What Is Electric Shock Drowning  (ESD)

Electric Shock Drowning occurs when an electric current of sufficient magnitude leaks into the water and a victim in the water (human or animal) encounters the resulting electric field. The water-borne current produces voltage gradients in the water that can be very dangerous. A voltage gradient of sufficient strength can produce enough through-body current to paralyze skeletal muscles, leading to drowning. ESD is also used to describe other in-water, electrically induced deaths including death by electrocution where the victim makes direct contact with electrically energized metals while in the water.

Electric Shock Drowning is unique to freshwater environments, such as inland lakes, rivers, pools, ponds, etc. It is unlikely that an ESD event would occur in salt water environments, such as coastal waters, although direct contact can still result in electrocution.

Deadly current leaks can, depending on magnitude, paralyze the limbs, incapacitate the lungs, or cause the heart to stop pumping blood (ventricular fibrillation).

The amount of current required to kill a victim (humans or pets) can be very minimal. As little as 10 milliamperes through the body can cause muscular paralysis.

In the marina environment, these current leaks can be caused by an electrical fault in the dock equipment or wiring, your own boat's equipment or wiring, a nearby boat's equipment or wiring, or some other electrical source. Electrically-powered boat lifts, dock lighting, receptacle outlets, and submerged irrigation pumps are just some of the other possible sources of current leaks. There is a genuine cause for concern and caution wherever shore-based AC power is utilized near a body of water, large or small.

It is possible to detect these dangerous water leakage currents and voltage gradients with appropriate test equipment. Once detected, the cause can be isolated and then corrected.

Installation, alteration or repair of electrical wiring should be entrusted only to qualified, licensed electricians for shore-based equipment and wiring, and to an ABYC certified marine electrician or technician for watercraft equipment and wiring.

Click the Back arrow to return to the previous page.