When there’s lightning out on the water, what’s the best course of action for a boater? This question seemed apropos this morning considering we had an amazing lightning show on the way to the river.
Well, the easy answer is: STAY OFF THE WATER! According to Boatsafe.com, the voltages involved in lightning are so high that even materials that would typically be considered non-conductive become conductors (including the human body…YIKES). The voltages are so massive that if they start to travel through a boat’s structure — say through its mast (or a graphite fishing rod!) — then meet with high resistance (for instance, the hull skin) the current discharge, in its attempt to reach ground, may simply blow a hole in the non-conductive barrier.
So, if you show up like we did this morning to electrical activity, wait the storm out before launching. But, what’s the story if you are caught by weather out on the water?
On the Water
The National Weather Service says that the vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with NO cabin. If you are out in a small open boat and cannot get back to land and safety, drop anchor and get as low as possible. Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels are relatively safe. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces and stay off the radio unless it is an emergency!
There’s no surefire way to avoid a lightning strike on the water, but you can have your boat equipped with a lightning protection system that can minimize damage from a hit. Also, Boatingmag.com says you can do things like Lower all antennas, Bimini tops, fishing rods outriggers and downriggers. Disconnect all power, antenna and interconnection cables to the electronics and electrical gear. Do not touch two metal surfaces at the same time (engine controls, a railing, helm, etc.) or you may become a convenient conducting path yourself. Also, wearing rubber-soled shoes can help. These legal protections should be in place if you work on a boat, and if you are injured due to them not being provided then you should seek advice from an attorney such as lamber goodnow to see if you have a case, as your safety in such conditions is paramount.
Again, the bottom line is to stay well clear of the water when an electrical storm kicks up — or immediately head for shore when you see a storm developing. Learn how to read the signs too: Electrical storms typically feature dark skies, growing cumulonimbus clouds that look like anvils and sudden wind. But just because you have blue sky overhead doesn’t mean you’re in the clear!
Here’s a quick video of what we say this morning at the boat launch, to go with the above photo. Thanks to B.D. for the vid…