As water levels fluctuate, now is a good time to think about dock safety. Here are five safety tips for you to follow at the Lake of the Ozarks.

As water levels fluctuate, now is a good time to think about dock safety. Here are five safety tips for you to follow at the Lake of the Ozarks.

1. Call a pro.

While certain fire districts along the Lake have dock electrical codes, an inspection by the FPD is only mandated for new and modified docks and docks that have been moved. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dock maintenance and safety. If you’ve just purchased a property with a dock, are unsure about the status of your dock’s wiring for any reason or know you need to have some work done, call a qualified electrician. Get proof that they’re bonded and insured and ask them some basic questions about their qualifications and experience in dock work, such as how many docks they wire in a year and whether docks are the main focus of their business. Find out their success rate in dock inspections by the fire districts - does their work typically pass on the first inspection or do they have to do a lot of re-inspections.

2. Test the GFCI regularly.

That qualified electrician should install or ensure that there is a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)  in the dock’s electrical system. A GFCI is the automatic safety shut-off of the electrical system when if something goes bad in the wiring, but the GFCI too can go bad. Buy a GFCI tester for $8-$15 and test the interrupter regularly to make sure it’s working - at least once a month. If the GFCI is tripping the breaker - automatically turning off the system - do not turn it back on. There is a reason the circuit was tripped. Go back to number one in the list and get a qualified electrician to find the problem and fix it.

3. Do your own inspection.

Even testing the GFCI on a regular basis, you should visually inspect your dock at least once a month and even once a week depending on how rough the water is. If it’s been a bad day or weekend for rough water, check it again. Look at all the pivot points of the wiring and make sure conduits are intact. Make sure there aren’t any wires hanging down into the water. In fact, anytime someone is going to get in the water near a dock with electricity, there should be some level of situational awareness - conscious thought about how the dock and wiring is looking. And these rules also apply generally to an awareness of how your neighbors’ docks look.

4. Get a voltage meter.

A voltage meter that goes in the water and sounds an alarm if current is detected can be a backup, but be careful of a few things. These devices can give you a false sense of security as they can malfunction. If a dock owner decides to invest in one of these alarms, whether it’s locally or nationally made, the device needs to be certified to meet national safety standards. Underwriters Laboratory is the most common testing entity. Look for the official UL marking on the product which shows that is has been tested by UL to ensure the product will work and not give false information.

5. Disconnect.

If in any doubt about about the electrical system for your dock, shut off the electricity. Even if the electrical system is in good shape, it doesn’t hurt to shut off the electricity while people are swimming nearby. No electricity is in reality the only 100 percent guarantee against getting shocked in the water. If you have a dock that was installed before dock electrical codes - of which there are many on the Lake of the Ozarks - they may not have a disconnect at the shoreline to facilitate turning off the electricity to the dock. A shoreline disconnect is highly recommended though not required as an upgrade to grandfathered docks. It typically makes shutting off the electricity to a dock during an emergency much faster and easier. And if you’re in the water or grabbing the dock and feel a tingle, immediately move away from the power source. Do not try to get to the disconnect yourself. Swim away from the shore and yell for help. Get somebody on land to shut off power to the dock - or multiple docks if you’re unsure which one is causing a problem. Have life safety devices near the dock and make sure there are people on land who know you’re getting in the water and can help you in case of an emergency.