It’s important to be safe when swimming or boating, accounting for all possible dangers that can be seen. People, boats, and other objects all pose a threat or risk.
But what if the threat is something that can’t be seen?
Electric shock drownings are a danger that not many know exist in the water, and they can occur unexpectedly. Generally, they happen when an electric current, from docks or lights, or even low-level AC currents from boats, shock nearby swimmers. The shock paralyzes them and they can’t swim away to save themselves.
According to the CDC, 10 people each day suffer from unintentional drownings; that’s 3,800 individuals annually. Electric shock drownings would count as part of this statistic.
Captain David Rifkin, the co-founder of the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, says that there have been 88 reports of these occurring, some dating back to 1986.
Kevin Ritz, the other co-founder of the Association, who lost his son to electric shock drowning in 1999, wants people to know about the risks.
“It’s not something anyone thinks about,” he said.
The association has studied the effects of water on electric currents and found that the danger is more common in fresh water, as in fresh water the body conducts electricity better than the water around it.
Ritz firmly believes that it doesn’t matter the water source, everyone should be kept informed of the dangers present.
“The risk exists wherever there are water and electricity,” Ritz said.
Even your home swimming pool could be a danger-zone, the Association says. So when a pool owner does their maintenance, like cleaning their pools twice during the swimming season, they encourage pool owners to check all electric equipment. There might be risks that one isn’t aware of.
“There is no visual warning or other clues that the water may be electrified. And it doesn’t take much electricity to cause drowning,” the Association says.
It can take as little as one-fiftieth of the current in a 60-watt lightbulb to be fatal to a swimmer.
Donald Burke, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, supports this:
“The electricity overwhelms your body. You become part of that electrical path.”
Depending on the strength of the current, it could start as a tingling or a sudden loss of control of the muscles. It can even cause one to become so weak they can’t move, and then they slowly drown.
“The electric shock can happen quickly,” said Burke.