With the unofficial start of boating season on Lake Michigan quickly approaching, officials are warning Illinois boaters and swimmers about a hidden danger lurking in fresh water.
Electric shock drowning, or ESD, is a rising threat in marinas and popular freshwater areas, and those at risk are often unaware of the potential danger, according to Safe Electricity, which launched an awareness campaign as part of National Safe Boating Week.
A swimmer can suffer ESD when electricity from a dock or from a boat plugged into shore power seeps into surrounding water. The electric current is not visible but can electrocute anybody who unwittingly swims into the electrified waters, and it can be deadly.
Kevin and Sheryl Ritz are among those advocating awareness about the risk of ESD. The couple lost their 8-year-old son, Lucas, more than a decade ago when he unknowingly swam into waters flowing with electricity from a nearby boat that was plugged into shore power.
“One second he was splashing, having a great time, and the next moment he’s quiet,” Kevin Ritz said in a statement.
After his son’s death, Kevin Ritz started working with the American Boat and Yacht Council as a Master Marine Technician who trains certified technicians.
"Never swim in a marina or around docks with power and boats that are plugged in," he advises.
If a swimmer feels an electric current in an area, they should shout to let others know, try to stay upright and swim away from the energized waters, officials said.
Bystanders should not jump in to help those in waters with an electric current, but should instead throw them a float and try to eliminate the source of the electric current as quickly as possible, they added.
Those who own boats or docks should regularly inspect and maintain all electrical systems on or near water, Safe Electricity warned.
“We keep tracking this stuff, and it’s still happening,” said Sheryl Ritz. “People don’t know, and that was us 14 years ago.”