ABYC offers electric-shock prevention tips

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The American Boat and Yacht Council is offering information about safety, standards and legislation in response to recent electric shock drowning incidents in Tennessee and Missouri.

The council said that it has been aware of and taken steps to mitigate electric shock drownings since 2008.

The United States Coast Guard sponsored grants to ensure that the ABYC's electrical document "E-11 AC & DC Electrical Systems On-Board Boats — 2008" included an equipment leakage circuit interrupter. The interrupter is similar in function to ground-fault outlets installed in homes. It responds to a potential fault by tripping the main circuit breaker and cutting power to the boat.

The device will be mandatory for boats with alternating current systems, beginning Dec. 31.

The ABYC said electric shock drowning is the result of a typically low-level alternating current passing through the body while it is in fresh water. The force is sufficient enough to cause skeletal muscular paralysis, leaving the victim helpless and drowning. The ABYC said the fault can happen in any natural water, but it becomes fatal in fresh water because of lower water conductivity. Salt water has a higher conductivity.

"An electrical fault looks for a path back to its source, and in fresh water that path can become the human body," ABYC president John Adey said in a statement.

Kevin Ritz, an ABYC certification instructor who lost his 8-year-old son Lucas in 1999 to electric shock drowning, serves as an education advocate. Ritz created the "Hot Docks, Hot Boats and Electric Shock Drowning" webinar in 2011. Many companies use Ritz's webinar to educate employees who work in the water.

"Education is the No. 1 defense until we can get ground-fault protection devices in all marinas," Ritz said in a statement.

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