The summer is rapidly approaching, and countless families will take to Arkansas lakes and rivers to enjoy the season. Many people will use boat docks while fishing, swimming, or boating.
If you’re not careful, using a boat dock can quickly turn a fun-filled summer gathering into a tragedy.
In August of 2008, three people – a 40-year-old woman, a 14-year-old girl, and a seven-year-old boy – were electrocuted while swimming around a boat dock in Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs. The 14-year-old girl, Sarah Crotts, was pronounced dead after she was pulled out of the water after being electrocuted.
In July of 2012, three people – a 26-year-old woman, a 13-year-old girl, and her eight-year-old brother – were killed in separate incidents, all while swimming around docks on the Lake of the Ozarks. All three were electrocuted. The culprit was determined to be an improperly-grounded electrical circuit.
While these tragic incidents are not common, they happen far too often on our lakes and rivers during swimming and boating season. The fact that these incidents are imminently avoidable makes them all the more tragic; they could’ve been prevented if the docks had been properly maintained and inspected for signs of wear, damage, and faulty wiring.
These stories are a testament to the fact that people need to exercise caution when using boat docks this summer.
Regulations and Safety Standards Are Often Insufficient
There are regulations in place to ensure the safety of boat docks from an electrical standpoint, but as the above stories show, they are often not enough to prevent injury or death.
Arkansas Code Title 27, Chapter 101, Subchapter 8, governing Boat Dock and Marina Safety, specifies that all boat docks must meet minimum standards of electrical wiring as stipulated by the National Fire Protection Association Standards for Marinas and Boatyards and the National Electric Code in order to “prevent shock, electrocution, or injury to users of the facility and swimmers in the surrounding area.”
While this is a good start, there are two problems with the regulation. The first is that there is no penalty for failing to abide by these regulations besides potential civil liability in the event of an accident or fatality. The second is that there is no guarantee that boat dock owners will abide by the national standards or even know that these standards exist. Education on this matter is woefully inadequate.
Plus, there is no guarantee that the electrical wiring on a boat dock was installed according to code or installed properly at all. The only way to ensure dock safety and prevent injury is to regularly inspect all docks – public and private.
Protecting Your Family
To protect your family while you enjoy summertime in Arkansas, follow these steps:
- Ensure you have someone trained in first aid nearby at all times;
- Check for loose wiring and other obvious signs of malfunction or danger, like frayed wires or missing connections;
- Have a trained electrician inspect privately-owned docks;
- Be on guard while family members are swimming around the dock to prevent drowning if an electrocution occurs; and
- Keep U.S. Coast Guard approved floatation devices on the dock at all times.
In addition to following these simple precautions, be aware of the posted rules and regulations for the lake or river where the boat dock is located. And, as always, observe all safety regulations when in or near watercraft.
Vigilance and caution are key to avoiding tragedy. Summertime should be spent enjoying the Natural State, making memories in the sun, and spending time with loved ones. Be vigilant, stay safe, and have fun on the water.