When I was a kid, and even in adult age, I sometimes went on these large (well, to me, at least) cruise ships which had multiple (like ten) levels to roam around in.

You either got there with the elevators or with the stairs. Whenever I picked the stairs, I (as well as my brother) would be so afraid of touching the metal (gold-coloured) railings to support ourselves, no matter how much the boat was swaying at the moment, because we knew that there was (at least) a 50/50 risk that it would shock us!

Basically, as soon as we touched the railing, it would cause an electric shock to make us twitch. It was downright scary. It really hurt.

This was not just once, but every single trip and with several different boats. It didn't seem like it happened to others, or it did and they didn't mind the shock. But to me, it was enough to want to stay away from them completely.

What caused this? Is it normal?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Electrocute seems a bit harsh. Were carpets involved? Then static electricity is most likely the cause. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 0:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ carpets plus your clothes and footwear are a classic cause. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ If you carry metal in your hand and touch the railing with it before you grab the railing you will discharge the static build-up and not feel the shock: your keys, a watch/watch band, a ring, a pen, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Jim Clark
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


To expand on the comments from @StainlessSteelRat and @SolarMike: when certain pairs of materials, initially electrically neutral, rub against each other, electric charge is transferred between them, so that one becomes positively charged and the other negatively charged (the "triboelectric effect"). At some point before you encountered the railings, this had happened, probably between some part of your clothing or shoes and a carpet: hence, your body became electrically charged. The soles of your shoes were made of an insulating material, so this charge couldn't flow away to earth (it was "static"): in effect, a charged capacitor was formed, with your body as one plate, the soles of your shoes as the dielectric, and planet Earth as the other plate. When you touched the metal railings, they provided a conducting path between the two plates of the capacitor, which discharged through that conductor, with a large-ish initial current which you felt as a shock.


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