How electric shock drowning works
Electric shock drowning is a fatal danger that many boaters never see coming. It happens when kids or adults jump off the boat to go swimming and find themselves in waters being charged by current (often 120-volt) leaking from a nearby boat. Swimmers are either electrocuted or severely incapacitated, leading to drowning.
It happens more often than you might imagine. During a four-month period in 2012, seven fatal cases were confirmed in the United States along with plenty more near-misses.
How can you keep yourself and everyone on your boat safe? Here are three tips:
• Be on the lookout in freshwater lakes and brackish marinas. In salt water, current is likely to go around a swimmer — unless he grabs onto an electrically charged swim ladder or other metal object attached to a boat with a leaking current. In fresh water, a jolt as low as 2 volts AC per foot of water can kill a human being. To be safe, treat brackish water as fresh.
• Test your own boat. You’ll need a basic circuit tester and a clamp meter, which together will cost you about $150. Run all your AC loads with the clamp around the shorepower cord to determine if any current is leaking. Call a trusted electrician to help you with further details depending on your boat’s setup.
• Install an isolation transformer. It will isolate your AC shorepower system from your boat’s AC system, making sure that any stray current on the boat returns to its source instead of entering the water.
To learn more about electric shock drowning and how to stay safe, check out this video: