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Port Clinton Yacht Club aims to prevent electrocution drowning

By on March 23, 2021 0

After learning about incidents of electrocution drowning in other marinas, the Port Clinton Nautical Club, located on 11 acres between the shores of Lake Erie and the Portage River, has taken proactive action to try to prevent such tragedies.
Electric shock drowning occurs when a stray electric current enters water and enters the human body with a sufficient amount of current to cause paralysis, leaving the victim immobilized and resulting in drowning. In many cases, people who try to help the drowning person are also shocked, making the rescue difficult.

Electric shock drowning occurs in marinas or docks when electricity enters the water from dock or marina wiring, or boats that are connected to the marina’s shore power.

Dave Obergefell, who was the commodore of the Port Clinton Yacht Club in 2017, said they started by asking their electrician to overhaul the existing electrical system. While there were no incidents at the club, they determined the system needed to be upgraded to minimize the risk of electric shock drowning (ESD).

Be proactive
Rather than installing all the new pedestals, the club invested approximately $ 30,000 to retrofit approximately 60 existing pedestals with Equipment Leakage Circuit Breakers (ELCIs). The devices, which serve around 100 docks, are manufactured by North Shore Safety.

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The ELCIs were installed during the winter when there were no boats in the water, and it took the electrician about a week to complete the project. Obergefell said it was a relatively easy installation with only a few minor adjustments needed.

The North Shore Safety Marine ELCI is an earth fault protection device that is installed on the shore power base. The 30 amp and 50 amp permanent brackets have a National Association of Electricity Manufacturers (NEMA) 4 times the wet location rating with a housing that withstands most chemical and UV exposure.

“Rather than completely replacing the entire pedestal, marinas can retrofit pedestals with the Marine ELCI so you can efficiently and cost-effectively meet the National Electrical Code and protect members and guests,” said Sean Swick , president of North Shore Security.

North Shore Safety also lends equipment to marinas so that their electrical crew can self-assess and determine if boats are leaking electrical current in the water.

The ELCI has red and green LED indicators. A green light means the unit is on and is providing safe power to the boat. The red light indicates that the power is off and more attention is needed to determine the cause of the electric current leak.

Obergefell said the indicator lights make it easy for staff to determine which boats need special attention. When a red light is on, they first reset it to see if it clears. Otherwise, they know there is a problem with the boat and notify the owner.

They have a tester who can usually pinpoint the problem. “It can be something as small as a loose wire or something more complicated like an air conditioner,” Obergefell said. Some other common culprits are bad wiring, hot water tanks, or even small appliances like a coffee maker.

Obergefell said most boat owners are unaware they have issues with their electrical system and appreciate help in fixing the problem. “People are happy that we are helping them get through this. “

Sometimes there are problems when visiting boats plug into the power system and the ELCI detects electrical current leaks. Yacht club staff should explain to boaters what they are doing and why. Boats are not allowed to connect to shore power until the problem is corrected. “We will not allow anyone to bypass the system. We won’t, ”Obergefell said.

This pedestal has two 50 amp outlets protected by the NSS device with the anchor and also four 30 amp outlets protected by two NSS devices.

In the first year after the ELCIs were installed at the Port Clinton Yacht Club, 10 to 12 boats were detected with significant leaks. “Any of these leakage situations could have led to minimal shock to death from electric shock drowning if someone had entered the water near one of the leaking boats,” Obergefell said . “We are very proud that the yacht club has these devices. We will never know if we saved someone’s life.

Reduce the risk of ESD
In addition to installing equipment such as Marine ELCIs, owners and operators of marinas can help prevent electrostatic discharge by posting “No Swimming” signs on the marina and docks.

“Do not allow swimming in the marina or any place where there is alternating current,” said Kevin Ritz of the Electric shock drowning prevention association. “It will do a lot to prevent electrostatic discharges. It’s a challenge, but a simple thing and it doesn’t cost anything. EPSDA offers “Bathing Prohibition” signs on its website.
He noted that enforcing a “No Swimming” policy can be difficult as people naturally want to swim around the docks and their boats. He suggested having designated and safe swimming areas that are protected from the dangers of electricity.

ESPDA recommends that you do not swim or enter the water within 150 feet of any electrical source on the water, in the water, or at the water’s edge. The organization issued a statement regarding swimming in areas protected by GFCIs and other safety equipment: “Codes and standards are not intended to be a ‘green light’ to swim or enter the water . ” Green alarm lights do not warn of imminent danger and could instill a false sense of security. Even in protected areas, if there are swimmers in the water and something goes wrong on the boat or the GFCI breaks down, swimmers would be at risk of electric shock. Ritz used the analogy of a boat as a hair dryer in the tub.

Ritz said most cases of electrical current leakage occur because of issues with the boat’s electrical system, not the marina or dock wiring. “Boats are not like houses, where there is someone who enforces the codes for the house wiring,” he said.

Ritz recommends the use of testers, such as the one used by the Port Clinton Yacht Club, which can be plugged into an individual boat to test its circuits. The lessee’s contract must include a clause that allows the marina to shut off power to a boat if the tester indicates there is a problem with the wiring. He said some boat owners may object and say their boat cannot stay afloat without being connected to electricity.

“Every boat should be able to cut the current without sinking. Boat owners should educate themselves about their boat’s electrical system, ”said Ritz. “If the tenants push you away, ask, ‘Do you want your grandchildren to fall into the water and be shocked or worse? Of course, no one wants that.

Installing an isolation transformer on the boat is another step a boat owner can take to protect themselves and their boat. Isolation transformers eliminate the risk of electric shock to people on board and in the water adjacent to the boat. They can also prevent galvanic corrosion of metal hulls and propellers.

ESD education
Ritz, a longtime boater, had never heard of ESD until a tragedy struck his family. He helped organize the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association after his 8-year-old son died of electrostatic discharge while swimming in a marina with friends in 1999.

“I started looking at people who had been through the same thing,” he said. “I started reaching out to other family members for support and saying, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’ Ritz wanted to educate the general public on the problem. “It is such a tragedy when this happens, and it can be avoided,” he said.

Everyone handles grief differently. “I wanted to understand how this could happen,” he said. “I spent all of my excess time learning about marine electricity. There are a variety of cabling systems and little consistency or adherence to standards. “

For several years, he traveled the country making presentations for law enforcement, dive teams, the US Coast Guard and maritime organizations. “Anyone who would listen. Anything I could do to get the word out, but without hurting the boating industry.

He said that in his early days some people didn’t want him to draw attention to ESD incidents for fear it would negatively impact the boating industry.
“We have to talk about it and fix the problems, recognize that it is happening and how to prevent it,” he said. “We can do it in a smart way that doesn’t bankrupt anyone. “

He said marinas operators are an important part of the process and can take steps to protect their tenants and guests, their property and help educate boaters who use their facilities.

Ritz is a Master Marine Engineer and is the Senior Systems Instructor at Northwestern School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington. He teaches technicians how to identify and correct problems in marine electrical systems. He said a maritime investigation when selling a boat might not include a thorough examination of the electrical panel, so issues may go undetected. “I want to try to educate people, help boaters and in return help marinas.”

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