Beware of electrified water, Chattanooga swimmers and officials warn

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton/ Warning signs are seen along the Tennessee riverfront on Aug. 3.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton/ Warning signs are seen along the Tennessee riverfront on Aug. 3.

This story was updated on Aug. 11 to correct the spelling of power cord in multiple instances.


The recent death of a young man who was electrocuted after jumping into Georgia's Lake Lanier prompted Chattanooga swimmer Karah Nazor Rivers to share that she had also experienced water electrocution — in the Tennessee River — but was lucky to tell the tale.

"I felt something weird when I was swimming, in my heart," Rivers said, "Zaps ... little zaps. It feels like electricity, like you think it would."

Rivers is part of the Chattanooga Open Water Swimmers and has been swimming locally on the Tennessee Riverfront for over a decade. It was about a decade ago that she felt the sensation as she was swimming from the opposite side of the river from Ross's Landing and making her way across, she said.

(READ MORE:What you need to know about water dangers)

As she realized what the zaps in her chest meant, Rivers was able to see newly posted signs that cautioned swimmers of the electric currents running through the water and warned those swimming to stay 100 yards from the landing. She immediately swam back to the other side and has not experienced electrical shock since.

The city was under no obligation to alert swimmers of the electric current that comes from the power supply feeding boats and docks, said Jessica Mills McClure.

McClure's fifth grade son passed away from electric shock drowning in 2012 after swimming at a Tennessee marina at Cherokee Lake. Two years later, she helped create the Noah Dean and Nate Act to spread awareness of the dangers of swimming in electrified water and place responsibility on public marina operators to inspect their marinas for electrical hazards.

The act requires all Tennessee public marinas, harbors and docks to be inspected by the State Fire Marshal's Office every five years. According to the Fire Marshal's Office, as of Aug. 9, the recent data regarding Chattanooga-area marina inspections is as follows:

— Chickamauga Marina was last inspected Nov. 14, 2017.

— Browns Ferry Marina was last inspected Feb. 13, 2018.

— Chattanooga Riverfront Marina was last inspected Oct. 10, 2018.

— Chattanooga Yacht Club was last inspected Oct. 10, 2018.

— Gold Point Marina was last inspected June 12, 2023.

— Lakeshore Marina was last inspected June 23, 2023.

"If we have ones out of compliance with the five-year window, those are being prioritized," Kevin Walters, communications director of the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, said in an email.

State electrical inspectors check all marina electrical components. An inspector will:

— Check the marina's electrical components to ensure the right ground fault circuit interrupters are in use and working properly.

— Conduct electricity tests in the marina's surrounding water to check for electricity leakage.

— Look for exposed wiring, power cords and other equipment that could be hazardous to the public.

— Make sure "No swimming within 100 yards" signage is posted throughout the marina property.

Source: Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office

(READ MORE:Tennessee officials urge safety as boating season comes to an end over Labor Day weekend)

When there are special events like triathlons in Chattanooga, the electrical current is turned off to avoid the risk of shock for athletes using river access points like Ross's Landing, according to Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors. When there are no events, Ross's Landing is a working dock where swimming within 100 yards of the dock is prohibited.

(READ MORE:Tennessee on track for record-setting year in boating fatalities)

Boat owners should:

— Test the boat annually for electricity leakage or test using their own clamp meter.

— Test equipment leakage circuit interrupters once a month or in compliance with manufacturer recommendations.

— Only consult electricians trained in American Boat and Yacht Council standards.

— Only use shore power cords built to Underwriters Laboratories standards to power the boat.

— Do not dive from the boat to tinker with the underwater power source while the boat is plugged in.

Source: Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office

"We are deeply saddened by the unfortunate accident that occurred in Georgia, and it has reinforced our commitment to safety," Brian Smith from the parks and outdoors department said in an email. "In response, our teams have conducted inspections of Ross's Landing to ensure that all signs are prominently displayed and easily visible."

If a swimmer experiences tingling, numbness and pain while in an open water source, they may be experiencing electric shock drowning, according to the Fire Marshal's Office. If possible, the state agency encourages victims to alert those nearby of what is happening and try to back away from the power source in the original direction the swimmer came from. Swimmers who experience electric shock should go to the hospital to make sure possible effects of the shock are monitored.

Those rescuing electric shock drowning victims should not enter the water, as they too will be electrocuted. Calling 911 is recommended by the Fire Marshal's Office, and turning off all shore power connections as soon as possible is also recommended. Once the power is turned off, rescuers can enter the water to help the victim.

For more information, visit the Fire Marshal's website.

Private dock owners should:

— Prohibit swimming within 100 yards of a power-supplied dock.

— Use a licensed electrician familiar with American Boat and Yacht Council standards if installing dock electricity.

— Have electrical systems inspected annually.

— If running a power cord from a house or garage to charge batteries, ensure that the outlet has a round-fault circuit interrupter and ensure that the shore power cord has an equipment leakage circuit interrupters.

— Educate neighbors of the dangers of electric shock drowning and work to collectively abide by safety precautions.

Source: Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office

Contact Sarah Dolgin at or 423-757-6556.

  photo  Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton/ Warning signs are seen along the Tennessee riverfront on Aug. 3.

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