are being stocked with more electric appliances and devices. If not properly installed or maintained, the devices can “leak” electric current into the water, setting up the potential for tragedy.
As the weather gets warmer and more people head outdoors for a fun time on the water, here’s a primer on ESD and some steps to take to keep safe this summer.
What is an Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)?
ESD happens when a swimmer comes into contact with electrical current.  The current – in this case, alternating current (AC) – causes skeletal muscular paralysis, lasting for only an instant, but long enough to incapacitate a swimmer allowing him to drown. 
Where does the electricity come from?
The electric current “leaks” from boats and docks into the water. It can come from frayed wires, improperly wired systems or an AC grounding system that is damaged or malfunctioning.
What causes people to be electrocuted?
Electrical current will always attempt to return to its source in order to complete the electrical circuit. Electrical current is resourceful and will find any way to do that, taking the path of least resistance and most conductivity (anything that will help the current move along its path). The way alternating current (AC) searches for its source is the most deadly for humans because it takes only a small amount of AC to disrupt the electrical impulses that control our muscles and nerves.  
Why does ESD happen in fresh water and not salt water?
We go back to conductivity for the answer. Fresh water is not a good electrical conductor. Because it is not a good conductor, the alternating current looks for something better. A human body in fresh water becomes that something better. The high amount of salt in humans make our bodies far better conductors of electrical current than fresh water.
How much electricity is needed for this to happen?
Not much at all. It takes only small amounts of leaking AC to incapacitate or electrocute a person. As small an amount as 15 milliamps can cause paralysis, 100 milliamps – or a third of the amount of electricity need to light a 40-watt light bulb – can kill a person in seconds. In comparison, a double AA battery produces 2400 milliamps per hour.
Doesn’t anyone regulate docks and boats secured to them?
There are marine codes that regulate docks and boats. They are NFPA 303 (Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards), NFPA 70, and National Electric Code 555 (NEC). Boatus.com also notes that “boats not wired in accordance with standards set forth by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) can be a source of AC leakage.”
Can you tell if water is unsafe to swim in?
No, but here are some tips that could keep you safe. 
  • Never swim within 100 yards of any fresh water marina or boatyard.
  •  If you have a boat, have it tested to make sure it is not leaking electricity. You can buy a clamp meter and test it yourself.
  • Have a qualified electrician do any electric work needed on a dock or on your boat. 
  • 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 that case you should: (courtesy of boatus.com)
  • Have someone turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords. 
  • 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 to get to anyone who you think  has been shocked.
  •  Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16. 
  • Try CPR on the person; don't stop until trained help arrives.
Sources: boatus.com; acegroup.com; Boating Magazine; Decatur Daily News
© 2016 Cox Media Group.

Safety Suggestions by Beth A. Leonard from  Boat US  Seaworthy dated July 2013.

In general ESD victims are good candidates for successful Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Learn to perform CPR and maintain your training.  To retrieve a person in the water, reach, throw, and row, but don’t go. Tell others about ESD. Most people have never heard of it and are unaware of the danger. Make sure your children understand the importance of not swimming anywhere there could be electricity. Don’t let them roughhouse on docks. Tell them what to do if they feel a tingling or shock in the water (see below). NEVER swim within 100 yards of any freshwater marina or boatyard. Talk to marina owners or operators about the danger of ESD. Ask your marina operator to prohibit swimming at their facility and post signs. Ask marina operators if they are aware of and following the guidelines from NFPA 303 (Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards) and National Electric Code (NEC) 555.  Have your boat tested once a year to see if it is leaking electricity, or buy a clamp meter and test it yourself. If you find any problems, have your boat inspected by a qualified electrician trained to ABYC standards.  Have a qualified ABYC electrician install an ELCI on your boat (refer them to the ABYC E-11 Standard) or use an ELCI in the shore power cord. As an alternative, install an isolation transformer on the boat.   Test the GFCI/ELCI at least once a month or per the manufacturer’s specifications. DO NOT do your own 120-volt AC electrical work on a boat or hire an electrician who is not familiar with ABYC standards to do it. Many of the problems that lead to electrical faults result from the differences between shore and boat electrical systems and standards. DO NOT use common household extension cords for providing shore power to your boat. Use, and encourage other boaters to use, shore power cords built to UL standards.  NEVER dive on your boat to work on underwater fittings when it is plugged in to shore power, even in saltwater. NEVER swim within 100 yards of ANY dock using electrical power!  If you have not electrified your dock or put an AC system on your boat, weigh the risks carefully before doing so. If you need electricity on your dock, hire a licensed electrician and make sure the wiring meets the requirements in NFPA 303 and NEC 555. If your dock is already wired, hire an electrician to check that it was done properly. Because docks are exposed to the elements, their electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year.  Exercise your GFCIs/ELCIs as recommended by the manufacturer.  If you normally run a power cord from your house or garage to charge your batteries, make sure the outlet has a GFCI and include an ELCI somewhere in the shore power cord.  NEVER swim off your dock without shutting down all shore power to the boat and the dock. Even if you adhere to all of these rules, nearby docks can still present a shock hazard. Educate your neighbors and work together with them to make the waterfront safe. If you are in the water and feel tingling or shocks DO NOT follow your instinct to swim toward the dock!  SHOUT! Drowning victims cannot speak, let alone shout. Let everyone know what’s happening so they’ll understand the danger and react appropriately. Try to stay upright and back out of the area the way you came, warn any other swimmers in the area of the danger, and then head for shore 100 yards or more from the dock.  Alert the dock or marina owner and tell them to shut the power off to the dock until they locate the problem and correct it. Go to the hospital to make sure there are no lingering effects that could be dangerous  Know how to distinguish drowning from ESD (see Alert for how to recognize “normal” drowning; tingling, numbness, or pain all indicate ESD). Fight the instinct to enter the water  — many rescuers have died trying to help ESD victims. Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16 as appropriate. Turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords.  Get the victim out of the water. Remember to reach, throw, row, but don’t go.  If the person is not breathing or you cannot get a pulse, perform CPR until the Fire  Department, Coast Guard, or ambulance arrives. (The full article is linked 4th spot down to the right)

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