How To Prevent Electric Shock Drowning

Electric shock drowning (ESD) is an underreported threat in lakes and swimming pools in the United States. Electricity from docks and boats can leak into water, creating a dangerous situation for swimmers. Even small amounts of voltage in freshwater can cause muscle paralysis. When someone enters the water and becomes non-responsive, the first impulse many have is to jump in and pull them out, but this can lead to multiple drownings.

If you feel a tingle, stop! Swim away from the dock since it could be the source of electricity. Got questions about electric shock drowning? We have answers! Find them here! 

More and more docks have electrical features, frequently involving a mix of professionally installed and DIY equipment like lighting, boat lifts, refrigerators, televisions, and more. The ESD threat is increasing as dock electrification becomes more prevalent. It's difficult to assess the exact number of drownings each year because electricity in water can be an intermittent problem and is difficult to identify. ESD drownings are frequently categorized as unexplained, and sometimes the victim is even blamed.

Safety Precautions Every Dock Needs

Before swimming, everyone on the dock should know where the electrical breaker or disconnect is located. Share this information with anyone who uses your dock.

electrical breaker

What To Do If You Suspect Hazardous Conditions

If a suspected ESD event is in progress, turn off the power at the breaker and call 911 immediately.

DO NOT JUMP IN! If electricity is in the water, you could end up drowning as well. Use a non-conductive rescue hook and pole to move the swimmer to safety or throw them a life ring if they start to respond when you cut power.

Whatever you do, make sure that no one enters the water until the electricity issue is fully resolved and a certified electrician has inspected your system.

non-conductive hook

The Problems With Detecting Electricity In Water

Detecting electricity in water is very challenging. The current generation of devices uses the same voltage detection technology that electricians have used since the 1950s. Unfortunately, voltage can occur in water for various reasons, and basic voltage detectors can't tell the difference between natural and hazardous conditions, limiting their ability to provide accurate information to keep swimmers safe.

We developed WaveLink Secure  because we tested all of the dock-based voltage detectors on the market, and none gave us confidence that we could keep our loved ones safe. Read the WaveLink Secure story.

WaveLink Secure is the first device capable of detecting hazardous conditions throughout the swimming area without generating false alarms or unnecessary dock shutdowns. Find out more or buy a WaveLink Secure Hub today!

Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Shock Drowning

Electricity seeks the path of least resistance, and human and pet bodies conduct electricity with less resistance than fresh water. This is not usually the case in salt water.

Most electric shock drownings occur when low-level alternating current from boats, docks, or lights "escapes" into the water, shocking people in the water and paralyzing them so they can’t swim or help themselves.

10 mA of alternating current (AC) can cause muscular paralysis and create ESD risk. To put that in perspective, that’s just 1/50th of the electricity flowing through a 60-watt light bulb.

The exact length that electricity can travel in water varies depending on the source, structures in the water, and water clarity and sediment levels. In some test conditions, electricity has reached dangerous levels at more than 300 yards from the source.

Electrical current can cause numerous problems when it passes through a body, including:

  • Muscular paralysis
  • Respiratory paralysis, shutting down the lungs
  • Ventricular fibrillation (a life-threatening heart rhythm that results in a rapid, inadequate heartbeat)
  • Cardiac arrest (electrocution)

Animals are susceptible to ESD just like humans.