What should you do if you need to use an AED on someone who has been submerged in water?

An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is used to deliver an electrical shock to a victim in cardiac arrest. As using an AED involves electricity, precautions need to be taken if the victim is in or around water. Drowning is a relatively common cause of cardiac arrest, therefore it is important for rescuers to be aware of safe AED use around water.

Remove the Victim from the Water

Firstly, an AED cannot be used if the victim is still in the water. In addition, it is impossible to provide high-quality CPR whilst a victim is still in the water. Therefore, if safe to do so, you should remove the victim from the water. Remember, never risk your own safety as you could become a second victim and make the situation worse. 

Remove Wet Clothing

AED pads need to be applied to the victim’s bare chest. Therefore, wet clothing covering the chest will need to be removed. Many AEDs come with scissors designed to be used for cutting clothing off a victim. Ensure the clothing is removed as quickly as possible to reduce any delays in using the defibrillator. Time is vital when dealing with a cardiac arrest situation! 

Ensure the Chest is Dry

The electrical shock from an AED needs to be delivered to the victim’s heart. If there is water on the chest, the electrical shock will be transmitted across the water on the chest instead of through the victim’s body. This occurs because electricity takes the path of least resistance. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the victim’s chest is dry before applying the AED pads. Many AEDs will come with a small towel for drying the victim’s chest

Stand Clear

Ensure there is no one touching the victim before the AED delivers the electrical shock. Given a loud verbal warning (“Stand Clear”) and perform a visual check to ensure no one is in contact with the victim. 


John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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