The Safe-T Corner

Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) Part Two: What to do

Last month I explained what ESD was and how it occurs. Remember, Seaworthy Magazine states that: “Every boater and every adult who swims in a freshwater lake needs to understand how it happens, how to stop it from happening, and what to do – and not do – if they ever have to help an ESD victim.” So, in this month’s edition of the Safe-T Corner, I’m going to address what to do and not do when confronted with an ESD situation.

Remember, ESD occurs when electric current is released in the water due to a faulty circuit. The current in the water energizes the metal parts of your boat or dock and electricity will radiate out from these into the water.  Any swimmer in the vicinity of this electricity will first feel a tingling, shock or numbness sensation.

What do you do? If you’re in the water and experience the sensations mentioned above, DO NOT swim toward the dock! SHOUT! Let everyone know what’s happening so they’ll understand the danger and react appropriately.  Try to stay upright and back out of the area the way you came, warn any other swimmers in the area of danger, and then head for shore 100 yards or more from the dock. YES! That’s the length of a football field. Go to the hospital to ensure there are no lingering effects that could be dangerous. Finally, alert the dock owner and tell them to shut the power off until the problem can be identified and rectified.

How to help? DO NOT enter the water!  To retrieve a person in the water who is exhibiting signs of ESD, reach for the victim, but do not go into the water. Throw a line or use a row boat to reach the victim, but do not go into the water. Reach, throw, row but DO NOT GO!!!

Call 911 or VHF CH16 for emergency assistance. Turn off/unplug all shore power connections. Once the victim is out of the water and is not breathing or you cannot locate a pulse, perform CPR until emergency assistance arrives.

Remember, 12-volt electricity will not cause ESD. Nor will 120-volt current from a boat’s generator. Most cases of ESD occur around docks. What can YOU do?

1.     Install an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter (ELCI) on your boat.

2.     Have your dock and boat inspected every year by a certified master electrician.

3.     NEVER swim from a dock with energized 120-volt AC power


If in doubt, check it out! If you want your private dock inspected by a licensed master electrician, contact me and I’ll coordinate for a TCC member group rate. Thank you & B-SAFE.


Sources: Seaworthy magazine (Oct 2012, July 2013),


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