Electric Shock Drowning

What is Electric Shock Drowning?

Electric Shock Drowning is a term used in the USA to describe a cause of death that occurs when swimmers are exposed to electric currents in the water.  Typically low-level AC current from boats, docks, or lights - "escapes" and shocks nearby swimmers. The shock paralyzes them, so they can’t swim or help themselves.  In some cases the shock itself is fatal, since the person will suffocate when their diaphragm is paralyzed, while in others it incapacitates the swimmer causing them to drown. 

The main cause of electric shock drownings is faulty electrical wiring on boats or piers that causes electric current to leak into the water. Electric shock drownings occur most often in fresh water, which is conductive due to dissolved minerals and impurities.

Electric Shock Drowning can occur without warning when a person in water encounters the dangerous electrical energy that results from leakage into that water of the AC power used throughout our homes, workplaces, marinas and other recreational facilities. So, stay out of the water in marinas. Don’t swim there. Don’t fall in there. Don’t allow anybody on your boat to do so. You are encouraged to read this brochure [DP1] for details. Keep in mind the following key points on Electric Shock Drowning:

  • If a person in the water conducts electricity better than the surrounding water, leaked electricity nearby will likely pass through him or her with fatal consequences as it seeks ground.
  • This leakage can occur in marinas or any body of water near boats and other apparatus that use standard AC electric power.
  • This threat is much greater in freshwater (like ours) than in seawater, because freshwater is a much poorer electricity conductor than people, while seawater is similar to people in conductivity.
  • Recall that Ground Fault Interrupters, the safety devices installed on the electrical outlets in our bathrooms, kitchens and other areas capable of causing fatal shocks from electricity leakage are designed to shut off the power if a current leak approaches a dangerous level.
  • There are no Ground Fault Interrupters in our waters.
  • In freshwater especially, but in all waters, do not allow yourself or anybody else become the preferred, unfortunate electrical pathway to ground.

 [DP1]Link ESD brochure here. Return to black fonts.

WCCO News Item on ESD