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Old 07-20-2016, 05:24 PM   #1
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Electrical Paralysis Drowning.

Those of you who combine fresh water boating and swimming with your RV adventures may want to familiarize yourselves with the issues surrounding fresh water drowning by electrical paralysis. I am an electrician by craft and although I am now retired I have become aware that there have been several drownings in the last several years were the cause has been found to be the presence of stray current in fresh water adjacent to boats and docks which have electrical service supplied to them. The problem is limited to fresh water locations because the human body conducts electricity better than fresh water. Because of that a person immersed in fresh water through which stray current is flowing is in danger of being electrically paralyzed and rendered unable to swim. Several of the victims have been would be rescuers. The easiest way to avoid this hazard is to avoid swimming anywhere near docks or boats that have connection to shore power. The underlying cause is the failure of many boat electrical systems to isolate the neutral conductor of the boats on board wiring from the conductive portions of the boat when it is receiving power from shore based supply. Since salt water is much more conductive than fresh water this is very unlikely to occur in salt water but beware of tidal estuaries were the water changes from salt to fresh during ebb tide when the fresh water source is in high flow periods.

Tom Horne

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Old 07-20-2016, 07:22 PM   #2
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~ a couple years ago in East TN there were a couple kids that had drowned from the causes you detail. Since then new regulations have been passed that marina's have to abide by regarding proper wiring.

Thanks for the information.

Jim J
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:38 PM   #3
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We had one a couple months ago here in Alabama, a young girl, very tragic. Right off a boat dock, caused from the wiring.
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Old 07-21-2016, 07:18 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by jacwjames View Post
~ a couple years ago in East TN there were a couple kids that had drowned from the causes you detail. Since then new regulations have been passed that marina's have to abide by regarding proper wiring.

Thanks for the information.
The real problem is on the boats themselves. The current carrying neutral conductor of the boats wiring is bonded to the engine block of any inboard engine as well as to any metallic portions of the hull. That connection is not broken when the power from the shore connection is connected. The most common transfer arrangements do not switch the neutral conductor. They leave it connected to any on board power source such as a generator or inverter. Since the neutral conductor of the on board system is bonded to the engine block the balancing current flow on the neutral conductor takes all available pathways back to the utility transformer from whence it came. That includes that additional pathway through the water and all of the other grounded metal on all the other boats to the Grounding Electrode System of the Marina's electrical service, via the main bonding jumper back to the Service Equipment's neutral and back to the center point of the utility's transformer.

That is why this problem will be so difficult to eliminate. It will require that all of the existing boats be retrofitted to isolate their neutral conductors from ground when the power is transferred to a shore connection. In many cases their AC distribution panel will have to be reconfigured or replaced. As long as any boat is still wired with the neutral bonded to ground on the boat when receiving shore power the danger will remain.

Local and State electrical authorities having jurisdiction could require that all of the shore connections be protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs). Then the imbalance of current returning on the neutral conductor of the shore line would cause the disconnect of the shore line power source. The boats owner would have to rewire or do without shoreline power.
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Old 07-21-2016, 08:21 AM   #5
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Good info. Happens too often in pools also.
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Old 07-21-2016, 04:33 PM   #6
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Good to know info. Thanks.

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