• Published:April 3, 2013
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Spring is here. For a lot of mariners, Spring means that prime boating season is about to return as we close in on the summer doldrums. For others, spring is just a time to enjoy warmer weather that allows us to get outdoors more. But for weather nerds like us, the return to the warm season means that the weather is about to get really interesting. Most notably, thunderstorms and hurricanes are about to reenter the picture in a big way.
These weather events are interesting to us, but we also realize they are a threat to the marine population. Maybe not so much on the West Coast of the United States, but the threat is very real for boaters near the Gulf and Southeast States and many other regions of the world.

So what should you do if you are caught on the water during an impending thunderstorm (besides look at the forecast ahead of time)? Ideally, you would return to port, get off the water, and get inside a closed shelter as soon as possible. If you can hear thunder or see lightning, you are at risk. However, sometimes we don't always have the luxury of returning to shelter on dry land.

If you are in this position and your boat does not have a lightning protection system installed on it, here are some tips that can help.

* Stay away from metal objects on the boat (both metal and water are excellent conductors of electricity).

* Unplug electrical equipment

* Drop anchor and get as low as possible, ideally in a cabin if your boat has one.

* If no cabin is available, crouch as low as possible with your feet together and place your hands over your ears to minimize the effects of thunder.

The 30-30 Rule.

Another best practice for lightning safety is following the 30-30 rule. The 30-30 rule simply means that if lightning precedes thunder by less than 30 seconds, then the storm is too close and you should seek shelter. If shelter is not possible, ideally you would navigate away from the storm activity. After the thunderstorm ends, you should wait 30 minutes before leaving shelter. This can be a great piece of advice for mariners near shore that are in close enough proximity to return to dry land.

Other resources

BoatUS Lightning Safety Resource.
Info on lightning protection systems by BoatSafe.com.
NOAA/NWS Lightning Facts.


Mark Willis
Chief Meteorologist