Safe sails in the sunset

Make sure electrical safety is also on your boat’s checklist

June 2023 Plugged into Safety FB cover

Electric safety is probably the last thing that crosses anyone’s mind on a leisurely summertime boat ride. But because water and electricity are a deadly combination, before taking off, brush up on some boating safety rules.

“It’s critical that you stay away from electric power lines and other electricity sources whenever you go boating,” said Jon Elkins, Vice President, Safety, Training & Compliance at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “After all, besides being a popular ingredient for summertime fun, water is a good conductor of electricity. Even when you’re on a boat, electricity still tries to reach the ground below to the bottom of the body of water.”

Boaters should constantly be aware of the location of power lines. That means paying close attention when raising or lowering the boat’s mast or spar and ensuring drying sails and sheet lines don’t blow into power lines.

“When docking your boat, enlist the help of another person to help guide you at least 10 feet away from all power lines,” Elkins added.

Among other maritime must-dos:

  • While on the water, be cognizant of signs which indicate where underwater utility lines are located. Don’t anchor your boat near them.
  • Are you wishing to go fishing? Again, check for overhead power lines first — then cast your line.
  • If your boat accidentally comes in contact with a power line, whatever you do, don’t jump in the water. Stay on board and don’t touch anything made of metal. Don’t leave the boat until it has moved away from the power line.
  • If you notice a tingling sensation while swimming, the water could be electrified. Get out quickly, avoiding metal objects like ladders. 
  • Equipment leakage circuit interrupters protect swimmers nearby from potential electrical leakage into the water around your boat. Consider installing them on your boat.

To make sure your boat’s electrical system is in ship shape, periodically have a professional marine electrician inspect it. It should meet local and state safety codes and standards. Make sure all of the boat’s AC outlets are three-prong. All electrical connections should be in a panel box so contact is avoided. Ground fault circuit interrupters should be installed on your boat — as well as on the dock. When using electricity near water, use portable GFCIs labeled “UL-Marine Listed.” Test all GFCIs once a month.