Summer Months Highlight Need to Apply Electrical Safety Practices in Marinas and on Boats

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, marinas and boatyards are ramping up for the busy boating season as people prepare to head out on the water. NFPA reminds everyone about potential electrical hazards that exist onboard boats and in waters surrounding boats, marinas, floating buildings, and launch ramps, and the need to put safety measures in place to reduce risk. During the summer, news headlines highlight incidents related to electric shock drowning (ESD). Most people have never heard about nor are they aware of ESD and the electrical dangers posed in water environments, and each year people are injured or killed from these hazards.

Electric shock drowning occurs when faulty wiring sends electric current into the water that can pass through the body and cause paralysis. When this happens, a person can no longer swim and ultimately drowns. 

When it comes to marinas, both saltwater and freshwater, corrosive environments can be very tough on electrical equipment. Many marinas often lack ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), devices that automatically shut off electrical power when they detect a leakage. Compounding the problem is that there are no consistent rules about recurring safety inspections. There are things, however, that boaters, marina and boatyard operators can do to ensure safety:

Tips for boat owners

  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification. Pay attention to signage that warns about these risks.
  • Each year, and after a major storm that may affect the boat, have the boat's electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs if recommended. Check with the marina owner who can also tell you if the marina's electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code® (NEC).
  • Have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) installed on the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are Marine Listed when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.

Resources for marina and boatyard operators

  • Cliff Norton of Bellingham Marine Utilities and a member of Code Making Panel 7, talked to NFPA about the workIn a related interview, Keith Lofland of IAEI, and chair of Code Making Panel 7, explained electric shock drowning to us and how the NEC addresses marina safety including the requirement related to ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • A recent “Marina Risk Reduction” report includes an assessment and associated action plan to prevent, mitigate and/or eliminate the harmful effects of ESD in the vicinity of marinas, boatyards, and floating buildings. You can also get the highlights in a short video.

Find the interviews, a list of codes and standards that apply to boats and marinas and their related electrical safety issues, and more related information on our webpage.

Follow the action steps, use these resources and join NFPA this holiday weekend and throughout the summer in promoting electrical safety on the water. Learn more at

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LisaMarie Sinatra
Communications Manager, Public Affairs Office

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