Report: River Swimmers Face Electrocution Risk
16 July 2012
By Megan Guza
Fresh-water swimmers are at risk for dangers other than drowning —
they also face the danger of electrocution.
Boats and other machinery can leak electricity that can shock
people or pets swimming nearby, the Coast Guard warns.
“When this report came across my desk, I thought, ‘That’s
something we got to get out to the membership,’” said Jim Feeney,
operations officer for Division 7 Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Authorities attribute at least three deaths to electric shock
drowning in 2010 and know of at least six other instances.
“So many of these boats have shore power, mine included,” he said.
“If there’s no isolation between the shore power and the vessel
itself, this can happen.”
Electric shock drowning does not occur in saltwater, because salt
is a better conductor of electricity than human bodies. However,
fresh water does not conduct electricity, while mammals, such as
people and pets, do.
According to the Coast Guard, surveys suggest that one in four
vessels could leak electricity. Boats that leak as little as 6
amps can cause a jolt to swimmers similar to that of heart
Even seasoned boaters such as Feeney say they are unfamiliar with
the risk of leaking electricity.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” he said. “I’ve
been boating since 1946, and I have never heard of anything like
it. In hindsight, I’m amazed it hasn’t happened before.”
Currie Crookston, who has a degree in naval architecture and works
at the Aspinwall Marina, said he’s never seen it, even during his
time in the Navy.
He said circumstances would have to be ideal for electrical
current to make it into the water.
“How it’s wired – there’s a lot of things that
would have to change and go wrong to get any voltage in the
water,” he said.
To minimize risk, boaters should have an equipment leakage circuit
interrupter installed on any vessel that might be leaking voltage,
the Coast Guard says.
The device interrupts the electrical circuit and keeps electricity
from leaking into the water.
In addition, boaters should check whether a marina to which the
boat is headed is equipped with a ground fault circuit
interrupter, the Coast Guard says. Just a small amount of
electricity can trip the interrupter and stop electricity from
entering the water.
Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be
reached at 412-380-5644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.