Boat dock owners encouraged to check docks for safety issues

Boating Safety

Boat dock owners are highly encouraged to take the necessary precautions to make their dock safe from stray electrical current.

Tingling and numbness in the extremities while swimming in the water has been a common statement made by individuals who survived incidents involving electrical current near docks. Swimming away from any dock suspected to be charged with electricity is the safest course of action. Exiting the water at the shoreline, a safe distance from the electrically charged dock, or swimming to a nearby dock, would be the alternative. It should be noted, if there are metal dock cables securing the electrically charged dock to the shoreline, the metal cables may be charged with electricity and should be avoided also.

Docks and boats carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water to become energized.  Never swim near a marina or near a boat while it’s running.

  • There is no visible warning to electrified water
  • Electric current in the water causes the paralysis of muscles which results in drowning
  • The 2017 National Electrical Code now requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection to help prevent water electrification. Check to see if your marina, and the boats in the marina, have proper GFCI protection
  • As little as 10 milliamps, 1/50th the amount used by a 60 watt light bulb, can cause paralysis and drowning

What to do if you see electric shock drowning taking place:

  • Turn power off
  • Throw a life ring
  • Call 911
  • NEVER enter the water – you could become a victim too
  • “Warm weather has arrived in Missouri and many people will begin enjoying time on our state’s lakes and rivers,” said Colonel Karsten. “While it is convenient to have electricity available on a boat dock, it is important to be responsible. Make sure you have taken the necessary precautions for your dock, so the area is safe for your family and friends to enjoy.”

Tips for Boat Owners:

  1. Swimming Safety – Never allow swimming near the boat, marina, or launching ramp. Residual current could flow into the water from the boat, or the marina’s wiring, potentially putting anyone in the water at risk of Electric Shock Drowning.
  2. Put It to the Test – Be sure your boat is properly maintained and consider having it inspected annually. GFCIs and ELCIs should be tested monthly to ensure functionality. Conduct leakage testing to determine if electrical current is escaping the vessel. 
  3. Use the Right Tool – Never use household cords near water. Use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are “UL- Marine Listed” when using electricity near water.
  4. Know Your Surroundings – Know where your main breaker(s) are located on both the boat and the shore power source so that you can respond quickly in case of an emergency. Be aware of any potential electrical hazards by checking for nearby power lines before boating, fishing, or swimming.
  5. Learn the Code – Regularly have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician to be sure it meets your local and state NEC, NFPA, and ABYC safety codes and standards.

Safety Device Guide:

  • What is a circuit breaker?
    Circuit breakers are designed to detect faulty electrical conditions within electrical systems and interrupt current flow.
  • What is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)?
    These outlets or circuit breakers prevent shock and electrocutions by quickly shutting off power to the circuit if the electricity flowing into the circuit differs by even a slight amount from that returning.
  • What is a portable GFCI?
    A portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install. Portable GFCIs should only be used on a temporary basis and should be tested prior to every use.
  • What is an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter?
    ELCIs measure current flow within electrical wires and immediately switches electricity off if an imbalance of current flow is detected.
  • What is a shore power cord or marine power cord?
    Shore power cords and Y-adapter cords are designed specifically for use near water to provide shore-side electrical power to ships and boats while its main and auxiliary engine is turned off.
  • What is a power pedestal or dockside electrical system? 
    A power pedestal or dockside electrical system is a power box designed with corrosion-resistant materials to provide electricity safely on the dock.

Electric Shock Drowning:

Electric Shock Drowning occurs when a body makes contact with electrified water and becomes
a conductor of electricity leading to the possibility of complete loss of muscle control, rapid or
irregular heartbeat (ventricular fibrillation), and even electric shock death.

Common Causes:
Docks and boats can carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical
cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water source to become energized.

How to Avoid:

  • Obey all “No swimming signs”.
  • NEVER swim near a marina.
  •  NEVER swim near a boat while it is running.
  • If you feel any tingling sensations while in the water, tell someone and swim back in the direction from which you came. Immediately report it to the dock or marina owner.

How to Respond:

  • Do not enter the water!
  • Call 911 or VHF Channel 16 immediately
  • If possible turn off all nearby power sources
  • Extreme caution should be taken when removing the victim from the water.
  • If the victim does not have a pulse and not breathing begin CPR or use (AED) Artificial Electrical Defibrillator if available.

Marina Safety Checklist:

Familiarize yourself with your marina and help prevent electrical hazards. Use this checklist to talk with the marina manager or owner about potential safety concerns

  • Are any cords cracked or frayed?
  • Is there corrosion or other damage on any of the power pedestals?
  • When was the marina last inspected? Inspections should be performed yearly
  • What edition of the codes (NEC, NFPA, ABYC) does the marina comply with?
  • What type of ground fault protection does the marina provide?

Life jackets are always a good choice when on or near a dock. All swimmers are encouraged to use a life jacket, especially young children, and inexperienced swimmers. Whether you’re swimming near a dock or fishing from one, chose to Wear It!