Lightning Safety Tips for Boaters

By Patrick Farrell July 12, 2013

Boat Safety

June, July and August are the peak months for both lightning and lightning fatalities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service discovered that 64 percent of lightning deaths since 2006 occurred while people were participating in leisure activities. Fishing tops the list with 26 deaths, followed by camping and boating. The best way for people to protect themselves against a lightning injury or death is to monitor the weather and postpone or cancel outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the forecast. Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if you can hear thunder, then you are in danger. There are two safe places to be during a thunderstorm: in a building with four walls and a roof, or in a car. A tent or cabana or another rain shelter will not protect a person from being struck by lightning. Since boating is among the top three activities people were participating in when a death caused by lighting occurred, boaters need to be knowledgeable in lightning safety practices. First and foremost always check the weather before heading out on the water. The tips below will help boaters better prepare for a thunderstorm.

What can happen if my boat is struck by lightning?
If a boat is struck by lightning a couple of things can potentially happen. The strike can completely wipe out a boat’s electrical system and destroy the engine. It can also burst a hole through the hull in an effort to reach the ground. Worst of all, it can end a human life.

How can I prevent this from happening to my boat?
The best way to prevent your boat from being struck by lightning is to avoid being on the water during a thunderstorm. You should always check your local weather station before heading out on the water, and if the weather becomes threatening get to land as soon as possible. Another helpful skill for boaters to learn is reading the weather. Boaters should watch for the development of large well-defined rising cumulus clouds. A cumulus cloud has noticeable vertical development and clearly defined edges, and is often described as cotton-like. If the clouds become dark and more anvil-shaped, this means the thunderstorm is already in progress. Also watch for lighting in the distance and listen for thunder as you see the clouds start forming. Thunder travels one mile per five seconds. You can also help prevent lightning from damaging your boat by installing a lightning protection system, also known as a bonding system, in your boat. This system helps direct the lightning’s path to the ground (water,) away from passengers and major components to at least minimize the amount of damage or altogether prevent it. The system uses a main conductor to send the strike to an underwater metal plate, which is usually constructed of copper or some other non-corrosive metal.

How will my boat insurance help if my boat is struck by lightning?
If your boat is damaged by lightning, then your insurance should cover it. However, it’s important for you to review your coverage and know what your insurance does and doesn’t cover. Depending on your policy your boat will either be repaired or replaced.


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