The Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) deaths of three swimmers at Lake of the Ozarks over Fourth of July weekend in 2012 made national news. The tragedies also inspired Missouri inventors to put products on the market that help alert swimmers to the presence of electricity in the water around Missouri’s docks.
The Dock Lifeguard system is one of those inventions. It’s an audio-visual alarm that lets dock owners and swimmers know if electricity is present in an approximate forty-foot radius of the dock where the device is installed.
The system can help alert dock owners and swimmers if unsafe conditions — like faulty wiring or flood damage — are present, but it isn’t designed to replace dock inspections or other safety precautions.
What is Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)?
Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) occurs when even a low level of AC current goes through a person’s body while he or she is in the water. Even a tiny amount of electricity can paralyze a victim, causing him or her to drown.
According to Ohio-based news station WHIO, “it only takes a small amount of leaking AC to incapacitate or electrocute a person. As small as 15 milliamps can cause paralysis, 100 milliamps — or a third of the amount of electricity needed to light a 40-watt light bulb — can kill a person in seconds (source).”
Water conducts electricity, so Missouri’s waterways can take on any electrical charge that they are exposed to. The water near docks is especially dangerous because electricity enters the water through boats and docks, both.
How Does Electricity Enter Missouri’s Waters?
Boats can leak electricity into the water when they’re out in the lake, and also when they’re docked and charging. When several boats are in the same area, a dangerous electrical field can occur in the water that makes the water incredibly unsafe for swimmers.
Docks can pass electricity into the water, too. Faulty and damaged electrical equipment including exposed wiring, improper wiring, and absent or malfunctioning ground fault protectors are just a few ways that electricity can leak from a dock, making the surrounding waters dangerous for swimming.
What Can Missourians Do to Prevent Electric Shock Drowning?
There are several things that Missouri boaters and dock owners can do to keep Missouri’s waters safer for swimmers.
Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives strongly encourage you to hire a qualified, bonded, and insured electrician to do any and all wiring and electrical work along your shoreline and on your dock. Always ensure that your dock has a ground fault protector, and discourage swimming on your dock or anywhere on the water where several boats are present at the same time.
We suggest having your dock inspected annually by your fire protection department, and that you visually inspect your property on at least a monthly basis. Anytime there’s been bad weather, choppy waters, or flooding, you should re-check your dock’s wiring, and if you have any doubts at all about your dock’s electrical safety, you should shut down power and contact a professional electrician.
If you own a boat, you should test it, too. According to Boatus.com, $150 will pay for the tools you need to test your boat for electricity leakage:
“Figuring out if your boat has a problem requires two specialized tools — a basic circuit tester and a clamp meter — that together cost about $150. If you keep your boat in a freshwater marina, the marina owner should have both and be using them to check the boats on their docks (source).”
Extra Peace Mind for Missourians
Even if you’ve followed all of these precautions, it’s still possible for electricity to enter the water near your dock from leakages on neighboring docks and boats. Dock Lifeguard and similar products can give you extra peace of mind, alerting you to the presence of electricity in the water around your Missouri dock.
Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. You can learn more about Dock Lifeguard here.