Three electrocutions in the Lake of the Ozarks last July left many worried about the safety of the water where most docks are wired for electricity. As another summer season begins and the initial emotion from the tragedies has faded, officials hope dock owners continue to keep safety in mind and take preventative measures to protect the family and friends who may be swimming nearby.
Getting a professional inspection
Seven area fire protection district and one village offer dock inspections.
The Camdenton Fire Department and Osage Beach and Lake Ozark fire protection districts will do a courtesy inspection within their district or city boundaries. But if it's an older dock — pre-dating the 2006 implementation of codes at the lake — Lake Ozark Fire Marshal James Doyle recommends getting the code checklist from Ameren Missouri and having a qualified electrician to look it over.
If the fire marshal finds something that doesn't match the 2006 code, the owner is obligated to fix it even if it's not life-threatening, Doyle says. With work being done on the dock, the owner must then also pay to go through the permit process with the LOFPD.
Call the OBFPD at 573-348-1221, and the LOFPD at 573-365-3202. The Camdenton Fire Department can be reached at 573-346-6260.
If anybody has an immediate concern of danger regarding their dock, a community dock or a dock in their cove, Mid County Fire Protection District will check the dock at no charge. If a routine inspection is sought, the district asks the owner to pay $50 and fill out an application committing themselves to fixing any problems that might be found.
The problem they've seen with courtesy inspections, says Mid County Fire Marshal Chris Bachman, is that dock owners don't always want to correct the issues that are found. With the inspection done as a courtesy, the district is in a gray area on enforcement.
Call Mid County at 573-346-2049.
Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District requires a $50 permit fee for docks of four wells or less. That includes two inspections — the initial check and a follow-up to inspect any changes that may have been required. Call the SBFPD at 573-374-4411.
Rocky Mount Fire Protection District also charges $50. They may be reached at 573-392-4301.
Northwest Fire Protection District does dock inspections as well. The code official for NWFPD could not be reached in time for this article. Call 573-347-3110 for more information on what they offer.
The Village of Four Seasons is the only entity offering dock inspections that is not a fire protection district. It started its program following the electrocutions last summer.
Page 2 of 3 - The village will do an inspection of a dock's ground fault circuit interruptor at no charge, but a full dock inspection is $50. Call 573-216-1689 to make an appointment.
Getting an electrician
On May 21, Ameren Missouri hosted an electrical seminar with more than 60 electricians in attendance. To promote consistency, local code officials gave presentations on requirements and answered any questions from electricians.
In addition to making sure an electrician is bonded and insured, Bachman recommends getting to know the electrician before hiring them to work on your dock.
"Just ask some basic questions. You need to be comfortable with the person you're selecting," he says.
Ask for qualifications and experience in dock work, Bachman says. Ask how many docks they wire a year and whether docks are their focus or something they rarely do. Also find out their success rate in dock inspections — does their work typically pass on the first inspection or do they have to do a lot of re-inspections.
The fire protection districts cannot recommend or advise against any particular electrician. They ensure code requirements are fulfilled.
One-time inspection not enough
Any time water and electricity exist in the same environment, caution is advised on an ongoing basis no matter how good the electrician or professional inspection.
Code officials caution against dock owners getting an inspection done and thinking that they're done. Fire marshals recommend owners check their dock's electrical system on a routine basis.
"If we checked your dock today, in reality you would need to check it next month and on a routine basis. Depending on how rough the water is where the dock is located, you might need to check it every week," Bachman says.
Check all the pivot points, and check to make sure conduits are intact.
Make sure there aren't any wires hanging down into the water.
Doyle recommends checking your dock you go on it as well as being aware of how your neighbor's dock looks.
Make sure the breakers haven't tripped. If they have it shows something is wrong.
Test the ground fault circuit interruptor (GFCI). For just $8-15, a GFCI tester is a cheap and simple way to make sure the electrical system's safety shut-off is working, says Bachman. Found at almost any hardware store, these simple testers are something that every dock owner should have and use, he says.
The GFCI is the automatic safety shut-off of an electrical system, but it can malfunction. And if it's not working, you're not protected, Bachman says.
Page 3 of 3 - There are also devices that test for voltage in the water and will sound an alarm if current is detected.
If a dock owner decides to invest in one of these alarms whether it's locally or nationally made, Bachman says the device needs to be certified to meet national standards.
The most common testing entity is Underwriters Labratory. Look for the official UL marking on the product. That means it has been tested to ensure that the product will work 100 percent of the time and not give false information.
What to do if you feel a tingle
"The safest dock is a dock with no electricity honestly," says Doyle.
Despite all precautions, systems can fail.
If you feel a tingle while you're in the water or when you grab the dock, immediately get away from the power source.
"The typical reaction is to get out as fast as you can when in reality that is probably where the source is coming from," Bachman says.
Swim away from the shore and yell for help, he says, and have somebody on land shut off the power to the dock.
Lake area fire departments strongly encourage all docks to have a disconnect at the shoreline. It gives the immediate ability to shut off electricity in case of a failure.
This is a local requirement above the national code standard, according to Bachman, but an upgrade is not required.
Doyle also recommends having life safety devices near the dock and making sure someone else knows you're getting in the water.