An electrical hazard exists in boat stalls around East Texas lakes. The electrically powered boat hoists used in many of these stalls may not be grounded to protect people from being electrocuted.

This hazard arises with hoists that operate off of a power cord and plug like some portable household appliances. The Consumer Products Safety Commission reported eight years ago that the grounding system in the power cord, which is relied on by these hoists, was inadequate for protecting people. This is particularly true for electrical equipment permanently installed outdoors or around water.

These hoists are advertised as being ready for easy plug-in installation. Because they do not appear to require an electrician for installation, proper safety precautions to ensure the hoist is grounded are often not taken.

Typically, the motor on these hoists turns a metal shaft which extends across the top of the boat stall. Metal cables, used to lift and lower the boat, hang from this shaft down to the water. This design is dangerous with these hoists because the cables form a metal pathway leading from the electric motor to the surface of the water around the boat. If a short develops and the electrical circuit is not grounded, these cables can give off a lethal shock.

These plug-in hoists can be made safer. Running a separate backup ground wire from the metal frame of the hoist directly to a metal stake in the earth is one way. While the additional cost is nominal, these hoists continue to be manufactured and sold without this or alternative electrical safety features.

Roberts & Roberts documented at least three incidents over the past several years in which people innocently grabbed the metal cable of a boat hoist and were seriously injured or killed — all within 100 miles of Tyler! Two of these victims were children. One was playing in the water around a boat. The other reached for the cable to pull a boat up to the dock.

One of the oldest and largest manufacturers of these products recently paid their largest settlement — well in excess of one million dollars — to one of our clients. The man was severely injured when he was shocked while working with a cable attached to one of these ungrounded hoists. Maybe things will change.

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