Since one cannot evacuate in the dark, the lights are kept on in a sinking ship when the water rushes in it. But, if the electricity isn’t turned off and even though salt water is a good conductor of electricity, much better than the human body, how do people manage to prevent themselves from getting an electric shock.
Here’s one piece of the answer. Three things we all have to know about physics is that current, which is basically the flow of electric charge, is the change of charge over time. Secondly, the electric charge evenly distributes itself across the surface of something. Finally, the charge is a finite thing which can be conserved like mass.
So, when you pass electricity in a small pot containing water and place your hand in it, you’re at a high risk of getting an electric shock. Now, consider passing electricity in a swimming pool and dive, you’ll still get an electric shock from the passage of continuous electricity and because of the water area being finite. However, you will not get an electric shock the moment you passed electricity in the pool, you will suffer from the shock once the entire area of the pool is full of electric charges.
Coming back to a sinking ship in an ocean, the ship has a finite amount of charge in it. Once an open wire hits salt water, that charge will distribute and flow along lines of least resistance until it can reach areas with less charge. Also, the electricity isn’t sufficient enough to make the ocean full of electric charges that you’ll get an electric shock, electricity in a sinking ship is continuously getting discharged or absorbed by the water, making the water stay in a neutral state. Hence, you won’t get any electric shocks.
For another instance, consider this idea and compare it with a bathtub/hairdryer accident. Hair dryer which is still plugged-in will have a ton of charge moving into the water. After hitting the water, the charge in the hair dryer will look for places to settle down in the bathtub. Even though your body has huge resistance to it, the amount of charge is so overwhelming that some of that charge will reach your body and shock you.
Moreover, as stated earlier, salt water is a great conductor of electricity, far more better than the human body. So, there’s a lot of possibilities that the electricity will flow through the salt water and not the human body in such circumstances.
It may also depend on the electric circuit designed in the ship. The lights used may not be running on high alternating currents, they might be running on the rechargeable D.C batteries to avoid electric shocks.
However, this is just an assumption. The main reason behind this is obviously because of the finite amount of electric charges that cannot reach entirely across the widespread area of the ocean, leaving the people on the sinking ship shock free.
Title image: nakonu