With summer upon us, the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®) is reminding people about potential electrical hazards that exist in swimming pools and hot tubs, onboard boats, on docks and piers, and in waters surrounding boats, marinas, and launch ramps.
While most people are unaware of electrical dangers posed in water environments such as electric shock drowning (ESD), each year people are injured or killed from these hazards. ESD can occur when improperly installed or maintained electrical systems within marinas or boat electrical systems result in electrical current in the water, which can then pass through a person’s body, causing a level of paralysis that can ultimately cause serious injury or drowning.
“Because ESD is not well known, NFPA continues to raise awareness about the presence of electrical hazards in water to help prevent deaths and injuries from happening in pools and waterways,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach & Advocacy. “Never swim near a marina, dock, or boatyard, and have a qualified electrician inspect your boat, swimming pool equipment, hot tub, and spa before engaging in any water activities to ensure all life-saving measures and protection systems are functioning properly.”
Following are tips for swimmers, and boat and pool owners:
Never swim near a marina, dock, or boatyard.
While in a pool or hot tub look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker, or work intermittently.
If you feel a tingling sensation while in a pool, immediately stop swimming in the direction you are heading. Try and swim in a direction where you had not felt the tingling. Exit the water as quickly as possible; avoid using metal ladders or rails. Touching metal may increase the risk of shock.
Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. These areas can contain stray electrical currents in the water, possibly leading to electric shock drowning or injury from shock, including death.
Each year, have the boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including those set by the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs, if recommended. Follow the same steps after any major storm that affects the boat.
Check with the marina owner about the marina’s electrical system and whether it has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code® (NEC®).
Have ground fault circuit protection (GFCI and GFPE) installed on circuits supplying the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that bear the proper listing mark for marine applications when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.
NEVER modify the electrical system on a boat or shore power to make something work. The code-required safety mechanisms in place are intended to alert people if something is wrong with the boat and with shore power. Find a licensed, qualified professional to help determine the cause of the problem.
If you are putting in a new pool or hot tub, be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations and that the completed work is inspected by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and — where necessary — replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
If there are overhead electrical lines, make sure they have proper clearance over the pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If you have any doubts, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.
NFPA has resources for swimmers, boat and pool owners, including videos, tip sheets, and checklists, that can be downloaded and shared. Please visit www.nfpa.org/watersafety.