Electrocution in Water: Everything You Need to Know

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Electrocution in water poses a serious and deadly danger to everyone who swims in a lake or a pool. It occurs when faulty wiring or poorly maintained equipment releases an electrical current into the water which enters people’s bodies, paralyzing their muscles and causing them to drown.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this public safety threat.

It is not uncommon for people to only associate electrocutions and electric shock injuries with downed power lines after a storm or touching a ladder to low-hanging power lines in a person’s back yard or faulty wiring to a kitchen or garage appliance.

But what most do not realize when they dive into a pool or jump off their family’s boat into a lake is that the risk of electrocution may be lurking there in the water.

It is our purpose with this page to provide people with the safety tips and information they will need to protect themselves, their families and others and prevent death and electric shock injuries.

What is an electrocution in water?

Electrocution in water – also known as an electric shock drowning – is when faulty wiring in a pool light or on a boat dock or boat launch releases an electrical current into the water, thus electrifying the water, and a person such as a swimmer comes into contact with the electrified water.

Tragically, the person becomes a conductor of the electricity as it passes through his or her body. This paralyzes the person’s muscles, rendering him or her unable to swim, which could ultimately cause the person to drown.

What are the causes of an electrocution in water?

An electrocution in water can be caused by any of several events:

  • Faulty electrical wiring on boats, docks or boat launches can cause release electricity into the water, which results in energized water
  • Faulty electrical wiring to electric pool equipment such as lights, pumps, filters, vacuums, extension cords, power cords, outlets and switches
  • Aging electrical wiring that has not been inspected for years
  • Lack of GFCI protection (Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters) for lighting, circuits, switches, fixtures, outlets and other electrical receptacles
  • Electrical appliances (such as radios and TVs) and extension cords falling or being pulled into the water

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Electrocution in water examples that have occurred on lakes and in pools

The following are examples of the dangers and potentially deadly consequences of an electrocution in water:

  • 2020 – A teenage was electrocuted in a hotel pool in Harris County, Texas, when he came into contact with exposed light fixture wires
  • 2020 – Two men were electrocuted while swimming next to their boat on Lake Pleasant in Arizona (the cause was believed to be a modification to the boat’s shore power cable system which prevented it from properly connecting with the marina’s electrical system and, thus, caused the boat’s underwater metals to become energized)
  • 2017 – Three Boy Scouts were electrocuted when the 30-foot mast of the catamaran they were sailing on Lake O’ The Pines in Texas collided with a live, overhead transmission power line
  • 2017 – Two women died from electric shock drowning in Lake Tuscaloosa in Alabama
  • 2017 – A 10-year-old girl was electrocuted while swimming and rafting in a lagoon behind her family’s New Jersey home when she touched the rail to a metal boat lift that had been energized by electrical current that was in the water
  • 2017 – A 19-year-old man died after exposure to electrical current in the water in Put-In-Bay in Ohio when he was attempting to save the family dog
  • 2016 – An Alabama teenager died from electric shock while swimming in Smith Lake near her family’s dock which was, unbeknownst to her and her family, releasing electricity into the water (the dock’s ladder carried an electric charge from a faulty light switch)
  • 2016 – A father was electrocuted when he attempted to save his daughter from electric shock in their family pool in Florida (faulty wiring in a pool light was suspected to be the cause)
  • 2012 – Two boys, 10 and 11 years of age, died after being electrocuted while swimming in Cherokee Lake Tennessee (the cause was believed to be a faulty electrical cord on a houseboat)
  • 2012 – Two children, 13 and 8 years of age, died from electrocution while swimming near a private dock at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri

What are the signs of an electrocution in water?

The signs that you or someone is suffering or at risk of an electrocution in water include tingling sensation, experience muscle cramps, and/or not be able to move at all and/or feel as if something is holding them in place. Underwater lights may not be working properly or flickering or working intermittently.

Other signs include:

  • Swimmers may exhibit an unsettled or panicked behavior
  • There may be one or more passive or motionless swimmer in the water
  • Swimmers may be actively moving away from a specific area or from a motionless swimmer

Saving yourself and others

Here are important safety tips in the event that an electrocution from water occurs:

  • If you feel any tingling sensations while you are in the water, swim back in the direction from which you came and immediately report your experience to the boat, dock, marina or boat launch owner.
  • Exit the water without using a metal ladder because contact with the metal ladder could increase your risk of shock.
  • If you suspect that a fellow swimmer is being shocked, swim away from the boat, dock, ladder, light or anything that could be the source of the electricity.
  • If someone is getting shocked, DO NOT JUMP IN.
  • If someone in the water is being shocked, extend a carbon fiber rod (such as a fiberglass Shepherd’s crook/rescue hook) to the person to grab onto or loop the person’s body and pull them (face up) to safety. Position the victim on his or her back, check for breathing and administer CPR if needed. Then call 9-1-1.
  • If you think someone in the water is experiencing an electrical shock, then immediately turn off/cut off all electrical power to the area.

How to protect yourself from electricity in lakes, around boats and near docks

Follow these important safety tips to protect yourself from an electrocution in water:

  • Install a carbon fiber ladder on boats, docks and boat launches – instead of a metal ladder
  • Familiarize yourself and neighbors on where your power cutoffs are located
  • Have your docking wires inspected each year by a professional electrician
  • Use a tool like the “Dock Lifeguard,” which will detect potential electrical hazards and set off an alarm when there is electricity in the water
  • Never, ever swim near a marina, a boat dock or a boat launch while a boat is running

Swimming pool and hot tub electrocution statistics

There were 33 deaths and 33 injuries caused by electrocutions from swimming pools and hot tubs between 2002 and 2018, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

How to protect yourself from an electrocution in water of pools and hot tubs

Here are our safety tips to prevent electrocution from water in pools and hot tubs:

  • Look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker, or work intermittently.
  • Know where all the electrical switches and circuit breakers are around your pool and be familiar with how to turn them off in an emergency
  • Do not swim during or after thunderstorms.
  • Use battery-operated appliances instead of cord-connected appliances in and around your pool.
  • Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children in the water
  • Use ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) to protect lighting and electrical circuits
  • An electrician who is qualified in pool and spa repairs should inspect and upgrade your pool or hot tub in accordance with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code (NEC)

How GFCIs can prevent electrocution in water of pools

A ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) will automatically cut off electrical power to an appliance when it senses a variation of the normal electrical current flowing through the GFCI outlet (or device).

Typically, this occurs when the electrical current has “found” an unintended route to the ground such as through water or through a person’s body.

Because GFCIs cut off electrical current in less than 1/30th of a second of detecting trouble, they save lives and prevent electric shock injuries.

Need help from an experienced electrocution lawyer?

If you or someone you love is a victim of serious personal injury or death caused by electricity, you can call and speak with Jeff Feldman, perhaps the nation’s most experienced electrocution attorney. Jeff has litigated cases involving low hanging power lines and against utility companies in states throughout the country. You can call toll free at (844) 345-1150 for a free consultation.

(Sources: Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association’s “Electric Shock Drowning Incident List” (updated November 2020); media reports; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Don’t Swim with Shocks: Electrical Safety In and Around Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs”)