Last July, a 13-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother were electrocuted while swimming near a private dock at Lake of the Ozarks near Osage Beach.
Police reports said the children screamed when the initial shock hit and when the adults dove in to attempt rescue they could feel the electricity in the water.
The children, who were from Ashland, Mo., were pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
Water sports and electricity can be a dangerous duo, says Dave Roth, business representative of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1.
Now that the summer boating and swimming season has arrived, Roth warns to never use an electrified boat dock or swim near one unless it has been inspected by a professionally trained, certified electrical contractor that knows the business.
“Sometimes guys advertise electrical work and they haven’t had the training to do it right,” Roth said. “This is your life on the line, or your children’s lives when using a boat dock with electricity. You need to take it very seriously and make sure you have a contractor that is trained and certified.”
Prompted by boat dock electrocutions last year, the Lake Saint Louis Community Association is working with the Electrical Connection – the joint labor management association of IBEW Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter, National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) – to have the 300 boat docks on the two lakes inspected.
Some boating enthusiasts are pushing for laws that require inspections, but at present there are none.
Roth and a group from the Electrical Connection recently visited a boat dock on Lake Saint Louis to inspect and film a short public service clip with Reporter Bonita Cornute for local news channel KTVI.
“Before getting near an unknown dock, make sure it is safe,” said Roth. “If the dock has an electric boat lift or aluminum canopy, it’s imperative to ensure electricity is flowing in the path it should. There is technology available now that wasn’t when many boat docks were built.”
Roth says if you visit someone else’s property, look for a ground rod somewhere close to the dock. Make sure that all metal parts on the dock are grounded to the rod. If possible, have a disconnect at the dock site and never, ever use extension cords to power a dock or anything else near water.
Most people who own docks aren’t aware that a faulty electrical connection on an energized dock can be dangerous and even lethal, Roth said. Depending on conditions, electrical current can travel through water 15 to 20 feet, he said.
“Electrical components can see a lot of wear and tear from winter and an inspection can save a lot of problems,” Roth said. “It’s nothing to play around with.”
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
“Even if your dock’s electrical system has been installed by a licensed electrical contractor and inspected, neighboring docks can still present a shock hazard,” Roth said. “Make sure your neighbor’s dockside electrical system complies with the National Electrical Code and has been inspected before use.”
Because docks are exposed to the elements, their electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year, Roth said.
For more information or to find a qualified electrical contractor to inspect your boat dock, call IBEW Local 1 or visit www.electricalconnection.org.
Dockside dangers and resolutions
• AC current flow of around 100 milliamps (mA) of AC current will put the heart into fibrillation and death will likely follow within seconds. But lesser amounts of electricity, say, 15- 30 mA, will create muscle paralysis, and even the best swimmers will be drowned.
• The current can be so small, yet paralyze anyone in the water within range of the source; two volts per foot is considered lethal.
• Less than 100 milliamps, barely enough to power a light bulb, can render a person unconscious.
• Pay attention to dead fish or birds near a boat dock or craft. They were more than likely electrocuted.
• At a minimum, all electrical installations should comply with articles 553 (residential docks) and 555 (commercial docks) of the 2011 National Electrical Code which mandates a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) on all dock receptacles. A GFCI measures the current in a circuit. An imbalance of that current, such as a discharge into the water, will trip the GFCI cutting off power.
• The GFCI should be tested at least once a month or per the manufacturer’s specifications. The GFCI should be located somewhere along the ramp to the dock so it can be easily found and tested by local fire departments as needed.
• The metal frame of docks should have “bonding jumpers” on them to connect all metal parts to a ground rod on the shore. That will ensure any part of the metal dock that becomes energized because of electrical malfunction will trip the GFCI or the circuit breaker.