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Boating Safety During a Thunderstorm

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 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 attractors.

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 45-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!

Boating Safety Videos


Natasha from Hawaii on August 10, 2012:

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 from Mom On A Health Hunt on August 10, 2012:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2011:

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

Jimmy on February 10, 2011:

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 :)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 29, 2010:

Grant, glad you made it back safely!

Grant on July 29, 2010:

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 :).


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 28, 2010:

Thanks, Jeanie!

jeanie.stecher from Seattle on July 27, 2010:

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! =)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 11, 2010:

True, Leo. Lightning scares me!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 11, 2010:

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

LeoSavage on June 06, 2010:


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 from the computer of a midwestern American writer on June 06, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 08, 2010:

Hi, Granny! Been fishing lately?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 08, 2010:

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

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on May 08, 2010:

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

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on May 07, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

You're more than welcome, Katie!

Katie McMurray from Ohio on May 06, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

Audrey, see above comment! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

Good morning, Eth!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

Hi, Entertainment!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

Good morning, Bpop!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2010:

I hate lightning, too, HH!

nancy_30 from Georgia on May 05, 2010:

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

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on May 04, 2010:

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 Woods from Houston, Texas on May 04, 2010:

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 from Georgia on May 04, 2010:

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 on May 04, 2010:

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 .


As Always also a2z50

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on May 04, 2010:

Far too scary

entertianmentplus from United States on May 04, 2010:

Great hub and tips.

breakfastpop on May 04, 2010:

Terrific information habee.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 04, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 03, 2010:

Thanks for reading, Prasetio!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 03, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 03, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 03, 2010:

Hugs back, Lockermann!!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on May 03, 2010:

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 from Green Home Office on May 03, 2010:

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

kowality from Everywhere on May 03, 2010:

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.

Tammy Lochmann on May 03, 2010:

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

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 03, 2010:

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

Don Simkovich from Pasadena, CA on May 03, 2010:

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.