September 2013

Preventing ESD

Take steps to protect swimmers

Preventing ESD

Take these precautions to keep swimmers safe near your boat, at the marina or near the dock.

In general

  • Spread the word about electric shock drowning. Most people are unaware of the danger.
  • To retrieve a person in the water, reach, throw and row, but don’t go in.
  • Make sure children understand the importance of not swimming near electricity. Don’t let them roughhouse on docks.
  • Learn to perform CPR and maintain your training.

In marinas

  • Never swim within 100 yards of any freshwater marina or boatyard.
  • Ask your marina to prohibit swimming and post signs.
  • Ask marina operators if they are aware of and follow the guidelines in National Fire Protection Association 303 (fire protection standard for marinas and boatyards) and National Electric Code 555.

Boat owners

  • Have your boat tested yearly to see if it is leaking electricity, or buy a clamp meter and test it yourself. If you find problems, have your boat inspected by an ABYC-qualified electrician.
  • Have a qualified electrician install an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter on your boat or use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter in the shore power cord. As an alternative, install an isolation transformer on the boat.
  • Test the GFCI/ELCI at least once a month or per the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Do not do your own electrical work on a boat. Many of the problems that lead to an electrical fault on boats 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 shore power cords built to marine standards, ideally with a built-in GFCI.
  • Never dive on your boat to work on underwater fittings when it is plugged in to shore power.

Private dock owners

  • Never swim within 100 yards of any dock using electrical power.
  • If you need electricity on your dock, hire a licensed electrician and make sure the wiring meets the requirements in NFPA 303 and NEC 555. If your dock is already wired, hire an electrician to check that it was done properly. Inspect your systems at least once a year.
  • Exercise your GFCIs/ELCIs as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • 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 a GFCI somewhere in the shore power cord.
  • Never swim off your dock without shutting down all shore power to the boat and the dock.
  • Educate your neighbors with docks and work together with them to make the waterfront safe.

Swimmers who feel tingling or shocks

  • Don’t swim toward the dock.
  • Shout! Tell those around you exactly what you’re feeling so they can help you while keeping themselves safe.
  • Try to stay upright and back out of the area the way you came, warn other swimmers of the danger, and 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 fix the problem.
  • Go to the hospital, explain what happened, and ask to be checked over to be sure you have no adverse health effects.

Rescuing an ESD victim

  • Know how to distinguish drowning from ESD. (Drowning victims cannot speak and look as if they are trying to climb a ladder.)
  • Fight the instinct to enter the water.
  • Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16 as appropriate.
  • Turn off the shore power connection at the meter base or unplug shore power cords.
  • Get the victim out of the water.
  • If the person is not breathing or you can’t get a pulse, perform CPR until the fire department, Coast Guard or ambulance arrives.




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