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For Lucas’ Sake, Learn About And Prevent ESD


The Ritz family loved traveling to new places. They lived aboard their sailboat, and home base was a marina in Oregon. Their middle child, Lucas, dreamed of becoming a boat captain, and the bright, outgoing boy had friends of all ages in his community.

His tragic death while swimming on Aug. 1, 1999 stunned his safety-conscious parents and touched so many others.

The kids always wore life jackets and were closely supervised, as was the case when they went swimming in the marina that day. What was not visible was the electricity leaking into the water from a boat plugged in to shore power. Lucas was killed as he swam into the energized water.

The Ritz family wants to teach you from their tragic experience. They want others to learn how to avoid what is known as electric shock drowning (ESD). They urge water enthusiasts not to swim in marinas or near docks with electrical service.

If you have a boat or dock, help prevent electrical accidents by inspecting and maintaining all electrical systems on or near the water.

When it comes to your boat’s electrical system, particularly those with alternating current (AC) systems, keep these tips in mind:

  • There are some big differences between your house and your boat. Regardless of the size of boat, maintenance of the electrical system should be done by a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.
  • Fuses are rated to protect the wire, not the appliance. If a fuse blows continuously, it should NOT be replaced with a larger one just to keep it from blowing again—something else is wrong. Get it checked out.
  • Have your boat’s electrical system checked at least once a year. Boats should also be checked when something is added to or removed from their systems.
  • Boats with AC systems should have isolation transformers or equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI) protection, comply with American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards, and should be serviced by an ABYC Certified® Technician.

What you need to know about electrical safety and docks:

  • Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breaker on the circuit(s) feeding electricity to the dock. A GFCI measures the current in a circuit. An imbalance of that current, such as a discharge into the water, will trip the GFCI and cut off power.
  • The metal frame of docks should be bonded to connect all metal to the AC safety ground at the power source. That will ensure any part of the dock that becomes energized because of malfunction will trip the circuit breaker.
  • Neighboring docks can also present a shock hazard. Ensure your neighbor’s dockside system complies with the National Electrical Code (NEC) and has been inspected. Marinas should comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Code 303 and NEC Section 555.
  • All electrical installations should be done by a professional electrical contractor familiar with marine codes and standards.
  • Because docks are exposed to the elements, their electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year.

For Lucas’ sake, do your part to prevent electrical tragedies. See his story at SafeElectricity.org, and learn more at www.abycinc.org.