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With the warm weather upon us, there’s no better time to get down to the marina and enjoy the water. Working on and around your boat, you or your guests may look over into that beautiful blue expanse and consider taking a nice dip to refresh yourselves. For myself, an avid boater and captain, who spends many hours in marinas, I typically have at least a couple of teenagers with me who want to take a dip after a hot summer day of fishing.

As an experienced boat captain, I’m cautioning you to think twice about swimming in a marina. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s yearly boating statistics, nearly 1,000 accidents occurred in and around marinas and other similar bodies of water like bays and inlets in 2016, with 91 deaths.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) notes that boaters and swimmers must be aware of dangers in and around the water in a marina, stating that electrical hazards and carbon monoxide, along with other dangers, can cause serious injuries and even death.

The problem is that most hazards in a marina aren’t visible to the naked eye. I hate to hear about people getting hurt when they’re supposed to be out enjoying themselves, so here’s a review of some important safety tips to keep in mind when you head out for play with your watercraft.

Electrical Shock Drowning

It may be difficult to imagine that you could actually be shocked if you dive into the water around a marina, but the danger is always present. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) states that electrical shock drowning occurs “when a body makes contact with electrified water and becomes a conductor of electricity leading to the possibility of complete loss of muscle control, rapid or irregular heartbeat (ventricular fibrillation), and even electric shock death.”

Marina water can become electrically charged because docks and boats carry sources of electricity. If there’s any faulty wiring, damaged electrical cords, faulty grounding, or other issues anywhere in that marina, electrical current can leak into the surrounding water. Many marinas have common electrical systems shared by all the boats, so that if even one boat has a short or other flaw, that current can travel to other boats and eventually leak into the water.

This is one of the reasons why in many marinas you’ll see “no swimming” signs. For your safety, you and your guests should always obey these signs. In addition, as a boat owner, you can help reduce hazards by regularly maintaining your boat, having it inspected annually, and conducting monthly tests of your ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). In addition, it’s wise to install and maintain an equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI). These devices measure electrical current flow and will switch electricity off if a flow imbalance is detected.

Other Marina Hazards Can Cause Serious Injuries

Though electrical shock drowning is the most common danger around a marina, there are many others. The NFPA warns about carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, which can affect swimmers who wander close to a boat’s exhaust vent where the gas accumulates. The gas also tends to hover about six inches above the water, where swimmers most often breathe. Boaters should also install CO alarms in their boats because gas generators, space heaters, and cooking ranges can all be sources of CO inside a cabin.

Poor visibility in a marina can also hide other hazards, including strong currents that can sweep swimmers away; old pilings; cables; sunken docks; fishing lines; hooks; pollution; and litter. Swimming near boats creates another hazard, as the propellers are extremely dangerous.

In summary, it’s best to not swim in these areas at all. Keep your summer fun and safe this year for you and your family. When it’s time to go boating, head down to the marina, but if you want to swim, take it to the pool, a safe designated swimming area, or another area with fewer hazards.

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