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Electrical Safety When Swimming, Fishing and Boating

  • Posted: 05.24.2021
boat docked near electrical outlet
Image: Safe Electricity

Iowa summers offer many opportunities to enjoy our rivers, lakes, and streams. However, any time you are around water, there is a potential for danger from electricity.

Safe Electricity reminds us that following these guidelines can keep you safe when participating in recreational activities on or near the water.

  • Check weather forecasts before heading out. Postpone your plans if a thunderstorm is expected, as the risks for lightning strikes are especially high in or near bodies of water.
  • Heed this advice from the National Weather Service (NWS), “When thunder roars, go indoors.” (Pay attention to thunder, because where there is thunder, lightning is present, too.) You are not safe from lightning strikes while outside, so once you hear thunder, head to a safe shelter such as an enclosed building with electricity or plumbing (although stay away from metal pipes, running water, and land-line phones, as these can conduct electricity if lightning strikes nearby).
  • If no safe building is available, take shelter in an enclosed metal-topped vehicle with the windows rolled up.
  • Wherever you wait out the storm, stay there at least 30 minutes past the last thunder, as lightning can strike that long after the storm has passed through.
  • Always check the location of nearby power lines before boating or fishing, and take actions to avoid accidental contact with lines. When fishing, cast your line away from power lines. Don’t raise a mast or antenna when your boat is near a power line. Never attempt to move a power line out of the way so that a boat can pass underneath. Maintain a safe distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines. Keep in mind that water levels are constantly changing, which can alter the distance between the water and the line. If your boat does come in contact with a power line, don’t enter the water, as it could be energized. Instead, stay in the boat and avoid touching anything metal until help arrives or until your boat is no longer in contact with the line.
  • Don’t swim around docks with electrical equipment or boats plugged into shore power. If you are in the water and feel a tingle of electric current, shout to let others know, try to stay upright, tuck your legs up to make yourself smaller, and swim away from anything that could be energized. Do not head toward a boat or a dock ladder to get out, as they might be energized.
  • If you see someone who you suspect is getting shocked, do not jump in to save him or her. Throw out a float, turn off the shore power connection at the meter base, and/or unplug shore power cords. Try to eliminate the source of electricity as quickly as possible; then call for help.
  • To help prevent the risk of electricity entering the water, have your boat and dock electrical systems regularly inspected and maintained by a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.