Boating Safety During a Thunderstorm

Updated on July 7, 2018
habee profile image

Holle Abee has long experience fishing, crabbing, and hunting in the Southern US.

Boat safety tips should be previewed before you leave the dock.
Boat safety tips should be previewed before you leave the dock.

As a boater, do you take boating safety tips seriously? And do you have boat insurance? You should.

Boat safety should be a part of any boating excursion, long or short. Before you head out on a fishing trip or pleasure cruise, check the current weather and the weather predictions. That’s boating safety 101. If you get caught by surprise while on the water, head back to port. If the storm is between you and your home marina, reach another safe area on shore if possible.

What Lightning Can Do to Boats and Boaters

Picture a large body of water with a boat floating on it. Now envision a thunderstorm approaching. Knowing that lightning strikes the tallest point of least resistance, where is that lightning going to strike? Many boats contain large amounts of metal and other conductive materials, making them great targets for a strike. With a sailboat, this might be the mast, and with a small bass boat, this could be a pedestal fishing chair. No boat is completely immune. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out that water, electrical wiring, and lightning do not mix well!

No boat is totally immune to lightning damage. Smaller boats are actually more susceptible to extensive damage because there are fewer places for the lightning to go. They’re also usually more dangerous for their passengers during an electrical storm.

Lightning can completely wipe out a boat’s electrical system and destroy the engine. It’s even been known to blow holes in the hull, which could cause the boat to take on water and eventually sink.

Of course, the worst outcome of a lightning strike is the loss of human life, and unfortunately, this is entirely possible.

Can I Lightning-Proof My Boat?

There is no way to completely lightning-proof a boat. A vessel is a potential target for lightning any time it’s on the water. You can, however, make your boat safer during a storm with a bonding system.

How Does Bonding Work?

Bonding is the process of electrically joining all your underwater metal fittings together. A bonding system can help direct the lightning’s path away from passengers and hopefully away from major components to prevent or to at least decrease the amount of damage done.

Lightning always takes the easiest path to a ground. On the water, the easiest ground is the water’s surface. If the lightning strike is jumping from conductor to conductor in its search for a ground, it could easily travel through humans and anything else on board. There’s no way to predict which way it will go. The bonding system sends the strike via the main conductor to an underwater metal plate, which is usually constructed of copper or some other non-corrosive metal.

A good bonding system uses arrestors to protect electronic equipment, while providing a safe path for the lightning strike, as well. The bonding system should also include an air terminal, protective gaps, and connectors.

For sailboats, the protective system should have heavy cables attached to the tallest parts of the boat, like masts, outriggers, and antennas. The wires should run to the grounding strips that are in the water.

What If I’m Caught in a Thunderstorm?

If you’re caught in a thunderstorm out on the water, seek shelter in your boat’s cabin, if it has one. Close all windows to prevent taking on water from high waves and rain. If the vessel doesn’t have any sort of shelter, remain as low as possible, in the lowest and most central part of the boat. In either case, avoid touching any electrical components or metal. Also, stow away any fishing rods that might act as lightning attracters.

Make sure everyone on board puts on a life jacket, and decrease the speed of the boat. Also, you'll need to unplug any electrical appliances or devices.

Remember, if you can hear thunder, lightning is in the area, even if you can’t see it.

If you're encountering high or rough seas, aim the bow into the waves at a forty-five degree angle.

Boats can also be struck by lightning while docked, so don’t think you’re safe just because you’re in a slip. Leave the boat and take shelter in a building.

Safety tips for boating might just save your life!
Safety tips for boating might just save your life!

Will Boat Insurance Cover Lightning Damage?

Every boat owner should have boat insurance, no matter how small the boat.

If your boat is damaged by lightning, your boating insurance should cover it. Boat insurance covers damages done by fire, theft, lightning, wind, vandalism, and other events. Depending on your specific marine insurance policy and on the extent of the damages, the boat will either be repaired or replaced.

Boat insurance or marine insurance policies generally cover vessels up to 26 feet in length. Vessels over 26 feet long usually have to be covered by yacht insurance. There are numerous plans from which to choose, so you shouldn't have any problems finding the right policy for your boat. A licensed agent will be able to sit down with you and go over your list of options and the cost of each. From my experience, it's better to be a little "over-insured" than to not have enough coverage. A few extra dollars a month in the cost of your boat insurance premiums could make a big difference in your coverage.

What if Someone Is Injured in the Storm? Will My Boat Insurance Cover That?

Boat liability insurance should cover any injuries passengers on your boat sustain. Each boat liability insurance policy is a little different, however, so you might want to check the caps set by your boat insurance company and by your specific marine insurance policy.

Boat liability insurance usually starts at $100,000 worth of coverage and ranges up to $1 million in coverage. This type of marine insurance is usually sold in $100,000 increments. Before buying a specific plan, do a lot of comparison shopping. Also, as with other types of insurance, it's important to read the fine print and to discuss any questions you might have with an agent. The most expensive boat insurance on the market might not necessarily be the best. Before you're ready to shop for boating insurance or to discuss specific policies with agents and insurance companies, make a list of questions and concerns you might have. Happy boating!


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    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 

      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Anyone who wants to learn more about basic boating safety should check their local DNR website. They usually teach classes, in conjunction with local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotillas, just about every month. The classes are a full day affair and a great, low cost way to gain some boating safety knowledge. I work on a creek and every day I see folks exhibiting poor boating safety and I hope for the best for them.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      7 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Great reference for those of us new to boating. Thank you and sharing this!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Jimmy! Glad you made it back in safely.

    • profile image

      Jimmy 

      9 years ago

      I here what Grant is saying. Recently I had a similar experience where before we knew it there were white caps. we were lucky as we only had to go straight so we rode the waves in, scary has hell i tell ya. Great Post by the way :)

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Grant, glad you made it back safely!

    • profile image

      Grant 

      9 years ago

      I was out in a boat when a storm hit and I can tell you it was scary as hell. The only way we could go was back past the point which was rough. The skipper had little experience and we actually wore a wave from the side which nearly knock me out of the boat. I was think after about how far I was from land and if my fitness would get me there, if I went in I was in a lot of trouble :).

      Cheers

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Jeanie!

    • jeanie.stecher profile image

      jeanie.stecher 

      9 years ago from Seattle

      Nice post you have here. This is a good information. I find importance in this article since a lot of us are fund of boating, especially those who are retiring and wanted to enjoy life better by relaxing through boating. Thanks! =)

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      True, Leo. Lightning scares me!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Me too, Silver, but I prefer watching lightning from a distance! lol

    • profile image

      LeoSavage 

      10 years ago

      Hi,

      I think that lighting can be one of the worst things.

      I have seen too many fires started by lighting.

      so you have to be very careful.

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 

      10 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Fascinating article! I have always been interested in meteorological phenomena.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Granny! Been fishing lately?

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Just be careful, gypsy. Storms can apprach without warning on the water!

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 

      10 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      Wow habee, great info. As you know I do fish. I never knew about the bonding. I will bookmark.Rated up.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I shall definitely check the weather forecast before going fishing. Thanks for the sound advice.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      You're more than welcome, Katie!

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      10 years ago from Westerville

      habee, Great and Helpful tips for us boating folks, Thanks for the reminder. Thanks and Peace :)

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Audrey, see above comment! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Peggy, sometimes on very large bodies of water, storms can come up quickly and unexpectedly!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Yes, Veronica, many boating mishaps are caused by inexperience!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Wow, Ron, sounds like a great craft! We had a smaller cabin cruiser that was a lot of fun!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, Eth!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Entertainment!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, Bpop!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      I hate lightning, too, HH!

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for all this very useful information. I hope I never have to use it, but it's good to know.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      10 years ago from Washington

      I have the safety tip of the century - don't go out if it LOOKS like a thunderstorm! We have horrific ones here and a few years ago we had the storm to end all storms. I'm not a huge fan of electrical storms and after that, even less so!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very interesting. I had never heard of bonding on a boat, but then, I am not a boat owner. You certainly gave some good advice in this hub. Long ago when my grandparents had boats on lakes, am sure they just headed in to shore if a storm started brewing.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      This is great information habee. We tend to forget about these safety issues, especially those of us who are inexperienced.

      Thank you for the boating safety 101 tips.

    • rprcarz50 profile image

      rprcarz50 

      10 years ago

      Habee, you have touch my heart with this Hub! I have a 42 foot cabin cruiser on the Mississippi River . You can never be too safe when you are on the water .

      Thank you for your kind tips of safety .

      Ron

      As Always also a2z50

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Far too scary

    • entertianmentplus profile image

      entertianmentplus 

      10 years ago from United States

      Great hub and tips.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      10 years ago

      Terrific information habee.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      I would die of fright just to see lightening on the far horizon. I am a jelly here when I see thunderstorm.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading, Prasetio!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Nor would I, Andy, but one time a storm "snuck up" on us while we were boating, and it wasn't fun!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, Johnny, I LOVE the water! but NOT in a storm!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Hugs back, Lockermann!!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      10 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Useful information habee. I saw this in the movie. Good work and very useful for us. Better prepare anything before Thunderstorm coming. Good work and thumbs up for you!

    • Ign Andy profile image

      Ign Andy 

      10 years ago from Green Home Office

      Habee, you remind me to "the Perfect Storm" movie by George Clooney. I wouldn't dare boating in thunderstorm though.

    • kowality profile image

      kowality 

      10 years ago from Everywhere

      A lot of things we need to consider Habee. I have to admit, I am a land lubber. They would have to forecast continuous clear, calm skies for the next year before I went to far out.

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 

      10 years ago

      Hope I never have to experience a storm out on a boat...but you never know. Great info! HUGS Lockermann

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Don, I think the chance of heat stroke would be greater than that of getting struck by lightning! lol

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 

      10 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      Mu suggestion is wearing a thick rubber suit . . . even on a hot, muggy Georgia summer day or night! Really fascinating Hub, seriously . . . boating does take some expertise for all kinds of situations.

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