Electric Shock Drowning: How Swimming Near Boats Can Actually Lead To Death!

By: Joseph Simonds on June 21, 2016
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electric shock drowning

Can you imagine going out for a fun day of boating with your family only to watch your daughter die in the water right in front of you, next to the same boat that gave you so much pleasure?

With two young daughters of my own, I get emotional just thinking about it.

Which is why I had to share this horrid story so everyone can learn something from this, and hopefully raise as much awareness about “Electric Shock Drowning” as possible.

On Saturday, April 16, 2016, the Johnson family was enjoying the weekend at their vacation home in Smith Lake in Winston County Alabama. Their youngest Carmen invited some friends over and they had a blast sun-bathing, jet-skiing, boating, and hanging out in the hot bath tub.

Everyone was having fun at the lake, but then a very unfortunate event occurred…

Fifteen-year-old Priceville High cheerleader, Carmen dove off the dock, splashed into the chilly water and teased her friends to join her.

Her friends jumped in as well, and they all seemed fine and were having a great time. Moments later, her father Jimmy realized that she didn’t put the stepladder into the water so he decided to lower it so the girls could easily climb out of the lake. Little did he know that the metal ladder carried an electric charge from a “faulty light switch.”

And when Reagan Gargis, one of their daughter’s friends, jumped into the water, she initially yelled about the cold water and soon cried for help.

The father sensed distress, jumped in to help, but felt a very strong electrical current that he couldn’t swim in. He started to lose consciousness but when his son, Zach, jumped in, he got his senses back and shouted, “Cut the power to the boat dock!”

“Luckily, my wife Casey was able to cut the power and save the three of us — Reagan, Zach and me,” recalled Mr. Johnson. Unfortunately, his daughter Carmen didn’t survive; hence, her body was found about two hours later.

According to reports, her death was due to Electric Shock Drowning or ESD, which occurred when a typically small amount of electricity paralyzed her so she lost her capacity to swim and save herself. Sadly, this story is not an isolated incident as Electric Shock Drowning has claimed the lives of many children, adults, and pets over the years.

Watch this news clip about this lake tragedy:

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Expression of Concern after a Tragic Death

Carmen’s parents believe that speaking out can help save someone else’s life, not wanting to lose another life just because most of us are clueless about this “silent killer.”

“If I would have known that this could happen or heard about it [Electric Shock Drowning] before, I am not sure if this would have happened to my daughter,” Mr. Johnson told TODAY in an interview.

This occurrence, though really tragic and heartbreaking, has strengthened the couple’s initiatives to campaign for ESD awareness. Likewise, this has sprouted their passion for installing safe dock electricity systems, revisiting dock and marina policies, as well as fortifying the public’s understanding on ESD.

And even though Electronic Shock Drowning usually occurs in freshwater, it can certainly take a life in saltwater if there has been a recent rain or if the water is brackish.

TRIVIA: To date, Electric Shock Drowning Association has already “compiled a list of 77 fatal cases of electric shock drowning, some of which involved the deaths of multiple people.”

Raising Awareness about this “Silent Killer” — Causes, Risks and Prevention

We should all be aware of the hazards of swimming in dock areas as well as the risks of electric shock drowning and its corresponding precautionary measures if we intend to visit docks, marinas, and bays.

As defined by the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association (ESDPA), Electric Shock Drowning is the “result of the passage of a typically low-level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis.” This occurs when electricity leaks into the water, paralyzes the swimmer and eventually causes him or her to drown.

The use of plastic or carbon fiber ladders instead of metal can do wonders in preventing accidents like this. More importantly, requiring regular wiring inspections on docks, installing pieces of equipment that can detect hazardous electrical currents, and putting innovative monitoring alarm system can surely eliminate, if not totally eradicate, ESD-related incidents.

How to Help Save Lives From Electronic Shock Drowning

All swimmers, boat owners, parents, as well as the dock management, should be vigilant and well-informed in order to toughen this fight against ESD.

Having that in mind, we at Salt Strong took initiatives of enlisting the following which are considered to be the smartest ways to prevent ESD and help save lives:

  1. Make sure all power cords and electrical wirings on the shore are disconnected, turned off and unplugged.
  2. If you feel a tingle (even the slightest one) while you are in the water, swim away as fast as you could, and quickly inform other people to get out of the water right away.
  3. Should there be an ESD-related incident, NEVER attempt to jump into the water to help save the victim. Doing this will put your life in danger, too. Worst-Case Scenario: You will also become a casualty and might lose your life.
  4. Should you really want to help, you may try throwing a life jacket, a floating cushion or a rope to reach out to him. Or, you may also opt to call for a lifeguard or anyone who’s well-trained to respond to this kind of incident.
  5. Well, the best thing to do is to call for emergency services — call 911 ASAP! And if the victim appears to be unresponsive or unconscious and you know how to properly perform CPR, do so until the rescue team arrives.
  6. Educate other people — your families, loved ones and friends — about ESD. You can start doing so by sharing this blog post and letting them all know that you truly care!
  7. In a nutshell, the best possible way to prevent ESD is to avoid swimming in or near freshwater marinas, docks or boatyards at all times.

Here’s a quick VIDEO that describes how ESD occurs and how to know if someone has been victimized by this “dangerous killer.”

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Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure.

As the proverb says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This may be a cliché for most of us but it never fails to serve its purpose.

And in this case, not swimming near boats, docks and marinas, especially freshwater boats and marinas that are using AC electrical power, can guarantee everyone’s safety.

ESDPA strongly suggests that all docks and boatyards are free from any hazards at all times. The management must also reinforce a “NO SWIMMING” policy, while also setting up appropriate warning signages, installing facility monitoring system, and assigning well-trained staff to supervise the area.

Important Note: Remember to always keep an eye to your companions, especially your little ones. It’s really worth it to be aware of the things that you should be careful for, how to prevent ESD, and most importantly, how to respond should an accident occur. Don’t let this spoil your get-together; or worse, lose another life.

Feel free to hit the comment section for additional info, practical tips, real-life experiences, or anything you wish to share.

Fish On and Stay Safe out there!

P.S. – To help raise awareness and prevent future deaths, please Tag and Share this with your angler friends. It could save a life.

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