Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 3, 2012

Vigilance at docks prevents electrocution

TAHLEQUAH — Summer fun turned deadly in July on Lake of the Ozarks, when the tragic electrocution death of two children swimming near a private dock spotlighted the dangers of mixing electricity and water.

A week later, a 26-year-old woman was electrocuted while swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks. An electrician with the boat dock division of COTA Electric said that lake has no real building code enforcement.

Local officials and business owners are maintaining a vigil to make sure similar tragedies don’t happen on Tenkiller or Fort Gibson lakes.

Lake Tenkiller Corps of Engineers Chief Ranger Debbie Christie said marinas are required to undergo yearly boat-dock inspections to ensure the safety of visitors.

“We make sure everything is up to snuff, and they have to use a certified electrician whenever electrical work is done,” she said. “We go out and check the boat docks, and if we see something wrong, we’ll let them know about it.”

Marinas install a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI), which is designed to prevent electrical shock by breaking the circuit when there is a current variation between hot and neutral wires. A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from the hot to neutral slot of an electrical outlet, according to the Discovery Channel’s How Stuff Works website.  If an imbalance is detected, it trips the circuit with the ability to discern an imbalance as small as 4 or 5 milliamps and can react as quickly as 1/30th of a second.

Fort Gibson Lake Corps of Engineers Chief Park Ranger Jonathan Polk said the annual boat-dock safety inspections take place “usually around March or April.”

“We also require the marina owners to provide a affidavit from a licensed electrician saying that anything electrical on the dock has been installed according to the National Electrical Safety Code,” he said.

According to the IEEE Standards Association website, the NESC establishes the rules for practical safeguarding of people during the installation, operation, or maintenance of electric supply, communication lines and associated equipment.

The NESC is known to be a stronghold in the U.S. electrical industry and communications utility field, and functions as the safety authority on requirements for power, telephone, cable TV and railroad signal systems.

One Corps of Engineers boat-dock safety requirement involves the use of weather-proof extension cords in the dock area. The cord must be zip-tied straight up and down on a pole for use. Cords can no longer be wrapped around the pole, which can lead to fissures in the protective lining of the cord, eventually fraying and exposing wires, said Paradise Cove Marina owner Ann Davis.

“We have a routine that we go through because we try to stay at Corps standard,” she said. “We know what they’re looking for [when they make their annual inspection], and that’s what we look for. We have an electrician sign off on everything. We stay pretty tight on everything because we’re such a big marina. Some of the docks are so far away that you can’t see them. Through our regular maintenance, we check to see if things are working properly.”

Burnt Cabin Owner Karen Young said the Lake Tenkiller marina’s boat docks are checked three times a year by an electrician.

“They trip the breakers themselves and make sure they trip accordingly,” she said. “We’re fortunate a lot of our slips are new. We only have one older dock. Every once in awhile, you get a bad breaker that you have to change. If you have to reset it and it continues to do that, you need to replace it. Regular maintenance usually makes you aware of stuff like that. Anything that’s required by the Corps, we have to have signed by a licensed electrician. The prevention stuff we do on our own. You do the best job you can to keep something from happening.”

Strategic placement of the GFCI can help monitor the area to determine if an electrical problem is mechanical or due to improper use of a boat lift, said Sixshooter Resort owner Brandi Little.

“We have a GFCI on every section on the breaker box; that way, it’s not affecting everyone,” she said. “When we notice a box that’s constantly tripping, we can find out if there’s a problem with the wiring or who doesn’t know how to use their boat lift properly. When the water comes of the motor, it gets tripped. If they leave the motor running and the boat is already up in the highest position that it can go, it’ll draw water because it doesn’t have anywhere to go. When they’re raising the boat and get to a certain point, they should turn it off.”

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