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ESFI Warns Public About the Dangers of Electric Shock Drowning

Despite being categorized as leisure activities, swimming and boating can quickly become dangerous. While water-safety behaviors such as wearing life jackets and maintaining safe boating speeds have become commonplace, a serious hazard remains that is often overlooked. This silent killer, classified as electric shock drowning, occurs in fresh water when a typically low level alternating current (AC) passes through the body, which causes muscular paralysis and eventually leads to drowning.

According to ESFI’s president Brett Brenner, “although there are reported incidents every year, there is a lack of awareness about the dangers of Electric Shock Drowning.”  A 21-year-old Illinois man died in 2015 when touching a dock ladder at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Additionally, there were at least two fatalities in Kentucky in 2013, and a pair of deaths in both Missouri and Tennessee during the Fourth of July holiday in 2012. Each of these victims was under the age of 13. Further, Electric Shock Drowning deaths are usually recorded as drowning because victims show no signs of burns, so many instances remain undocumented. 

While a lack of awareness persists about the dangers of Electric Shock Drowning, positive strides are being taken to combat the problem. In Tennessee, state legislators passed the Noah Dean and Nate Act in 2014, which protects state residents from electric shock injuries and drowning deaths near marinas and boat docks. The bill is named in memory of 10-year-old Noah Dean Winstead and 11-year-old Nate Lynam, who died from electrical injuries they suffered on July 4, 2012 at a marina in Tennessee. Jessica Winstead, Noah Dean’s mother, was the driving force behind the bill as a result of her tireless crusade to prevent similar tragedies from occurring. An inspection following the tragic incident found that the marina did not have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).  

Under the “Noah Dean and Nate Act,” Tennessee marinas must install ground fault protection, post notices about the danger of electrical leakage into waters surrounding a marina, and undergo a safety inspection conducted by the state fire marshal between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017, and every five years thereafter. The law went into effect April 1, 2015. A similar law was passed in West Virginia in 2013 following the death of Michael Cunningham, three years after he passed away at the age of 15, as well as in Arkansas in 2012 after several electrocutions near docks there and in surrounding states. 

The 2011 National Electrical Code ® addresses the dangers in marinas and boatyards by requiring the main overcurrent protective device to be GFCI-protected. However, this only applies to installations and inspections, which are recommended annually but not enforced. 

Protect yourself and your loved ones from the risk of electric shock drowning and common boat electrical hazards with these handy tips from ESFI.

•Dont allow yourself or anyone else to swim near docks. Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat.

•Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines.

•If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified. Get out as soon as possible avoiding the use of metal objects such as ladders.

•Have your boats electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician .

•Have GFCIs installed on your boat, and test them once a month.

•Consider having Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCI) installed on boats to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into water surrounding your boat.

•Only use shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles and extension cords that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL).

•Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered.

•Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices or switches.

•Electric Shock Drowning can also occur in swimming pools, hot tubs and spas.

For ESFI’s complete collection of Boating and Marina Safety resources, visit

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety in the home and the workplace. ESFI proudly sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May, and engages in public education campaigns throughout the year to prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities. To learn more about ESFI and electrical safety, visit

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