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Invisible Danger: Electric Shock Drowning

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As summer approaches and we enter into the carefree, leisurely season of boating, that innocent act of fun can turn tragic as the invisible danger of electric shock drowning (ESD) occurs each year. Many swimmers and boat operators place themselves in harm’s way without knowing. For this reason alone, it is very important to know how ESD happens, how to stop it from happening, and what to do or not to do if you ever have to help a victim.

What exactly is Electric Shock Drowning? According to www.esfi.org, ESD occurs when faulty wiring sends electric current into water, which passes through the body and causes paralysis which could ultimately result in drowning. This is a danger that most people aren’t aware of when it comes to lakes. However, with boats and docks that carry electricity, faulty wiring or the usage of damaged electrical cords can cause the surrounding water to become energized. It is one thing to talk about the specifics of what ESD is, it is another to actually dive into ways to avoid it. Take a look below to learn ways to avoid electric shock drowning:

  • Locate and label all power switches to pool, hot tub, spa equipment and lighting
  • Make sure all pools, hot tubs, and spas are at least 25 feet from power lines
  • All wiring and repairs should be performed by a qualified electrician
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect your pool, spa or hot tub annually
  • Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)  on all receptacles within 20 feet of water’s edge to prevent electrocution

Even with the necessary tips provided to avoid electric shock drowning, there comes a time when an emergency might happen. In the unfortunate event that you ever have to help an ESD victim, here are some important tips to remember:

  • Do not enter the water
  • Turn off source of power
  • Call 911
  • Throw a life ring or life saver
  • Use an insulated device (such as fiberglass rescue crook) to attempt to remove victim from water
  • If the victim does not have a pulse and not breathing begin CPR or use (AED) Artificial Electrical Defibrillator if available.

Electric shock drowning is known as the silent killer because there is no visible warning or way to tell if water surrounding a boat, marina or dock is energized or will become energized with fatal levels of electricity within seconds. Although summertime boating activities are full of excitement and fun times, it is important to remember the invisible danger that surrounds them.

The most important thing you can do this summer when boating is to educate yourself and others around you of the seriousness of ESD. If you don’t take anything else away from this article, please remember to never swim near a boat or marina when it is running! Following that one simple rule can keep you and everyone else around you safe, while still enjoying some much needed fun in the sun this summer.


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