Electrocution in Water

Is it possible to get electrocuted when live wires fall into the water?

The water container I showed in the video can scale up to a swimming pool, with the finger being a full size body and the distance of the wires also scaled up to match the proportions of the pool.

Of course I didn’t measure the current through my fingers and there are no vital organs in a finger. So let’s play it safe: where I feel the electricity in my finger, you are dead!

You can imagine a pool of water is like a big network of resistors. Depending on where the source is, how far apart the wires are and where the body in the water is, the feel of electricity is different. But here’s some general rules to understand the voltage across the body:

  • The maximum voltage across the body is when each wire is on one side of a body and closest to the skin.
  • The further apart the wires are, the more voltage there will be across further distances in a pool and can be felt in further distances
  • There doesn’t need to be both live and neutral wires in the water to be dangerous. Neutral or earth is already connected through metal plumbing or conductive material or soil on the body of the pool, unless the pool is made of plastic or none conductive material. So the live wire in the water can be even more dangerous as the neutral can anywhere across the swimmer’s body.
  • The more chemicals like cleaners or salt there is in the water, the more conductive the water becomes.

Of course the pure water is highly resistive and a body could act like a short circuit in it. That would mean that most of the voltage will go across the water and much less across the body.

On the other hand a much more conductive water will let much more current through and creates more voltage across the body.

AND then there is the issue of the more conductive body part. Like if the water get’s in your mouth, it finds a more conductive path to your flesh. It would make a great complement for the electricity if it could find a hole on the other side to get out of. I’m talking about an open wound that water can get into. Then you will have a real problem.

If the electricity goes through vital organs like heart or brain, they could make real damage or kill. I’ve heard 1mA to 5mA through the heart can cause a cardiac arrest. 110V AC and 1mA current means 110kOhm resistance. It is quite achievable through a highly conductive water. And of course a whole body has a lot of surface to allow current through. Of course that current runs through the entire body and is not focused through the heart. But I think people have died electrocuted in water, so that’s a real danger.

Actually, I really like to know how someone was killed in a pool, like what was the position of the body in relation to exposed wires and water, and what chemicals where in the water. So if you have any stories, please share them in the comments.

And then there is the matter of LED turning on in the water. Isn’t that strange?! Looks like magic, but it has a simple explanation. You know that LED is a diode and unidirectional. But we are dealing with AC here that is bidirectional. This means if the LED doesn’t turn on one way, it will turn on the other way. It just needs high enough voltage across it to turn on, and it is achievable when the water is more conductive.

You see the LED flickers in the video. The reason for that is not the AC frequency, but the bubbles made in the water around the wires, which make momentary open circuits and cause black outs.

And then there is the matter of bubbles. I used to be super in chemistry like 19 years ago. Now I remember nothing! But what is happening is that the electricity is causing the copper of the wire to let go of the wire and become a new molecule. Also there are gasses generated in the process. That explanation couldn’t be any more unclear! So if you know what the actual formula of reaction is, please post it in the comments.