Posted Online: April 23, 2013, 6:36 pm

Stay out of the water when electricity is present

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A new cautionary tale has burst on boaters in much the same manner as the carbon monoxide warnings did a few years ago. And, like the CO warnings, the fact of their deaths wasn't new; they had been blamed on drownings.

Both Boating magazine and Boat U.S. monthly magazine have carried articles this month about ESD – electric shock drowning. Boating magazine reports that in 2012 there were eight deaths blamed on ESD, but like CO deaths, many more deaths probably were misreported as drownings.

The battle against ESD goes back to 1999 when a father saw his three children jump off their boat and let the current carry them down through the marina. All were wearing Type II life jackets that don't let the face get in the water. He saw his 9-year-old eldest son gasp and go limp and he ran down the dock to the slip where his son was preparing to get out of the water. He pulled him onto the dock and began CPR.

He said in the Boating story that drowning victims have a grayish cast. The son's color was still good, but, as he gave CPR, he saw that his eyes had lost their spark. The cause of the death was listed as drowning, but his dad knew that was impossible because his life jacket had kept his face out of the water.

His other two children had also reported feeling a "tingle." On further examination they ruled his son had been electrocuted.

Making a determination of ESD even more difficult is the fact that the phenomenon can actually cause drowning. The electrical shock can either electrocute the victim or it can cause paralysis in which the victim will drown if his face can get into the water.

ESD is relatively new. When we started boating 44 years ago, it was relatively rare for a boat to have "shore power." Only the largest boats on the 300 Dock at Sunset Marina had that luxury. Since then, shore power has worked its way down to 20-foot and smaller boats and almost all docks now have at least lights.

That means that either the docks or individual boats can leak electricity into the water. And the problem isn't limited to the docks. If a boat's wiring has a problem and it is running a generator, electricity can leak into the water whether anchored out or at the beach.

The best solution? Stay out of the water if there is any electricity present.

On a different matter, the Boating Skills & Seamanship course taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary at Sunset Marina has moved to the South Rock Island Township Hall while the water is high but boaters can still join the class. They'll have to contact me to find out where the course will be meeting Thursday or Tuesday. It meets from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Jack Tumbleson is a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He can be reached by telephone at (309) 786-5980 or by e-mail at jack@qconline.com.