For many families, boating and swimming are synonymous with summer fun. However, there are many electrical hazards that come along with these leisurely warm-weather activities. For example, just like your home, it’s critical that you have your boat inspected regularly by a licensed professional to make sure it meets local, state, U.S. Coast Guard and American Boat and Yacht Council standards. You also need to be familiar with the vessel’s electrical system, so you can identify and correct any potential hazards. In addition, you need to understand other situations that can cause electric shock drowning.
Avoid the potential for electric shock drowning
Unknowingly, many boat owners and swimmers put themselves in danger by swimming near docks with lights, power pedestals and other sources of electric power. Reduce the risk of electric shock drowning by reviewing these tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.esfi.org) and sharing them with your family and friends:
- Obey all “No Swimming” signs.
- Never swim near a marina, dock or launching ramp – or close to a boat while it’s running.
- Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat. Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water, causing water electrification.
- Coming into contact with an energized power line can cause serious and sometimes lethal electric shocks, so be aware of your surroundings and potential electrical hazards by checking the location of nearby power lines before boating, fishing or swimming. Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines. This is particularly important for sailboats, which often have masts of 30 feet or more.
- If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified and you need to get out of the water right away. Swim back in the direction from which you came, avoid the use of metal objects such as ladders and tell someone in immediate area. Report the issue to the owner of the property, because this tingle is a sign that power to the facility should be turned off until a proper inspection and repairs have been completed.
Check your boat before you leave the dock or ramp
- If you question the safety of your boat’s electrical system, immediately turn off the power supply at the electrical panel, and don’t turn it back on until an electrician has checked it.
- Know where the main breakers are located for both the boat and the shore power source, so you can respond quickly in case of an emergency.
- Only use shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles and extension cords designed specifically for use near water and tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or ETL SEMKO (ETL). Don’t use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered.
- Have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) installed on your boat and insist that your marina or dock owner have them installed on the dock. Test them once a month.
- Where permanently wired GFCIs aren’t available, use “UL-Marine Listed” portable GFCIs when using electricity near water to decrease the chances of shock or electrocution.
- Consider having equipment leakage circuit interrupters (ELCIs) installed on your boat to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into water surrounding your boat.
- Never stand or swim in water when turning electrical devices or switches on or off.
- The marina should be safety inspected annually. Be sure to report damaged or missing equipment, nonfunctional GFCIs and corroded or damaged power pedestals to the marina owner. A pedestal or dockside electrical system is a power box designed with corrosion-resistant materials to provide electricity safely on the dock in marine environments. Notify the marina owner of any electrical safety hazards so they can be fixed immediately.
Follow these pool and hot tub safety tips too
When the weather gets hot, it’s time to head outdoors for sun, fun and water! Make sure everyone in your family has a safe summer by sharing these tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (www. esfi.org):
- Keep outlets near pools, hot tubs and spas – and even the sprinkler – covered and dry. Look for covers that offer protection when outlets aren’t being used, as well as ones that offer splash and weather protection whenever a plug is inserted.
- Outdoor outlets should be protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Many older swimming pools predate the introduction of GFCIs in the 1970s, so upgrade branch circuits supplying power to underwater pool lights operating above 15 volts.
- If outdoor outlets are not GFCI protected, use a portable GFCI or GFCI extension cord. They require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $40, but they only should be on a temporary basis and need to be tested prior to every use.
- Make sure all electrical equipment for swimming pools and other outdoor equipment is grounded – even cleaning equipment.
- Keep electrical equipment, tools and cords at least 10 feet away from water sources. Whenever possible, use battery-operated electrical devices outside.
- Never handle electrical devices when you’re wet – either from water activities or from perspiration.
- If an electrical product falls into the water, don’t reach into the water to retrieve it. Instead, first make sure you’re dry and not in contact with water or metal surfaces. Then unplug the device immediately or shut off the circuit powering the item.
- Make sure there are no power lines over a swimming pool.
- To avoid electric shock drowning, have an electrician inspect and upgrade your pool, hot tub or spa in accordance with applicable local codes and the latest version of the National Electrical Code.
- Get out of the water when you see lightning or hear thunder, even if it’s not raining. Because lightning can travel sideways for 10 or so miles, blue skies are not a sign of safety. If you hear thunder, take cover.