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SFMO: Remember the Risks of Electric Shock Drowning while Swimming and Boating

Learn How To Avoid Electrical Hazards While On The Water This Summer
Friday, June 14, 2019 | 11:20am

NASHVILLE – With the pending arrival of the first day of summer (June 21, 2019), the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) reminds consumers to always be mindful of safety hazards while swimming in the proximity of an electrical power source.

According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) can occur when a low level electrical current passes through a swimmer, causing muscular paralysis and eventual drowning.  While ESD can occur virtually in any location where electricity is near water, the majority of deaths nationally have occurred in public and private marinas and docks. Typically, ESD’s victims are children who are swimming in or around a marina or dock where electricity is present. 

In 2014, Tennessee lawmakers passed Public Chapter 923 — more commonly known as the Noah Dean and Nate Act. Named after Morristown fifth-graders Noah Dean Winstead, 10, and Nate Lynam, 11, both boys died tragically on July 4, 2012, after being electrocuted while swimming at a Tennessee marina. The legislation required the installation of ground fault circuit interrupters in and around boat docks and marinas, required marinas to post safety signage notifying individuals of the potential for electric shock if swimming within 100 yards of the boat dock and authorized the SFMO to conduct safety inspections of boat docks and marinas to ensure compliance with applicable codes. A complete list of public marinas and docks inspected and the results of those inspections can be found here.

“Tennessee has some of the country’s most beautiful public waters, and Tennesseans deserve public marinas that have been inspected to help reduce the risk of Electric Shock Drowning,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “I’m proud of the work our team has performed in order to help make Tennessee safer.”

As a safety reminder for families and boat owners, the SFMO urges Tennesseans to remember:

In Marinas: 

  • Never swim within 100 yards of any freshwater marina or boatyard.
  • Talk to marina owners or operators about the dangers of ESD. If required signs are not posted, ask your marina operator to post signs prohibiting swimming at their facility or contact the SFMO to file a complaint.

If You Have A Boat:

  • 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 American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards.  Have a qualified ABYC electrician install an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter (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 ELCI at least once a month or per the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Do not hire an electrician who is not familiar with ABYC standards to install electrical equipment on your boat. 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.

If You Have A Private Dock:

  • Never swim within 100 yards of any dock using electrical power.
  • If you have not electrified your dock or put an air conditioning 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. 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.
  • 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’re In The Water And Feel Tingling Or Shocks:

  • Do not follow your instinct to swim toward the dock.
  • 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.

If You Have To Rescue An ESD Victim: 

  • Know how to distinguish drowning from ESD. Tingling, numbness, and 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.
  • If the person is not breathing or you cannot find a pulse, perform CPR until the local fire department or emergency responders arrive.

Marina inspections will continue across the state in the future, as the law requires an inspection every 5 years.