Netflix Ozarks Ruth walks to the boat dock to wire it.

How to Wire a Boat Dock with Electricity: with a certified electrician

In season one of the Netflix series Ozarks, Ruth discovers that one of her uncles is working with the feds looking for harmful info on her new employer. In order to protect her new income, she commits murder by electrocution, killing her uncles as they grasp the metal railing of a boat dock. While this scenario isn’t all that far-fetched, it seems that a growing number of electrocutions occur near boat docks.

This type of electrocution is called electric shock drowning and is quickly becoming an epidemic of sorts. It occurs when people swim into waters that have come into contact with an electrical current. And although these horrific deaths are not the same as what is seen in the series, electrocution in and around the water has happened and is a thing.

CBS News reported in April 2017 three deaths by electric shock and that same year, the Boat Owners Association of The United States reported four more electric shock drowning deaths, with two of those occurring on the Lake of the Ozarks. According to the Electric Shock Prevention Association, most people have never heard of Electric Shock Drowning and are unaware of the danger.

Wiring a boat dock for electricity is almost a necessity as you build the boat dock. You will need electricity on the dock for boat lifts, or lights, or water pumps on your boat, or the electrical circuit of your boat that powers your tv, your surround system, your boat fridge, etc… Usually the companies that build boat lifts will also install the electric part or one can hire an electricity expert.

But always make sure to have your boat inspected by an electrician with current ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) Electrical Certification or by an ABYC Certified Technician. Boats with alternating current (AC) systems should have isolation transformers or equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI). Marina owners should install GFCI’s on all shore power pedestals and on all marina wiring circuit and have their marinas regularly inspected by qualified electricians who are familiar with National Fire Protection Association Codes. ​

Netflix Ozarks Ruth electrifying the boat dock.
Netflix Ozarks Ruth electrifying the boat dock.

NFPA 70 and NFPA 303 (Docks and Marinas) address electrical standards and inspection requirements for dock and marina safety so make sure to always follow current code and standards. Water and electricity do not mix very well therefore make sure to qualified electricians and have a safe dock for you and your family.

How do you install electrical wiring onto the boat dock?

In order to install electricity, the electrician will be looking a many details and below are a few of them.

  1. Power Source

The very first thing that you will have to do in order to wire a boat dock is to install a source of power. The most popular item used to connect the boat to an electricity source is a shore power chord. It relays a current worth 120 volts and 30 amperes – give or take.

The length of your shore power chord needs to be measured in accordance to the total length of the boat. This is to ensure that all parts of the boat receive electrical current. Make sure that you maintain an appropriate distance from the circuit breaker.

Opt to keep the cables in an area that is covered so that you and your electrical wires are protected from harm.

2. Insulator

The second thing you might want to do is to install an insulator –perhaps a galvanic insulator. This is an item that will help cause breaks in the flow of currents between the boat and dock so that you are safe from external danger. It is best to test it out, according to the guidelines provided, once you have successfully installed it so that you are aware of its function and efficacy.

Bonding jumpers are devices that connect all the metal parts of your dock to a ground rod on the shore. When your dock is properly grounded in this manner, any electrical charge on your dock will trigger the GFCI and shut off power immediately. The combination of these two devices ensure that the only thing you’ll need to worry about on your summer getaway is running out of sun-tan lotion.

3. Breaker Panel

Thirdly, you need to install a breaker panel that meets state and production standards. Depending on the size of your boat, and the amount of electricity needed, install a breaker panel for protection against current fluctuation and overflow.

If such precautionary measures are not taken then you could be exposing yourself to an increased risk of electrocution, especially considering the amount of conductors around you –water and metal for instance.


A GFCI is required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) to be present on every dock. They act as a fast-acting circuit breakers and in the case of faulty electrical wiring, this device reacts and in a second close off the electrical current. It’s  an absolutely essential safety precaution for any boat dock owner.

5. Wiring

Before you go about wiring the entire boat to the shore power cable, you will want to follow a few steps so that the wiring process if efficient, safe and quick.

  • Look at the wiring blueprint before you actually installing them. This will give you a great sense of the size and structure of the boat, the organization of the wires and their placement.
  • Any boat dock repair should be noted down in detail. Every time you decide to repair your boat, you should list down every change you make because overtime we tend to forget. If you have these notes you will be able to guide yourself better in regards to how the wiring should be done.
  • Always ensure that you tightest all the terminals that are connected to the battery. Use a wrench and make sure that they are as tight as possible so you do not increase the risk of electrocution.
  • When wiring, remember that loose connections will always get you in trouble. They will prevent your battery from operating to its capacity. Thus, checking to make sure that there are no loose connections is always a wise step to take.

After you have wired your entire dock and established routes for electrical current to pass, you could have the following features added to your boat dock:

  • Dock lighting
  • Remote controlled function of lights
  • Motion sensor lights
  • Electrical outlets
  • Data wiring
  • Generator transfer switches

Depending on your preferences, needs and the size of the boat, you can add more features to make your boat as advanced as possible.

What degree of harm is present in the case of electrocution or loose currents?

When building a boat dock, adding electricity to it and wiring it completely, you will want to ensure that you are taking every measure to make the boat, the dock wood or metal and the water around it as safe as possible. However, accidents happen and there may be times when you fear that loose currents may be putting everyone around you in danger.

There are a few steps you can take in order to prevent the likeliness of such incidences from happening. Always ensure that you have multiple breakers installed into the dock, the house or so, so that you can dismiss such dangers. They will be able to shut down the electrical power if need be. Always have your boat and dock electrical systems regularly inspected and maintained by a professional familiar with marine electrical codes.

In fresh water, the human body is much more conductive than the water itself. So, more current flows through the body in fresh water than in saltwater. Thus, in salt water current is more likely to flow around a human being rather than through them. You can still get shocked depending how strong and how far you are from the electricity source, so make sure to always be safe. It all depends on how much salt water there is, how much current your power source can drive and how far you are from that source.

A safe dock is a great dock

New or tighter laws should require circuit breakers and outlets that shut down when they overload or short out. Shock alarms that detect a current in the water should also be installed in both public and private swimming areas where electric shock is possible. A dock by nature is exposed to the harsh marine environment so electricity needs to be treated seriously on them.

Read more about electric shock drowning and how to protect swimmers here.

Max Francisco