Faulty wiring on houseboat results in near drowning in Cowichan Valley

A dive from a houseboat into a freshwater lake almost ended in tragedy when two swimmers received an electrical shock which incapacitated them. Luckily, quick thinking bystanders stepped in and saved the two young girls from drowning.

It appears that the houseboat became energized due to faulty wiring – a situation exacerbated by a lack of GFCI protection. This in turn energized the water and leaked current to a steel cable situated on a nearby dock. When the swimmers jumped into the lake from the houseboat, they inadvertently jumped directly into the path of the leaking current and sustained a debilitating shock.

The quick actions of onlookers saved them. Realizing there was an electrical issue, the onlookers did not jump in themselves but unplugged the houseboat before attempting the rescue. They advised the swimmers not to touch the boat and lifted them onto the deck without letting them touch the hull.

Electrical Shock Drowning – caused when a swimmer swims into an electric field, becomes incapacitated and drowns – is unfortunately all too common in North America. There were 29 ESDs in the United States in the decade (Shafer and Rifkin, 2017). These incidents are most common in freshwater which has a higher resistance than the human body, therefore electricity follows the path of least resistance. Studies have shown that a 2 volt AC difference in potential across a distance of 1 foot is enough to cause loss of muscle control (Smoot and Bentel, 1964). 

Two of the key factors in this incident were lack of GFCI protection and poor wiring practices:

  • The Canadian Electrical Code requires that all 15- and 20-amp receptacles feeding marinas, wharfs and similar structures be protected by Class A ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) which trip at 4-6 milliamps.  In this case the receptacle feeding power to the dock and houseboat was not GFCI protected.
  • The addition of 120 volt alternating current circuit to the houseboat presented several hazards and was likely not performed by a qualified individual. To avoid faulty wiring, have work done by licensed contractors.

More info on this incident investigation can be found here:

https://www.technicalsafetybc.ca/alerts/faulty-wiring-energizes-houseboat-exposes-swimmers-electric-shock

 

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