Electrical Safety Around Water

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Electric shock drowning, or ESD, has gained nation-wide attention over the last few years due to high-profile incidents that have led to deaths, mostly among children and young adults.

A number of factors contribute to the ESD problem. Marinas, whether saltwater or freshwater, are corrosive environments that can be tough on electrical equipment. Many marinas lack ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), devices that automatically shut off electrical power when they detect a leakage.

Compounding the problem is that marinas can be something of a no-mans-land when it comes to safety inspections. While there are regulations set forth by organizations such as NFPA and the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC)—including annual inspections of electrical wiring—enforcement at marinas can be rare because many communities have not designated an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) for the facilities.

The NFPA and Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) are joining forces to remind people about the potential electrical hazards that exist in swimming pools, hot tubs and spas, on board boats and in the waters surrounding boats, marinas, and launch ramps.


  • Never swim near a marina, dock or boatyard, or near a boat while it’s running; and
  • Obey all “no swimming signs” on docks.

Boat Owners:

  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat.  Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification;
  • Each year, and after a major storm that affects the boat, have the boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs if recommended. Check with the marina owner who can also tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code (NEC);
  • Know where your main breaker(s) are located on both the boat and the shore power source so you can respond quickly in case of an emergency; and
  • Have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) installed on the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are Marine Listed when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.