Smiley & Smiley, LLP

What is 'electric shock drowning'?

Imagine you are heading to the beach or a cabin for the upcoming holiday weekend. You and your kids are eager to cool off in the water and you run to the end of the dock and jump off. However, instead of a cooling relief, you feel a sudden and painful shock.

This is what can happen in situations where marinas, boat and/or dock owners fail to properly secure and ground electrical currents going from boats to shore. Under these circumstances, anyone who comes near the boat or dock in the water can be electrocuted and incapacitated due to electric shock drowning.

Unfortunately, this is not an unheard of phenomenon. In fact, last year, according to statistics from, at least 14 people were injured or killed in accidents stemming from electrocution in the water in just one year.

The risks of ESD increases in bodies of freshwater where there is an alternating electric current going from the shore to a boat. In these situations, an electrical current can escape into the water. When it returns to shore, the receiving device should shut off immediately when it detects the errant current. However, if there is no Ground Fault Protection device in place, the electricity will continue flowing through the water, electrocuting anything nearby, including people.

This can all seem very confusing and complicated, but what we hope readers take away from this post is an understanding that these types of accidents are completely preventable. Boat and dock owners can and should take precautions when connecting electricity between boats and shores, such as hiring electricians to install GFP devices, regularly checking them for potential vulnerabilities and making sure the wiring on a boat is safe.

Failure to take these steps could result in a tragic drowning accident. If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in an incident you believe is connected to ESD, it can be crucial that you discuss the situation and your legal options with an attorney familiar with premises liability and personal injury laws in New York.

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