On a recent Fourth of July weekend, two siblings from Missouri were enjoying their summer, swimming near a private boat dock when suddenly their parents heard their screams. They rushed to help but it was too late. The children ages 13 and 8 were both unresponsive and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Their cause of death, surprisingly, was not drowning. It was ESD, or electric shock drowning.


What Is Electric Shock Drowning?

Electric shock drowning, or abbreviated ESD, is the effect of the passage of a typically low-level electric current moving through the body with enough force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis. This renders the victim helpless and causes him or her to drown. Though it is typically low, higher level AC currents will cause the same outcome. ESD has become the phrase describing all in-water shock deaths. ESD is also known as the “silent killer” because there is no visible way to tell if water surrounding a boat, marina or dock is energized with fatal levels of electricity; and, most victims don’t immediately feel the electrical current until it is too late. It only takes a split second for water to become energized with deadly electricity.


What Causes ESD and Where Does It Occur?

Frighteningly, ESD may occur virtually anywhere electricity is provided near water. However, most electric shock drowning fatalities happen in public and private marinas and boat docks. Electricity that enters the water in these areas originates from the wiring of the dock, or from boats that are connected to the marina’s power supply. ESD’s primary victims are children swimming in or around a marina with nearby electricity.

We all know to never attempt stepping into a bathtub with a hair dryer. We were taught from a very young age that being submerged in water with electricity is an obvious mistake and could lead to electrical shock and death. However, there has not been as much public awareness for ESD. We need to view a boat submerged in water parked next to a marina or dock as dangerous as standing in a bathtub with a hairdryer. If an electrical error occurs on the boat or the marina is not properly wired to ABYC and NFPA standards, the water around the boat will become charged, and deadly for swimmers nearby.


Tips to Prevent ESD from Happening

There are several ways to promote ESD protection and ensure the safety of you and your children. Take a look at the following tips:

  1. Do NOT allow swimming in or around your marina or boat dock. Post “No Swimming” signs just to be cautious – While it will not stop everyone, be sure to educate your children of the dangers of ESD and post visible warning signs so others using your dock will know of the dangers, as well. Insist that all people, no matter their age, entering the water near your boat or dock wear life preservers.
  2. Have a licensed electrician annually check for faulty wiring in and around your boat or pool – Because ESD can also occur in and around boats and pools, have a licensed electrician make sure wiring in your boat or pool is up to standards annually. You can also do your part by using an electrical tester to assess for continuity and defective wiring.
  3. Use a licensed electrician when setting up your pool or dock around your boat – Make sure you set up your pool and boat docks correctly from the start. Ensure wiring will be up to standards by using a professionally licensed electrician.
  4. Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters or GFCI – ESD protection equipment such as this device will help to halt electric currents around the docks or pools. Test your GFCIs once per month. It is also a good idea to use portable “UL-Marine Listed” devices to decrease the chance of shock-related injuries and casualties.
  5. Never use damaged or frayed cords – Damaged cords could be exposed to water, resulting in a possible ESD or other electricity-related injuries.
  6. Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices – Do not take the risk.


What to Do If You’re a Victim of ESD

If you see electric shock drowning taking place fulfill the following steps:

  1. Immediately turn the power off.
  2. Throw the victim a life ring.
  3. Call 911 for help.
  4. NEVER enter the water.

Though your first instinct is to jump in a save them, you would face the same fate by getting into the water with the victim. Throw them a life ring and immediately call 911.

If you or a family member was a victim of ESD, seek medical attention immediately. Record the events leading up to the event, whether it was noticing a person using a damaged cord, or lack of warning signs on the boat dock. Further, you may wish to consult a personal injury lawyer about the possibility of representing you. What happened to your or a loved one was preventable and you may be entitled to compensation.


Electric shock drowning has increasingly become a threat over recent years, with occurrences spiking during summer months. If you or a loved one has suffered wrongful death from ESD, you need The People’s Lawyer on your side. As members of the Central New York community, we love being around our great lakes just as much as our neighbors. Tragedies such as drowning from electric shock can be prevented, and you may not be at fault. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers, Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi and Pearlman for a free ESD consultation today. We can fight for you. Contact us today.



Tags: Boat AccidentsPremises Liability


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