Boaters Beware of Underwater Electrical Hazards

February 14, 2017 | Category: Boating Accidents, Personal Injury

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida has more than 1,540 miles of navigable inland waterways and a 1,350-mile coastline (the 2nd longest of all states, after Alaska), much of which is well-trafficked and utilized for both commercial and recreational purposes.  Boating and related equipment accidents are therefore quite common.

Many Floridians are aware of the dangers presented by poorly-maintained and carelessly-handled boats, but some may not to recognize closely related dangers, such as underwater electrical hazards associated with boats and marina docks. 

If you go boating regularly – or if you just spend a lot of time near boats, marina docks, and well-trafficked waterways – it is absolutely critical that you exercise caution in and around the water.  Modern boats, boat lifts (as well as other machinery), and dock infrastructure often feature extensive electrical components that remain underwater, representing a significant hazard to nearby swimmers.

If you have been injured due to the presence of underwater electrical hazards near a boat or dock machinery/infrastructure, you may have legitimate personal injury claims against the relevant owners and operators.  Fort Myers personal injury attorney Randall Spivey is prepared to discuss and assess your options under the law.

So, what underwater electrical hazards are there, and how can they be avoided?

Underwater Electrical Shock

The mechanisms of a typical underwater electrical shock case are actually quite straightforward.  Generally, the dangerous situation begins when faulty wiring on electrical components energize nearby underwater metals, such as those located on boats, docks, or machinery.  Boat U.S. notes that an electrical field develops in a highly-energized section of the water. 

As soon as a person enters that section of the water (i.e., by swimming nearby, or by touching the affected water), the electrical current immediately transitions to that person’s body, which can cause a range of injuries.  In fact, some swimmers even drown due to paralysis caused by the electrical shock.

To avoid the risk of electrical shock, take care not to enter water in which there are signs of electrical equipment and activity (for example, if you see a boat lift, or if there are visible lights and wires underwater).  If you must enter the water, have a professional test the water first, and make sure that all the electrical elements are turned off (and that all master breakers are turned off).

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is important for ensuring that the water is safe despite the presence of potentially faulty underwater electrical components (i.e., wiring, lights, etc.).  GFCIs are specialized devices that, when installed, allow for the automatic shut down of an electrical circuit to prevent the flow of electricity when the device detects that the current will pass through water or the human body.

GFCIs instantly interrupt electrical flow.  Thus, the electrical field created by current leakage will be minimal.  The presence of a properly-installed GFCI ensures that – while you may receive an uncomfortable shock – you will not be electrocuted.

GFCI installation may be required by law, depending on a number of different factors.  In 2011, the National Electrical Code was amended to incorporate new regulations requiring the use of ground fault protection devices in marinas and “floating buildings” (see NEC sections 555.3 and 553.4).  Many cities and counties have established local rules requiring installation of similar overcurrent protective devices.  To determine whether there are applicable local ground fault protection rules that can help your case, consult with a qualified Florida personal injury lawyer.

Unfortunately, many boats and docks have either failed to install GFCIs and other overcurrent protective devices to protect against the underwater hazards, and do not properly maintain their electrical equipment.  Owners and operators should work with electricians to perform regular maintenance of their boat and dock equipment, and should install GFCIs as a failsafe measure.

If you suffer injuries due to underwater electrical shock, you may be able to bring a legitimate personal injury claim against the owner/operator of the offending electrical equipment.  Contact Randall Spivey to speak with a skilled personal injury attorney at the Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A.  We will provide a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights.

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