What you need to know about electric shock drowning

A closer look at electric shock drowning
Published: May. 17, 2016 at 3:45 PM CDT
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(KFVS) - The recent death of an Alabama teen paints a scary warning for anyone planning to spend time on the water this summer.

Carmen Johnson, a 15-year-old who had dreams of being a college cheerleader, died from an electrical shock drowning on Smith Lake in Alabama while she was swimming with friends.

According to her father, an electrical box on their boat dock likely filled with water after a storm. When they put the metal ladder in the lake it sent an electrical current through the water.

Similar situations have happened on bodies of water near the Heartland.

In 2012, a 13-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother were killed while swimming near a private dock at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Electricity was to blame fore their deaths. An electrical fault may have come from a boat or a water slide pump.

These deaths highlight a growing danger that comes with swimming in or near marinas, docks or boatyards: electric shock drowning.

What is electric shock drowning?

Electric Shock Drowning happens when electricity enters the water, paralyzing swimmers and eventually causing them to drown.

According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, it is the "result of the passage of a typically low level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis."

How does electricity enter the water?

Typically, electricity will enter into the water when the boat or marina is not properly wired to meet current set standards.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association reports, most often, electricity enters the water when an electrical fault occurs aboard a boat.

The problem: there is no visible way to tell if the water has been energized.

In many cases, the water will become energized when a light switch is turned on, or when a hot water heater, battery charger, A/C unit or other electrical device cycles on.

How can you prevent it?

Know where you're swimming

The ESDPA strongly discourages swimming around boats, docks, and marinas that use AC electrical power for any purpose.

Find a swimming location at least 50 yards from any electrically-powered docks.

If you feel a tingle while you are in the water, swim away.

Follow current codes and standards

The American Boat and Yacht Council, as well as, the National Fire Protection Association have set regulations to keep electricity from entering the water.

Docks should have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breakers on the circuits feeding electricity to the dock.

The metal frame of docks should be bonded to connect all metal parts to the alternating current (AC) safety ground at the power source.

Spread the word

Tell your friends and neighbors that electric shocks can enter the water and can easily lead to death.

Are there laws in place?

Missouri Representative Caleb Jones is sponsoring a bill aimed at preventing electric shock drowning.

The legislation was introduced following the a deadly incident at the Lake of the Ozarks.

It has two parts.

The first requires every vessel operated by the State Water Patrol to be equipped with an automated external defibrillator. It would also make it so patrol officers are trained in rescuing victims of electrocution injuries around marina and boat docks.

The second part requires any one that owns a boat dock or marina that is electrically powered to be in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association's 2011 edition of the Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards.

Any individual or entity that owns any boat dock or marina will be subject to the fines and penalties as specified in the bill.

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