Prepare for the Unexpected: What to Do if You’re on Your Boat and Get Caught in a Storm

When you go out on your boat, you expect the weather to be bright, beautiful, and sunny. You would never intentionally go out on your boat in a severe thunderstorm or when the waves are several feet high. Checking the weather advisory before heading out on your boat is good practice, but anything can happen.

You never know when a thunderstorm may roll in on you and being prepared to handle it while on your boat is the best way to keep you and your crew/family safe. No matter how much planning you do for the weather, it is unpredictable.

Boating throughout a thunderstorm is bound to occur at some point in time, especially if you live in areas that are prone to unpredictable weather changes such as Florida.

Preparing for the worst, staying calm, and relying on what you have practiced for will assist you in getting to shore safely.

Can Lightning Strike My Boat?

Yes. In fact, boats can be struck by lightning, and this is because they are often great conductors for electricity. Think about it – a boat often has a lot of metal and conductive materials on it. There is no boat that is immune from being a candidate for a lightning strike.

A lightning strike can completely disrupt and destroy a boat’s electrical system and the engine. Depending on where the lightning strikes, it can also cause serious damage to the hull and cause a boat to sink.

Unfortunately, there is no way for a boater to completely lightning-proof their boat either, so it is important to understand what can happen and prepare for the worst should you get stuck in a thunderstorm.

What Should I Do if I Am Caught in a Thunderstorm?

If you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm while boating, the first thing you want to do is make sure that you take shelter in your boat’s cabin if there is one. If you do have a cabin, make sure the windows and doors are all completely closed to prevent water from getting inside.

In the event that your boat does not have a cabin, you should get as low as possible in the main central portion of the boat.

No matter where you are on the boat, sheltered or not, avoid touching any type of electrical component or exposed metal. Fishing rods should be avoided too as they may attract lightning.

Always Have Life Jackets on Board

You should ALWAYS have lifejackets on board your boat and ones that fit each member of your family too. You never know when you may need them, so it is best to have them.

If you find yourself stuck in a thunderstorm, always have everyone put on their life jackets just in case anything happens.

Other Safety Tips

  • Avoid using appliances and major electronic equipment
  • Keep arms and legs in the boat
  • Do not touch or enter the water
  • Discontinue any water activities such as jet skiing, swimming, etc.
  • Remove or lower any antennas

If you find yourself in need of assistance, have an emergency, or your boat has been struck by lightning, be sure to use your VHF radio to call in your emergency and get help.

When Can I Resume My Normal Boating Activities?

Follow the 30-minute rule. You should wait until there has been a 30-minute break between the last time thunder is heard to resume any water activities again.

Should I Use a Lightning Grounding Protection System?

If you do not have a lightning grounding protection system installed on your boat, you may want to look into it. These systems can help protect your boat and the boat’s electronics should it be struck by lightning.

If you do have a system already installed, make sure it is in good condition and free from any corrosion prior to your trips out on the water.

Boat Safely No Matter the Weather

With the proper safety precautions in place and knowledge about what to do should a storm strike, you can boat safely in any type of weather.

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