Recognizing and Preventing Electric Shock Drowning

The realities of Electric shock drowning (ESD) are only now surfacing, as recognizing and reporting these incidents is still in its infancy. This occurs when a person is swimming in electrified water.  The current passes into their bodies, causing their muscles to seize up, sometimes in complete paralysis, which prevents them from swimming, leading to their eventual drowning.  This phenomenon has only been recently documented (since 1999), but it is likely that many drowning deaths have in fact been caused by ESD.

What Causes Electric Shock Drowning?

Electric shock drowning happens when an electrified object such as a dock or a boat leaks current into the water where a person is swimming.  Often it happens because a dock wired for lights or electricity is not properly grounded, and a ladder or cable carries the current into the water.  A boat that is plugged in to the shore can have a faulty wire or connection and turn the water into a danger zone.  It takes less than one amp, only 1/50th of the charge it takes to power a lightbulb, to cause paralysis and ESD.  Even properly wired equipment can wear over time, leading to intermittent surges into the water that could be missed during an inspection.

What to Do in Case of Electric Shock Drowning

A person who encounters electrified water may or may not notice a problem.  If they dive right into the affected area they probably will not, but if they swim into it, it is possible they will feel a tingling in their body.  If this happens, the swimmer ought to go back immediately and notify everyone in the area to get out of the water, using the shore, a de-powered boat or a wooden dock rather than a metal ladder or something similar.  If a person suspects another of ESD, they should never jump in to help them but should swim away at once if they do not want to also become a victim.  Call 911, find a non-metal pole to push them away from the current and throw them a life preserver at once.

How to Prevent Electric Shock Drowning

ESD is so subtle that the only real way to survive it is to prevent it.  No one should ever be swimming in a marina or near a boat that is powered.  There are new devices being invented that can detect current and shut it off if something goes faulty, but these are not always reliable.  The best solution is to leave the dock and the boat unpowered and to post signs warning people of the dangers of electric shock drowning.

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