Before taking the plunge, learn how electricity can seep into the water
Just what is electric shock drowning or ESD?
An unfamiliar term to many, ESD means that someone is being exposed to stray electrical current in water, usually from faulty wiring — a danger you cannot see or detect just by looking. Many people have never heard of ESD or don’t know it’s a possibility when swimming, wading, boating or soaking in a hot tub.
While we are not suggesting that stray electricity lurks in every body of water, it is important to be aware that water can become electrified and electric shock drowning can occur.
Dangerous water that has electrical current running through it can paralyze muscles, leaving a swimmer unable to move or stay afloat. Stray electricity could be found in the water:
- near a dock that uses electricity (usually in fresh water as opposed to salt water).
- near a marina (never swim there).
- surrounding a yacht or boat capable of generating electricity.
- in a pool or hot tub (electricity often runs the lights and motors).
- in a wading pool, kiddie pool, lazy river or water amusement feature that uses electricity.
This is not an exhaustive list; in fact, electrical current could leak into any water source with electricity running to it (for example, a lighted fountain).
Depending on the magnitude of the current, sometimes a person can detect stray electricity in the water by the sensations they feel, such as prickly or tingly sensations. If that happens, pull your legs up close to your body and swim away from the source of electricity (e.g., a dock, boat or light post on shore). Yell to someone on land or the dock to cut the power. Again, do not swim toward the electrical source.
If you suspect someone is experiencing electrical shock while in the water, do not jump in to help. Instead, call 911, throw them a life ring or buoy, and, if you can, shut off the power source.