Electric shock drowning: A hidden danger In fresh water

August 2010 News

As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I never thought twice about jumping into the fresh (albeit muddy) waters of Lake Lanier when we went there. In the 60's and 70's, powerboats were pretty basic, lacking latte machines and the slew of other appliances found on many boats and yachts today.

When a friend of mine became a fan of the Electric Shock Drowning Facebook page, I clicked on the link expecting to learn about a new alternative band. Instead, I learned about an invisible killer in fresh water that most frequently strikes near boat marinas where a boat or a nearby electrical appliance may be leaking voltage into the water.

I wondered why I'd never seen a story about Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) on "60 Minutes" or "20/20". Kids, adults and pets have been dying and getting injured from ESD since the mid-1980's, but only boating magazines have addressed this very real threat.

Many cases of ESD are believed to go unreported because electrocution isn't a cause of death that a coroner or medical examiner typically considers in a drowning death.

When I was in Dallas, Texas over the 4th of July holiday, I tried to raise awareness about ESD, but my cautionary tale fell on deaf ears. Since Texas has many manmade lakes, I thought people should be aware of the risk of swimming in fresh water near powerboats. Since I couldn't cite any coverage by any major news outlet, people preferred to concentrate on beer, wine and celebrating freedom rather than learning about ESD.

Kevin Ritz lost his son Lucas to ESD on August 1, 1999, when Lucas was electrocuted while swimming at a fresh water marina on a tributary of the Willamette River near Portland, Oregon. The sad thing is that all the water safety precautions the Ritz's knew to take were in place. Lucas and his two brothers were swimming with life vests on, closely supervised by both parents.


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