Home > Resources > Guide >

What Should You Do to Use an AED on Someone Submerged in Water?

What Should You Do to Use an AED on Someone Submerged in Water?

April 09, 2021 | Last Updated: September 08, 2021
Guide Sections:

When a person experiences Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), the heart suddenly stops beating. This condition is life-threatening and can cause death if not immediately treated. In fact, each minute after the onset of SCA, a person’s survival chances decrease 7 to 10%. The only treatment for SCA is to use an AED or Automatic External Defibrillator which provides an electrical shock to the heart.

SCA can happen at any time, including when a person is in water. Using an AED on a person submerged in water requires special care. In wet conditions, AEDs can be dangerous to use, causing harm to the victim or the person providing the care. Make sure to always follow your AED unit’s user manual for specific instructions on how to properly operate your device.

So what if the person is in water? Keep reading to learn the proper procedure for using an AED on someone who is in water.  


"Gender disparities likely result from a variety of sources, including previous bystander CPR training. Up until a few years ago, most every manikin that people were trained on were these half-torso manikins with the male anatomy. That’s what people are being exposed to rather than discussing or even seeing the female torso with breasts. While CPR training and education is critical, it is also important to raise awareness about these known gender disparities with the lay public. These disparities potentially show our gender biases as a society. The more we can do to address public awareness and change both training and messaging will really make a difference in the future to improve outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest."

Dr. Audrey Blewer.

Duke University School of Medicine

What Should You Do If You Need To Use An AED On Someone Who Has Been Submerged In Water?

Since AEDs deliver an electrical shock, you must take specific care when treating cardiac arrest victims who have been submerged in water. You cannot use an AED in water!

Avive recommends three simple steps referred to as Call-Push-Shock to save the life of someone suffering Sudden Cardiac Arrest. If you see someone who might be experiencing cardiac arrest, immediately:

  1. Call 911. 
  2. Perform hands-only CPR. 
  3. Use an AED to shock the heart back into normal rhythm. If the person doesn’t need the shock, the AED will not deliver one.

In order to use an AED on someone who is wet or is submerged in water, make sure to: 

1) Remove Victim From Water And Move To Dry Area

If you’re responding to someone who you suspect might be in cardiac arrest and they’re submerged in water, the first thing you must do is relocate the person to a dry area. Once you’ve safely removed them from the water, make sure that the ground around the victim and any bystanders or responders is dry, without any puddles.

2) Remove Wet Clothes

Before you can connect the AED electrode pads to the person’s chest, you must take the time to remove their wet clothing so that you can access the victim’s bare chest. 

Many AED machines are sold with scissors, which makes it easier to remove the victim’s clothing during an emergency. If you do not have scissors, remove the clothing as quickly as possible by ripping or pulling the shirt off over the neck.

It’s crucial to act with speed, as every second counts when it comes to an SCA. Do not worry about preserving the clothing – it’s better to save the person’s life.

3) Dry Chest of Victim

Once you’ve removed the person’s shirt, it’s crucial to dry the skin on the victim’s chest thoroughly, removing any water. Even limited water could negatively impact the AED’s adhesive electrode pads, causing a problem with their application to the person’s chest. 

Additionally, even small amounts of water can be dangerous when using an AED. Water can cause the electrical current from the AED to travel across the skin rather than penetrating through the person’s chest and appropriately shocking their heart. 

The AED may come with a towel to dry your victim. If not, use anything you have immediately available to remove all the moisture from the skin on the chest. Be sure to dry as much surface area as possible, not just the specific location of the electrode pads. Dry their ribs, upper stomach, and near the neck and armpits.

4) Attach AED Pads

Every AED analyzes a person’s heart rhythm to determine if a shock is necessary or not. If the AED determines a shock is needed, it provides an electrical shock to the victim using two AED pads. These pads have an adhesive that enables them to stick to the bare skin of the person’s chest. 

Remember that you have to be sure there’s no water on the skin, the pads, or on the ground around the victim. Once the chest is completely dry, you can place the AED pads per the AED instructions.

5) Move Away from Victim Before the AED Delivers the Electric Shock

Once the electrode pads have been applied to the patient’s chest, the defibrillator will begin analyzing the patient’s heart rhythm. If the AED determines the person requires a shock, the device will charge and deliver its required therapy. Some devices deliver a shock automatically, and others require users to physically press a button to deliver the shock. These two different models of AEDs are called semi-automatic and fully-automatic AEDs.

Always read the user manual for your AED, and make sure to follow the AED’s instructions, including not touching the patient when instructed.


If a person experiences a Sudden Cardiac Arrest, using an AED can save their life. When using a defibrillator on someone submerged in water, it’s crucial to get the person on dry land first. You cannot apply the AED pads, which deliver the necessary electrical shock to the victim’s chest, until the shirt has been removed and the skin dried thoroughly. Once the person’s skin is dry, power on the AED and follow its instructions the same way you would during a normal response!


Is an AED Safe to Use in Water?

Many people ask can an AED be used in water? AEDs analyze people’s hearts to determine if therapy is required. If so, the AED can deliver an electric shock to the heart to cause it to resume beating in a normal rhythm. Water and electricity never mix. Therefore, you should never use an AED submerged in water.

By contrast, seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. There are many types of seizures, and depending on the type, people may exhibit uncontrollable, spastic movements of body, particularly the arms and legs, stiffenig and then loosening of limbs or muscles, loss of consciousness, staring into space, confusion, sweating and nausea, or rapid blinking.

Since cardiac arrest victims may also exhibit abnormal movements, it is important to not falsely confuse cardiac arrest with a seizure because waiting to respond dramatically decreases the chance a person will survive. If someone is unresponsive and not breathing normally, immediately call 911, start hands-only CPR, and use an AED if available.