Over the last 10 years, thunderstorms and lightning activity have caused 312 deaths in the U.S., 246 males and 66 females. 21% of those deadly strikes occurred on or near a body of water, either fishing, boating or some related activity. The problem is that these folks weren’t being careless or reckless, like many of us, they were just uninformed of the dangers and frequency that lighting strikes kill. Lightning deaths have increased annually in each of the last 3 years, with 39 deaths last year alone, 29% higher than the previous year. The consequences of being uninformed could be catastrophic, which is why it is important to know the dangers of being caught in a thunderstorm and to know how to use precautionary measures when necessary.
June, July, and August, have the highest number of lightning fatalities, with July having the most fatalities on average. This is mainly due to more frequent thunderstorms during the summer months and people spending more time outdoors.
Here are some basic rules to live by when out on any vessel, inshore or offshore:
- If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to get struck.
- Get small crafts in and get off the water immediately if you are close to shore.
- Avoid touching electrical or metal objects, if you must, wear rubber gloves or something non conductive. (DRY wood, rubber, porcelain, fiberglass, glass, paper, or cotton)
- If you are the only or tallest boat in the area, your odds of being struck increase exponentially.
- If you are taller than your center console, you are now the object on your boat most likely to be struck.
- Keep in mind, small or localized storms may not be reported on NOAA Weather Radio or other weather sources.
- A build up of tall, fluffy white clouds that rise to be flat on top are a good indicator that strong thunderstorms approach and to seek shelter.
If caught in a thunderstorm, stay low in your vessel or inside if there is a cabin.
- If caught in a thunderstorm, and are underway, choose a non conductive piece if material to steer with, like a wooden spoon or rubber glove.
- Keep important electronics in a Faraday Cage. (any metal case that can deflect lighting around the objects inside, i.e.; microwave, toaster oven, metal ammo case)
Chances of being struck on a vessel are about 1 in 1,000 according to Boat U.S.
If you find yourself too far from shore to get in safely, drop anchor and stay low in the center of your vessel until the storm has blown over, generally waiting 30 min from the last thunder-clap heard. Remember to never grab two different metal or electronic objects at the same time, being between the steering wheel and a VHF radio can be deadly during a strike.
Lightning always seeks the easiest way to the water, whether it’s a fishing pole, Bimini top, T-top, antenna, mast, or the tallest person on the boat. Sailboats, trawlers and larger vessels generally come with a conventional lightning protection system built-in, but open boats need to carry a portable pole with attached wire and a ground plate to be used in a storm, especially if you stay out on the water for extended periods or if you travel great distances on a regular basis. Creating a low resistance path from the highest point of you boat to a grounding plate mounted underwater to the outside of your hull can be installed fairly inexpensively. Kits can be bought online or you can DIY by following directions from a credible internet source.
You can’t prevent a lightning strike, but you can create a safe path for it to travel. Like the National Weather Service always says, “When the weather roars, go indoors.” or at the very least, be a good boy scout and always be prepared! Visit Saltwater-Recon.com for all of the latest weather and water conditions from around Galveston Bay. “Know Before You Go”
Written by: Urs E. Schmid,
President of Saltwater-Recon.com
Surviving Lighting Strikes While Boating, BoatingMag.com,
Fatalities, NOAA.gov, http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.shtml
Lighting Deaths by State 2005-2014, weather.com,
Insulator (Electricity), Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulator_(electricity)
How to Prepare for Lightning Strikes, BoatingMag.com,