top of page

Prevent Deadly Shocks – Check Your Boats and Docks

[This article is provided by and used with permission.]

Photo of houseboats docked with swimmers in the water.
Ensure a boating season that is safe and fun for family and friends by following and sharing these safety tips to prevent ESD.

If you own a boat and/or a dock, Safe Electricity reminds you to take steps to prevent deadly shocks, also known as Electric Shock Drowning (ESD).

Past accidents involving stray electricity and water include:

  • A 26-year-old woman who was swimming with family in the Lake of the Ozarks was electrocuted when she touched an energized dock ladder.

  • Also at Lake of the Ozarks, a 13-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother received fatal electrical shocks while swimming near a private dock; officials cited an improperly grounded circuit as the cause.

  • In Tennessee, two boys, ages 10 and 11, lost their lives as they were shocked while swimming between houseboats on Cherokee Lake, a result of electricity entering the water apparently through frayed wires beneath the boat.

An important step in helping prevent such tragedies is to ensure proper installation and maintenance of electrical equipment on docks and on boats. Take the time to inspect all electrical systems on or near the water.

Safe Electricity, with the American Boat and Yacht Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers/National Electrical Contractors Association, recommends adhering to these steps to improve water recreation safety and accident prevention:

  • All electrical installations should be performed by a professional electrical contractor familiar with marine codes and standards, and inspected at least once a year.

  • 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. That will ensure any part of the metal dock that becomes energized because of electrical malfunction will trip the circuit breaker.

  • Neighboring docks can also present a shock hazard. Make your neighbors aware of the need for safety inspections and maintenance. Marinas should comply with NFPA and NEC codes.

Here are a few additional tips to remember for your boat’s electrical system, particularly those with AC systems:

  • Regardless of the size of boat, maintenance of the electrical system should be done by a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.

  • Have your boat’s electrical system checked at least once a year. Boats should also be checked when something is added to or removed from their systems.

  • Boats with AC systems should have isolation transformers or equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI) protection, comply with ABYC standards, and be serviced by an ABYC Certified® Technician.

If you are in the water and feel electric current:

  • Shout to let others know.

  • Tuck your legs up to make yourself smaller.

  • Try to go away from anything that could be energized.

  • Do not head to boat or dock ladders to get out.

If you are on the dock or shore when a swimmer feels electrical current:

  • Do not jump in.

  • Throw them a flotation device.

  • Unplug or turn off the source of electricity as quickly as possible.

  • Then call for help.

Ensure a boating season that is safe and fun for family and friends by following and sharing these safety tips to prevent ESD.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page