Consultants, Inc.
3062 SE Dominica Terrace
Stuart, FL 34997
772-288-0901,  FAX: 772-288-3189
Mr. James D. Shafer
Services, LLC
2418 Fallen Tree Drive West
Jacksonville, FL 32246
904-379-1101, FAX: 904-379-1111
Capt. David E. Rifkin

Electric Shock Drowning Incidents – Marinas©

Rev. 7/26/2006

Low level ground fault leakage in the marina AC shore power system can cause lethal potentials to appear on any metal surface – either on a boat or on the dock. In fresh water the electric field surrounding this surface can paralyze a swimmer. There is no warning that this condition exists, and it has resulted in numerous drownings. Further, there is no post-mortem evidence that electric shock was the cause. Therefore, the fatalities listed below are only the known electric shock caused drownings, which were investigated because of circumstantial evidence, i.e., multiple deaths, eye witnesses, considerable distress, cries for help, shock sensation reported by rescuers, etc.

We do not know the exact wiring errors or ground faults that created some of the incidents listed below, but it can be assumed that an energized AC conductor (L1 or L2) came in contact with a bonded (grounded) metal object, and coincidently, this object was not connected to the shore bonding (grounding) system. This caused a voltage to appear on bonded under-water metal gear, creating a lethal field around the boat. This was true in every case that was investigated.

No database has been found that catalogs "electric shock drownings". The incidents listed below came from various sources, i.e., investigation, press, third party, and eye witness reports. Dates and details are missing for some. There is no way to know what fraction of the total fatalities this listing represents, but it may be reasonable to assume that it could be small. We have no reports of fatalities in salt water.

Additional information is available on our website, http://www.marinaguard.net



July 24, 2006

Lake Lanier, Cumming, GA. Seventeen year old boy in water near a private dock, working on a jet ski with two friends, was overcome by electric shock. Extension cord with damaged insulation caused the metal dock to become energized. Friends also shocked, and partially disabled, could not help their friend. Father of victim fought paralyzing shock and pulled unconscious son away from dock – he could not be resuscitated. Investigation planned.


July 14, 2006

River Street Marina, Port Huron, MI. A 20 year old man jumped, or fell, into the water from the pier behind a 29’ boat, moored stern too. He became disabled as he attempted to climb onto the swim platform. Two friends attempting to pull him onboard reported being shocked. He could not be resuscitated. The next day an inspector reported 107vac in the water behind the boat – measuring points not known at this time. Investigation in progress.


June 24, 2006

Brady Mountain Resort, Lake Ouachita, AR. A 14 year old boy died from electric shock while swimming near a houseboat. A friend was also shocked and taken to a hospital and released. A man jumped in to help and was rendered unconscious (reason unknown, he was unharmed after regaining consciousness). The cause appeared to be inserting a shore cord with a 30A/125V (L5-30) plug (with the grounding pin bent back) into a 50A-125/250V receptacle in such a way so as to energize the neutral, which was connected to the bonding system, thereby energizing the hull.


May 22, 2006

Weiss Lake, Cherokee County, AL. A 24 year old young man was killed while in the water near a pier. He was attempting to rescue his friend who had become paralyzed by an electric shock while trying to exit the water via a metal ladder. Another friend was also disabled by shock as he entered the water to assist. The two young men, who were shocked, were not seriously injured. There was an electric windmill on a metal tower attached to the ladder, and was apparently powered by an incorrectly modified extension cord, and which may have been connected to a non-functioning GFCI outlet. A bystander on the dock pulled the power cord just in time, or there may have been two more victims. Investigation underway.


Mar 19, 2006

Summerset Lake near Desoto, St. Louis, MO. A teenage boy was killed when he received an electrical shock while swimming toward a metal ladder at a dock on the lake. Three other teens (2 boys and a girl) were with him, and all received electric shocks in the same area. One teen was uninjured; while the other 2 were in critical condition at a hospital (these 2 were unconscious on the dock when rescuers arrived). There is an electric boat lift and lighting on the dock but the cause is not yet known. The water level may have risen up to an electrical junction box under the dock. A rep from the local utility found 10 amps of current running into the dock with no loads turned on. There was a chain leading into the water where arcing, a dead muskrat, and 10 dead minnows were observed.


June 27, 2005

Scott’s Creek Marina at Cave Run Lake, Moorhead, KY. A 19 year old girl drowned while in the water near a houseboat due to electric shock caused by a faulty A/C system with an ungrounded system on the houseboat. Another girl sustained burns on her legs while reaching into the water to help the victim. A nearby rescuer swam toward the scene and was shocked and paralyzed by the electrical field. He turned around and swam out of the field and survived.


Sep 12, 2004

Ross Barnett Reservoir, Ridgeland, MS. A 16 yr old boy was swimming in the marina when he approached a houseboat. He screamed as if in pain and disappeared under the water. He could not be revived after divers recovered his body. A friend in the water also felt a shocking sensation. The cause was a home made shore cord, hard wired to the panel which was passed through a hole in sheet metal siding with no chafe protection. The insulation was cut by boat motion and shorted the hot conductor to the siding. The siding was not adequately grounded to the shore grounding system but was connected to the boat’s bonding system, which caused the hull to go up in potential killing the boy.


Aug 8, 2004

Lake Travis, Austin, TX. Young man, in good health, swimming, in evening, unobserved, between two sections of marina dock – disappeared. Came to surface two days later. No toxic substance found on post mortem, but Joule marks (electrical contact points) found on right wrist and left leg and shin. Suspected electric shock drowning. Accident under investigation. (See follow-up, last page)


June 5, 2004

Lake Wylie, Charlotte, NC. Two young boys swimming at bow of houseboat called for help. Father of victim and friend rushed forward – boy on ladder said he was being shocked, other boy in water not moving. Friend rushed aft to pull shore cord as father went onto water – his son could not be resuscitated. May not be exact sequence. Causes of energized hull were substantial errors in wiring on the dock as well as on the boat, apparently done by non qualified individuals.


Aug 3, 2003

Bull Shoals Lake, Bull Shoals, AR. Diver found Aug. 5 in shallow water 8 ft. from his dock, drowned. Incorrectly wired dock junction box caused 117 VAC to appear on metal dock components. Rescue diver reported feeling shock sensation 20 ft. from dock!


June, 2003

Allatoona Lake, GA. Six wildlife fatalities (ducks!!) Houseboat pulled away from the dock and still connected shore power cord separated in middle and fell into water. Six dead ducks found floating nearby.


May, 2003

Cape Coral, Florida. Double drowning, section of re-bar driven through power cable to back yard boat lift caused line potential to appear on lift frame, salt water.


May 31, 2002

Lake Cumberland, Monticello, KY. Double drowning, fault on houseboat, fresh water. 125V plug at boat end of shore cord rewired by owner for 220V – L2 connected to "GR" pin - ground lead in 4 wire cord cut and taped off! Hull rose to line potential.


March, 2002 

Bay Marina Boat Works, Biloxi, MS.  Some electrical work had recently been done at this yard, which resulted in reverse polarity connections at the shore cord receptacles for the stored boats.  Over a short time period several boat owners reported being shocked as they worked on their boats, and one owner was electrocuted.  The possibly of a missing ground combined with a ground- neutral connection on the lethal boat was not investigated.


Sept.15, 2001

Farr Shores, Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs, AR. Girl in great distress, man attempting rescue drowns, ground fault on boat, fresh water.


June 6, 2001

Residence, Timber Ridge Dr., Dumfries, VA, Lake Montclair. Two young boys entered water near pontoon boat. Battery chargers (2) connected to modified extension cord from house. Electric shock drowning – cause of energized hull not reported.


May, 2001

New Orleans, Electrocution – Boy using conveyor to transfer shrimp – no ground, salt water.


Apr 10, 2001

Norris Lake, Lafollette, TN. Two teenage boys swimming behind house boat. One boy climbed onto swim platform complaining of feeling severe shock – other boy fell back from ladder– his head not below water (ventricular fibrillation?). Could not be resuscitated. Damaged power cable to boat, black lead energized hull, ground wire burned in two – breaker did not trip due to incorrect connection (may not be exact sequence).


2000 or 2001

Put-in-Bay, Ohio, Grand Banks 42. Owner’s prescription sunglasses went overboard. Young bystander disappeared while trying to retrieve glasses, electric shock drowning.


Sept.30, 2000

Tims Ford Lake, Winchester, TN. Two boys (21&22). Electric shock drowning. Rescue diver felt electric shock Live wire in water near dock.


Aug 1, 1999

Casselman’s Marina, Portland, OR. 8yr old boy tubing with friends in freshwater marina along slow moving river. Boy decides to swim to dock (was wearing type 3 life vest). Suddenly he rolled over on back near the stern of a boat. Mother enters water and helps get boy on dock (she felt tingle in water). Diagnosed as electrocution (head was above water almost all the time). Cause was AC to DC short on boat and no connection between AC ground and DC ground. 84vac measured behind stern upon subsequent investigation.


July, 1999

Lake Mohave, AZ. Young man swimming toward stern of a house boat became disabled and drowned, fresh water. Boat had a neutral-ground bond. Home made shore cord "Y" became partly disconnected causing hull to become energized. 17vac measured behind stern-drive.


July18, 1999

Cedar hill Lake, Smithville, TN. Two young boys, with flotation devices, were discovered in water, face down, a few feet behind a houseboat. 7 year old could not be revived. 8 year old recovered. Electric shock drowning suspected.


July, 1999

S. Carolina, single drowning – 3 feet of water, woman in great distress, husband attempts rescue and drowns, fresh water.


Approx. 1999

Rio Vista, CA. Several boys reported a tingle while swimming in this fresh water marina and got out of the water. A short time later two other boys, 8 – 10 years old, drowned at the same spot. Forty-year-old power wiring running under moored boats found to have substantial fault to ground because of insulation failure.


Sept., 1998

Lake Sonoma, CA. Single drowning, young girl in great distress, fault on dock, fresh water.


Approx. 1998

AF Base, Washington, DC, boy walking on ice slipped and grabbed exposed wires on dock that were supposed to have been de-energized, electrocuted.


July, 1997

Lake Mead, NV. Single drowning, fault on houseboat, freshwater.


Feb. 1995

Bolling AFB, Washington, DC. Young boy reaches from water and grabs support structure for electrical junction boxes receiving lethal shock. Bare energized wires found touching metal case inside junction box. Grounding wire had been cut and never reattached to the junction boxes.


Approx. 1994

Texas, single drowning, fault on boatlift, salt water.


Sept., 1993

Oklahoma, single drowning, fault in submersible pump, fresh water.


August 1993

Alexandria Bay, NY. Double drowning. Two teenage girls snorkeling near dock were paralyzed by electric shock and drowned. Fault thought to be in dock wiring, not confirmed. (Two bystanders attempted to enter water to lend assistance, but were unable to do so.)


July, 1993

Oklahoma, single drowning, fault in dock lights – energized dock frame, fresh water.


May 11,1991

Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs, AR. A canoe carrying four young
boys tipped over a few dozen yards from a dock. As they swam toward the dock they felt a light tingle. Three of the boys diverted away from the dock while the fourth boy continued into the electric field and drowned. Cause was broken insulation on a dock wire hanging in the water.


July, 1991

Oklahoma, single drowning, fault in dock wiring, fresh water.


Dec., 1989

Oklahoma, single drowning, fault in submersible pump, fresh water


July, 1988

Park Township, MI, Lake Macatawa, Bay Haven Marina. 18-year-old boy falls off dock, in great distress, two attempts to assist thwarted because of severe electric shock as rescuers entered water.


1987 or 1988

A) Gross Pointe Yacht Club, single drowning, diver, fresh water
B) Petosky, MI, single drowning, diver, fresh water. NOTE: Both incidents relayed 3rd hand.


July 29, 1986

Harrods Creek, Lexington, KY – Ohio River. About 2030 two dogs jump into water from owners 20 ft. runabout, and were observed to be in great distress. Owner’s wife jumps in to help and was immediately in trouble. Husband goes in to save his wife – both drown. Rescuers felt strong electric shock and could not approach victims, but were able to rescue dogs later. Faulty light switch and missing ground on nearby houseboat determined to be the cause.


June 8,1986

St Croix River, Prescott, Wisconsin. 44 year old swimmer dove off of the dock near his 28’ power boat. As he approached the swim platform he said he felt like he was being shocked, and was becoming numb, and then disappeared below the surface. Recovery and attempted resuscitation in a matter of minutes were unsuccessful. Battery charger had faulted to its metal chassis, and the boat’s mfgr. had deliberately not installed the AC grounding wire to the boats bonding system – as required – causing AC potential to appear on the underwater metal gear.


Date Unknown

Community swimming pool in Oklahoma, 10 year old electrocuted while inserting coins in a soda vending machine. Power cord damaged by one of the 4 legs, grounding pin on plug missing, machine chassis later measured at nearly line voltage, NO GFCI.


(Additional ones included above)


July 2, 2006 Lake L’Homme Dieu, Douglas County, MN. Three men were nearing an aluminum dock in an outboard boat (aluminum hull?) when the prop caught on an extension cord laid under water (powered a boat lift), and were severely shocked as they entered the water. Possibly two of the three men entered the water to rescue the third man who had fallen face down into the water, half out of boat, and was not moving – exact sequence not known. A bystander unplugged the cord. The third man spent several days in the hospital. No investigation planned.


July 2005 Brooklyn, NY. A diver went into the water behind a boat in this small, private marina. He surfaced seconds later complaining about tingling and pain in his arm. A probe in the water measured 40vac to ground behind the boat. Cause was determined to be a neutral-ground short on a recently installed water heater (although there was most likely a bad ground too at that pedestal to cause this). He was wearing a short, spring wet suit.


July, 2004 Sahauro Lake, AZ, a man-made, freshwater lake near Phoenix. A man was diving to perform maintenance on a dock structure. He left the water after feeling a tingling sensation in the water near a pontoon houseboat. The shore cable was disconnected from the boat and the diver resumed his work without further incident. The cause may have been an improperly wired battery charger on the boat.


July, 2004 Sacramento River, CA. Man entering water around several boats (being supplied by genset power from one of the boats) receives shock in water. Two other men jump in to rescue man. One of the 2 rescuers became imperiled. Generator secured immediately. Incorrect wiring on one boat caused a ground fault which introduced current into the water between boats.


May 31, 2004 Lake Barkley, Grand Rivers, KY. After receiving permission from marina two adult women went swimming near their rented houseboat. As they started back to the boat from the swim slide entry point both felt a strong electric shock sensation, and had the presence of mind to swim away from the boat! A relative entered the water and felt the same thing – which disappeared when the boat was disconnected from shore power. Close call was brushed off by staff so no action was taken to locate source of fault current. A fatality waiting to happen!


August, 2003 Green River, Campbellsville, KY. Marina manager using Hioki clamp-on ammeter checking shore cords for leakage and discovered one houseboat with 4 amps on one of two shore cords. Hull potential to dock ground 8 VAC and owner commented that one of his children reported a tingle in the water!! Boat had just been reassembled after being trucked from Texas and problems were being experienced with 120 VAC deck light. Deck lights were rewired and neutral / ground fault in inverter was cleared – leakage current no longer exists.


July, 2002 Allatoona Lake, GA. Three swimmers in great distress near houseboat, by stander pulls shore cord, all saved, one spent several days in hospital, fresh water, and fault on boat.


Fall, 2002 Lake Murray, SC. Swimmer reports strong tingle, hi-level fault currents in dock frame, fresh water.


Date Unknown Man jumps into water to rescue dog, feels high level tingle, cause unknown, fresh water.


2002-2003 Florida, interviews with divers – many reports of high level tingle while cleaning bottoms, all salt water, and no fatalities.


Date & location Unknown Swimmer feels a tingle as his hand enters the A/C discharge stream. Caused not determined, salt water.


July 3, 1998 Lake Chelan, Chelan, WA. 21 year old exiting water – shocked on swim ladder – 48 hours in the hospital – rescuers shocked.


August, 1995 Lake Cumberland, KY, Jamestown Resort and Marina. Seven children swimming behind houseboat received electrical shocks (no fatalities). Lights went out on boat and children immediately started screaming. Cause was loss of neutral, a neutral-ground connection on the air conditioning system and a poor grounding connection on the shore cord. The grounding connection deteriorated when cooking loads were energized causing a loss of return path to the source (reason lights went out).


July, 1981 Brackish water on the Connecticut River in Essex,CT. Diver checking zincs felt strong "electric pulses" as he approached the boat so he backed away. After securing power to the boat, the electric pulses were gone (exact fault unknown)



January, 1994 Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) inspected eleven commercial docks and five private docks, and an earlier (1989) inspection of 116 commercial docks, found 96% not in NEC compliance; most common fault was open ground.
2. Aug 8, 2004 Follow-up to#3 in the Electric Shock Drowning Section above:

Lake Travis, Austin, TX. Because of this accident the manager of a neighboring marina now shuts down power to the docks whenever an employee enters the water to do any kind of service. In Nov., 2005, an employee who was in the water, to move the feeder cables that run near the pier access ramp, discovered badly damaged insulation. A fatality was likely prevented because the power had been turned off!