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Nov. 18, 2019
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New regulations coming to prevent Electric Shock Drowning

Timing is everything
In February, the UYC Maritime Foundation sponsored an in-depth seminar about Electric Shock Drowning and upcoming standards and regulations affecting marinas, private docks and boat owners. More than 40 people attended, including marina representatives, members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, America’s Boating Club/Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and private boaters. 

Additionally, Lakeside News received an email from a concerned electrical inspector about safety issues related to AC electrical power and private docks. “In the past year, I’ve inspected many homes on Lake Lanier and I’ve found that about four out of 10 docks had electrical current bleeding into the water at the dock,” said Jim Brown with Final Word Home Inspections. “I’m very concerned about this issue and hope that you will help get the word out.” 

Tom Vivelo, safety chairman with the Lake Lanier Association, said the group is monitoring this issue. “One of the safety issues that keeps coming up is electric shocks at docks, both at marinas and at private docks,” he said. “This is a crucial issue and the association will be keeping members and the public informed of developments.”

Lakeside News will be periodically reporting on this issue and the changing standards and regulations that will affect the Lake Lanier community.

* * *
 
By Pamela A. Keene
 
Electric Shock Drowning is being called a silent killer of recreational boaters, dock owners and people who enjoy being around the water. You can’t see it. You can’t hear it. But death and injury by electric shock around docks and boats is real. And it is preventable. 
 
Over recent years, Electric Shock Drowning has surfaced a high-profile issue on the radar of the marine industry, boating organizations and advocates for safety on the water. Groups are undertaking education and awareness campaigns in advance of what will surely become a regulatory requirement, not only for marinas and boat manufacturers, but also for individual boaters and private dock owners.
 
“Electric Shock Drownings are tragic, and the sad truth is that they are preventable,” said David Rifkin, who recently presented a seminar for area boating groups, marina operators, marine technicians and boaters on Lake Lanier. “With the new regulations being developed, the industry is looking to reduce the number of these tragic deaths to zero. 
 
“Already the industry is developing regulations and protocols to detect dangerous levels of electric current that bleeds into the water from faulty wiring, jury-rigged electrical hook-ups and electric systems in boats. But the solution is not as simple as it seems,” he said. “One of the first steps is to raise awareness of this issue and increase education about the dangers of combining water and electricity.”
 
Drowning, not electrocution
Many people who are injured or die from electrical current in the water around boats and docks aren’t killed by electrocution. “In most of the cases I’ve seen, victims are first paralyzed by the electric current in the water,” Rifkin said. “Their first instinct is to swim closer to the boat or the dock. Or bystanders’ first action is to jump into the water to help; then they are paralyzed or hurt as well. It’s a tragic situation.” If electrical current levels are high enough, electrocution may also result.
 
He said the first step is to toss something buoyant, such as a Type IV throwable float or a lifejacket toward the person in the water. Georgia boating regulations require that all boats over 15 feet long have a Type IV on board and easily accessible.
 
“Once the person in the water has something to keep them buoyant, extend a PVC-handled boat hook to them and guide them AWAY from the boat or dock,” he said. “Bringing them toward the source of the electricity will increase their exposure. Do NOT, under any circumstances, jump in the water to assist.”
 
“Turn off the power and call 911 immediately and give directions to your location as explicitly as possible,” he said. “If you are able to get the person out of the water, and they are not breathing, start CPR right away and cover them with blankets to keep them warm and stable.” 
 
Not just a marina problem 
As standards become adopted as law, probably as soon as 2020, private docks and boat owners will also be required to take action.  Many states have adopted the 2017 National Electric Code that now includes private docks. 
 
“As such, it will be incumbent upon those boat and property owners to ensure that they are in compliance by installing ground-fault protection for their boats and docks,” he said. “If their dock power is tripping frequently, that’s a good sign that the ground-fault protection is working. It usually means that the boat has electrical current leaking into the grounding system or bleeding into the water.”
 
Standards recommend that inspections be conducted by American Boat and Yacht Council-certified technicians. “The testing involves more steps than a home-electrical inspection,” Rifkin said. “Yes, a home-electrical inspection may reveal issues with shore power, but these inspectors are not trained in the standards required.”
 
Mike Griffin with Marine Surveyors of North Georgia built a device several years ago to do testing. Called Stray Current Sensor, it’s used to troubleshoot AC power leakage, and is effective to test before ground fault protection is installed on shore power that keeps tripping. 
 
Recently, Lanier-based Dock IQ has developed a product called Shock IQ as part of its suite of remote dock-monitoring services. It was displayed at the Atlanta Boat Show. Rifkin said, however, that monitoring devices should never be used as a “green light” for swimming. 
 
Rifkin said that ground-fault protection is only part of the solution to current leakage that can be life-threatening. Boats must be inspected and tested as well. “A thorough inspection requires that boat owners are present to run the boat’s systems. Turn on all the systems, equipment and appliances that would typically be active when the boat is in use,” he said. “The test will show the cumulative amount of electricity bleeding into the water, and accuracy is vital to detecting the risks and properly addressing them.”
 
Currently, few technicians are certified to do the testing. Plans are to offer training at Lanier on the protocols, which are still in development.  
 
Steps to prevention 
“The best way to prevent Electric Shock Drowning is to stay out of the water around docks,” Rifkin said. “Since you can’t see electric current in the water around docks and boats, just don’t swim around them. That’s the safest approach to preventing Electric Shock Drowning.”
 
Rifkin strongly advises against boat owners doing their own electrical installation and repairs themselves. “Hire a certified American Boat and Yacht Council technician. Discouraging swimming around docks – in marinas and at private docks – is a good step toward prevention,” he said. “We’ve seen so many boat owners who just go out to a box retailer and do their own wiring on their boats, like they would in their home. 
 
“Remember that water adds another element to the equation and increases the danger of not only Electric Shock Drowning but fire risk in a marine situation,” he said. “You wouldn’t do surgery on yourself; you’d go to a physician.”
 
Many marinas across the nation are already voluntarily doing testing for this issue. Some have already installed elaborate systems of ground-fault protection and circuit breaks that can alert marina operators of excessive electrical current in the water around docks and boats. However, the process is still under development to maximize safe guards. 
 
“The remediation can be expensive and complex,” he said. “Marinas are to be commended for the work they are already doing, even though we are still developing the best and most effective protocols as standards are being refined.
 
About David Rifkin 
Rifkin, a retired U.S. Navy captain, owns Florida-based Quality Marine Services, one of the few companies in the country with an understanding in testing for and detecting electricity bleeds that are the leading cause of injuries and Electric Shock Drownings. Rifkin is a safety expert who also consults with standards organizations, boating manufacturers and marinas across the country to design systems that reduce electricity bleed.
 
He serves on the advisory board of the National Fire Protection Association. He is also a Master American Boat and Yacht Council technician and a former U.S. Coast Guard Masters license holder.
Rifkin has served as an expert witness in Electric Shock Drowning cases across the U.S. He is currently developing testing and inspection protocols for detection of ground-fault leakage in boats and marinas. 
 
A non-profit group, Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, was formed several years ago to raise awareness and promote education about this little-known cause of drowning. 
 
For more info visit www.electricshockdrowning.org.

Posted online 2/28/19
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