Boating Safety Blog
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Boating Safety

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Electrical Safety:

There are two systems on a boat where you should never try to scrimp or save a few bucks, Electrical Systems and Fuel Systems.

Electric Shock Drowning: (ESD)


Electrical systems on boats are the major cause of boat fires, but they also cause other problems leading to serious injuries or death.  Electro Shock Drowning is one of these. ESD unfortunately seems to kill or injure far more children than adults. The above video is by Kevin Ritz whose son Lucas was killed by ESD. Since then he has become the leading expert on this insidious problem and has helped to prevent many deaths that otherwise could have occurred.

ESD is caused by faulty alternating current circuits leaking 110 volt electricity into the water, and occurs primarily in fresh water because of fresh water's high resistance to current flow.  It rarely happens in salt water because of it's low resistance to current flow.  It also occurs mostly around marinas with electrical hookups or boats.  The source is faulty wiring on the boat or on the dock.  The obvious answer is:

NEVER SWIM AT A MARINA!  or at any dock with electrical power.

Do not let children swim off a boat that is hooked up to AC or has a generator running (not to mention the problem of carbon monoxide from the generator exhaust).  If you touch metal on your boat or on the dock and get a shock or even a tingling immediately shut everything off and have an electrician check it out.  You must do the same thing if you suspect the shore power hookup, or get a reverse polarity alarm from the shore tie. Also, many boat now have a special circuit interrupter in the show power connection. If it trips it is time to call the electrician.

Never cut the green wire.  In addition to electric shock drowning there is a significant shock hazard on any boat that has AC electrical systems and has a ground fault in that system. You could touch an appliance and get a shock.  The green wire, the third wire, also called the grounding wire, is there to protect you from shock. Always have your electrical system checked at least annually, and unless you have experience working with AC electrical systems, hire an ABYC Certified Marine Electrician to do your electrical work.

Direct Current (DC) electricity may not offer a shock hazard (that is, low voltage DC defined as below 50 volts) but it can start fires. A DC short circuit can dump thousands of amps in an instant and melt wires and circuit boards, and set your boat ablaze. Make sure your boat meets all US Coast Guard and ABYC standards for AC and DC systems.  See the page on fires;  Fires

If you do your own electrical work make sure you follow some simple safety rules

Many people who own boats do their own electrical work. If the boat has a simple system, a battery, running lights, and a few instruments, then this is probably not a problem.  But as you add instruments and electrical devices to your boat the system can get very complex. It gets even more complex if you add AC appliances and bring in power from the shore.  You may have to add another battery to run everything,  and overcurrent protection (circuit breakers or fuses) and switch panels.  If you do this it is time to get assistance from a professional.  But if you do, make sure the professional is a marine electrician or marine electrical engineer.  Electrical systems on boats are different than on shore!  In particular,  the way systems are grounded and how DC systems and AC systems are connected is significant.  Doing it wrong can mean your life, or at least the safety of your boat and boats around you.  The American Boat And Yacht Council, has standards for marine electrical systems, and provides courses and certification for marine electricians.  Ask them if they are ABYC certified.  If they don't know what you are talking about, find someone who does.

In addition the US. Coast Guard  (in the USA) and boating authorities in many countries, have specific rules you must follow for a safe installation. See Ike's List - Electrical for sources

Also look at Electrical systems for more information. .

Keep in mind.  There are two systems on a boat where you should never try to scrimp or save a few bucks, Electrical Systems and Fuel Systems. 


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