The hidden dangers of electrocution around docks and boats


WASHINGTON, N.C. (WNCT) – A relaxing day on the boat and water could turn fatal in a matter of seconds. For many, electric shock drowning (ESD) is a term they may not have heard of, but one they should pay attention to.

ESD may be to blamed for dozens of what appears to be bizarre drownings across the country in recent years. It is one reason why many docks and marinas ban swimming.

“When several boats get together, they can pass current back and forth and create a really unsafe field, and a really unsafe area to swim in,” said Bobby Schultz, marina manger at the Beaufort Yacht Basin.

Whether it is a new or old boat, all can leak electrical currents into the water. The risk is increased when you plug your boat into the dock for charging.

But many may not know the risks until it is too late because the electric currents are invisible.

“You could jump in water that looks perfectly safe and next thing you know you’re shocked,” Schultz said.

After three people were electrocuted in a Missouri lake four years ago, Dave Hotz created the Dock Lifeguard, which alerts people if there is electricity detected in the water.

“They’re going to hear a very loud alarm and flashing lights,” Hotz said. “They’re going to know to call somebody. It’s not a safe situation.”

Hotz said it isn’t only boats leaking electrical current that can cause dangers. Exposed wires and faulty equipment can also lead to unsafe swimming conditions. The safest docks will be the ones that are grounded.

Hotz recommends people not only take precautions, but also buy something as easy as a throw ring to rescue someone in the water.

“Think how fast can I get a throw ring to them, because you can’t jump into the water after them,” he said.

Tom Watson, a dock attendant with Washington Waterfront Docks, said they check their electrical equipment on docks annually. He said despite that, the risk of electrocution is still there from the boats.

“It could be as severe as dropping a cord straight from the receptacle open ended, right into a bath tub,” Watson said.

For some out on a boat for Memorial Day weekend, the idea of electrocution came as a shock.

“I hadn’t thought about wires or anything electrocuting me when I got in the water, out in the river,” said Faith Hudnell. “That never really crossed my mind.”

The best advice is to stay out of the water if there are multiple boats in the area, or if you are around a dock.

For more information on electric shock drowning, click here.

If you would like to learn more about the Dock Lifeguard, click here.

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