Lightning in boats: here’s how to protect yourself and how to avoid it

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Lightning at sea
Lightning at sea

When you are aboard a boat in the middle of the sea (or a lake) it is possible to encounter a thunderstorm with lightning. If the risk of being struck by lightning when ashore are very low, the risk goes up in a boat. In fact, lightning strikes seek a path to discharge, and it may happen (although fortunately it is quite rare) that they “choose” a boat specifically as a path to do so.

If you are struck by lightning in a boat, in addition to the danger to the people on board, you risk compromising the integrity of the hull and especially the electrical parts of the boat. The risk, then, is that fires will develop on board. Fortunately, there are methods to protect yourself from lightning in a boat, even in a sudden thunderstorm.

What can you do to protect yourself from lightning?

1. Consistently monitor a weather forecast service.

  • Forecasts indicating “possibility of thunderstorms” should not cause you to stay on the ground. Information from forecasting services(such as those from Meteomed found on our homepage) are useful in alerting you, butthe advice is to still – carefully – monitor the sky.
  • Learn to spot anvil clouds(cumulonimbus incus), which are often easy to spot because of their shape and protrusion that give them their name. These clouds often indicate the direction of the storm, and being mature clouds are often harbingers of thunderstorm phenomena and lightning.
  • If a fast-moving storm front is in the forecast, it is best to stay on land.

2. Install a lightning rod

  • Having a system on board to safely discharge lightning strikes is critical, and will prevent worse damage should the boat be struck by lightning.
  • Another solution is to install a system like that of
    Euthalia Marine
    , which makes it possible to create a protective bubble around the boat, preventing the formation of lightning strikes.
  • If the forecast shows a fast-moving storm front, it is best to stay on land.

3. If you get caught in a boat storm.

  • Reduce the profile of the boat: close fishing rods, fold down aerials, lower any superstructures and profiles (especially on boats with flybridges).
  • Get the crew below deck.
  • Avoid touching metal structures.
  • If the boat has a cabin, shelter inside.

4. Prepare to maneuver in case of emergency

  • The sea and winds can intensify considerably during a storm. You may have to take the helm in a difficult situation to prevent damage to the boat and crew.

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