National Safe Boating Week begins May 19. This is a great opportunity to get your boat in order and prepare for a season of safe boating. To ensure a safe summer on the water, there are a variety of safety items that you must legally have on board your watercraft — including life vests, fire extinguishers, a throwable flotation device and properly working lights. However, the list should not end there.
You should also make sure the dock area is safe. This means making sure electrical connections are properly installed and safely maintained. Your loved ones’ lives just might depend on it. Even if you are just renting the dock, it is important that you notify the dock owner of any safety violations so they can be fixed immediately. If the owner will not make the corrections or properly maintain the dock, you might strongly consider moving your boat to a dock that will.
Take the story of a 13-year-old Oklahoma boy who died after he jumped from a boat dock into a lake to swim. The dock lights were on at the time. He immediately surfaced and was screaming, then submerged and did not resurface. An adult who entered the water to assist the boy felt an electrical current and called to others to turn off the dock lights. Power company employees inspected the electrical system for the dock lights, and they identified a short in the wiring. The wiring was in contact with the dock’s metal frame and transmitted sufficient electrical current into the water to cause a shock. The medical examiner listed the boy’s cause of death as drowning, possibly secondary to electrical shock.
There is also the story of the Ritz family. One summer afternoon their son Lucas went swimming with friends under adult supervision. Their 8-year-old son had been schooled in aquatic safety and was wearing a type II personal flotation device. As Lucas approached the ladder to get onto the dock, he let out a gasp and rolled onto his back unconscious. When his mother jumped into the water to help him, her extremities went numb, and she found it hard to move. She was able to get Lucas to the side of the dock and CPR was administered. However, it was too late. An investigation found that a power boat with a 12-volt wire lying across an AC wire and had gotten hot enough to melt the insulation around the wires. It put a 120-volt charge into the grounding system of the boat, including the engine and propellers. This electrified the surrounding water and lead to Lucas’ death.
Wet environments are particularly dangerous when it comes to electricity. While regulations might vary by location, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that electricity-related drowning can be prevented by regular inspections for ground-fault failure and by strict enforcement of the National Electric Code through frequent inspections of pools and docks.
Safe Electricity urges boat owners to have dockside electrical systems installed by professional electricians guided by National Electric Code and to have these systems inspected regularly to avoid tragedy. Get more information at SafeElectricity.org.
Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail molly-hall@SafeElectricity.org. Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council. www.EnergyEdCouncil.org