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The Case of the Hot Marina

By Jim Shafer, CAM Components/Harbor Marine Consultants

An inadequate grounding system on a docked boat leads to a rare form of electrocution that disguises itself as drowning. While enjoying the Memorial Day weather on the sundeck of their moored houseboat on a lake in the Southeast, a mother and her adult daughter decided to go for a brief swim to cool off. Aside from a couple splashes and a shout that the water was cold, neither woman gave any indication that anything was wrong, but as a second daughter prepared to follow them a short time later, she looked down and saw her mother floating face down near the swim ladder; her sister was nowhere to be seen.

The subsequent frantic efforts to resuscitate the mother were to no avail. Despite administering CPR, a witness was unable to save her. Rescuers found the daughter several minutes later more than 50 feet below the surface of the water, but it was too late to save her. The post mortem suggested both had drowned because neither body had suffered any physical trauma, but the surviving daughter reported that they were both good swimmers. What could have possibly happened?

As the investigation into their deaths continued, it became increasingly evident that the women were the victims of a phenomenon that has become known as electric shock drowning.

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