Marine electricians are raising safety awareness after the electric shock drowning deaths of two East Tennessee boys in Cherokee Lake in Grainger County on the Fourth of July holiday.
The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) says electric shock drownings are rare. In the follow-up to a 2008 report, researchers identified 51 fatal incidents in the United States between 1985 and early 2011.
Even though there are no regulations for how often boats and marinas should be inspected to prevent electrocution accidents at marinas, marine electricians want all boat owners to remember that water and electricity don't mix.
"We have everything you need. Kitchen, bathroom, queen size bed. It's not a big boat, but it's big enough," said houseboat owner Johnny Cox.
Cox, who has been a boat owner for several decades, knows that his houseboat comes with big responsibility. He docks his boat at the Caney Creek Marina in Roane County.
"Make sure everything is ground faulted, just like the box is and the generator I use is also ground faulted. I've got knowledge enough to know to respect electricity," explained Cox.
Marine Electrician Joe Dickerson has that knowledge too.
"If it looks unsafe, it is unsafe," said Dickerson.
Dickerson has three decades of experience working on electrical systems on boats of all sizes. He specializes in major electrical repairs and custom wiring on houseboats and cabin cruisers. He believes owners should let experts do repairs and re-wiring instead of hiring a friend, a house electrician, or trying to do it themselves.
Dickerson said boat wiring is different from building wiring, "Everything has to be done with perfection or you will have an electrical issue."
Dickerson said the most common dangerous issue he sees has to do with cords that connect some boats to a power supply on a dock.
"The actual cord will start melting and cause an electrical fire. Once this happens, if it melts down to the point where you lose your insulation, if this is touching any part of the metal dock, it will go to the water. If this is touching any part of the metal boat, this will cause electricity to bleed into the water," explained Dickerson.
The type of wire used on a boat can also cause problems. Home wire doesn't give. Dickerson said marine rated wire bends and floats.
Dickerson also believes marinas should also do their part by installing covered power boxes.
"If you open the lid, the opening is restricted. The reason for that is if someone lets go of that lid, it goes down and automatically closes so that water cannot run down on the electrical connection," said Richard Renne, assistant manager at Caney Creek Marina.
Even though Cox regularly checks the wiring on his ride, he doesn't feel completely safe.
"I'll say 93 percent. I can't say 100 percent because accidents can happen," said Cox.
Dickerson said owners who use their boats a lot should check its wiring themselves every two to three months, like getting an oil change on an automobile. At the very least, a wire inspection should be done annually. He also recommends having an experienced marine electrician check out the electric system every five years.
For information on how to choose a marine electrician, and other tips to reduce risk from electrical malfunctions, check out this maintenance and trouble shooting guide from Yacht Survey Online.
To contact Joe Dickerson send him an email to: email@example.com.