Here’s What You Need To Know About Electric Shock Drowning


Have you ever heard of electric shock drowning? If not, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the subject—because it can be fatal. This issue is just now coming to the forefront after the the death of a 15-year-old Carmen Johnson in Alabama last summer.

Her parents have been speaking out about the issue in an attempt to raise awareness of a danger many people don’t know about.

Boat reflections
Flickr | doryfour

Carmen was electrocuted near family’s boat dock by a light switch that was half full of water. Combined with that massive safety hazard, and a metal ladder that dropped into the water from the dock, the loose electrical current from the broken light switch traveled through the dock to the metal ladder.

From here, the electric current was conducted into the water in the marina where Carmen and a friend were swimming.

“As they were swimming toward the dock, within somewhere between the 5-to-10-foot range, is when they started feeling like they couldn’t swim,” Carmen’s father, Jimmy Johnson, told CBS News.

What Is Electric Shock Drowning?

Electric shock drowning is “a drowning resulting from paralysis caused by electrical currents in the water,” according to the Electric Shock Drowning Foundation. If the current in the water is high enough, electrocution occurs.

To keep yourself and your children safe, there are a number of simple precautions you can take. Never swim in a marina, boatyard or near a dock, since that’s where most electrical issues occur.

Always use a plastic rather than a metal ladder to avoid conducting electricity into the water. And if you feel a tingling in your limbs while you’re swimming, get out of the water right away.

You can also purchase a Dock Lifeguard. This device detects electricity on your boat dock and in the surrounding water. Johnson now works with Dock Lifeguard to promote the product as a crucial safety measure.

kids swimming photo
Getty Images | Gareth Cattermole

Additionally, you’re at a greater risk for electric shock drowning in freshwater as opposed to saltwater. This is because the human body is more conductive to electricity than fresh water, so the current flows through the body as opposed to the water.

“It’s every homeowner’s responsibility to make sure water is safe around their dock before they start swimming,” Johnson said to CBS News. “People think ‘Oh, this is a freak accident. It’s not going to happen to me.’ And here we are now.”

Indeed, there have been many other victims of electric shock drowning. Just last month two women were found dead in Alabama’s Lake Tuscaloosa. Preliminary autopsies pointed to electrocution as the cause of death.

Electric Shock Drowning Can Also Occur In Pools

The risk of electric shock drowning is also present when swimming in pools. Last summer, 17-year-old lifeguard Rachel Rosoff, drowned in a North Carolina public pool when a pump motor failed and electrified the water. Her mother, Michelle Rosoff, is pushing for a new bill that would require annual electric inspections of every pool in North Carolina.

“It should never, ever happen again,” Rosoff said to “It’s not like this pool was an isolated pool that didn’t have an inspection. It is across the board; pools are not having inspections.”

swimming pool under water ...

North Carolina pool builder Joe Biron told that even standard lights can be dangerous in a swimming pool.

“I think it would really freak people out if they realized how dangerous that could be,” he said. “A 120-volt light in a pool to me is like playing with a toaster in the pool.”

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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