What is ‘shock drowning’, and what can you do to prevent it?
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Being so close to the Missouri River (and plenty of other bodies of water), it’s only natural that North Dakota residents like to get out on the water, especially during the summer months. While it’s important to know the ways to be safe around open water, there’s another unexpected portion of water danger that the National Fire Protection Association wants to remind people of this year: the dangers of electrical hazards in pools and hot tubs, on boats, docks, and piers, and in waters which surround boats, marinas, and launch ramps.

Many people are already unaware of the electrical dangers in watery environments, especially electric shock drowning (ESD). This occurs when poorly installed or improperly maintained electrical systems result in electrical currents in the water. These currents can then pass through human bodies, causing a level of paralysis that can lead to drowning or serious injury.

Thankfully, there are plenty of things people can do to prevent an incident as a result, whether you own a boat, a pool, or just like to swim. Here are a few handy tips from the NFPA to help avoid any chance of shock drowning.

Advice for Swimmers:

  • Never swim near a marina, dock, or boatyard.
  • While swimming in a pool or hot tub, look out for any underwater lights that are flickering or not working.
  • If you feel a tingling sensation while in a pool, stop swimming in the direction you are heading, and move back to a direction where you did not feel the tingling. Leave the water as quickly as possible, and try to avoid using metal ladders or rails (as conductive metal may increase the risk of shock).

Advice for Pool Owners:

  • When putting in a new pool or hot tub, be sure all wiring is performed by an experienced electrician who knows the safety requirements for pool installations, and that the completed work is inspected afterward.
  • Have an electrician periodically inspect and replace or upgrade the equipment that keeps your pool/hot tub electrically safe.
  • Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
  • If there are electrical lines over the pool, make sure they have proper clearance over it and other structures (like diving boards). If you have doubts, contact a local electrician to ensure the power lines are a safe distance away from the water.

Advice for Boat Owners:

  • Avoid entering the water in the area you launch or load a boat. These areas could have stray electrical currents in the water, leading to shock drowning, or injury.
  • Have your boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician yearly and after every major storm that would affect it. Ensure it meets your area’s required codes, including those put forward by the American Boat and Yacht Council.
  • Repair any noted faults or damages to the electrical system before using the boat.
  • Check with the marina owner to see if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes.
  • Ensure that ground fault circuit protection is installed on circuits supplying the boat. Use only portable GFCI circuits and shore power cords that have the proper listing mark for marine applications whenever using electricity near water.

For more information on shock drowning and how to prevent it, visit the NFPA’s resource page on water safety for videos, tip sheets and checklists that can be downloaded and shared.

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