Lightning Safety: When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors
The Florida Keys rainy season started slowly this year. However, the month of August historically has the highest number of lightning strikes across the Florida Keys and adjoining coastal waters. Boaters, divers, and anglers are among the most vulnerable to lightning strikes in the Florida Keys, due to their presence outdoors and in the open ocean where their watercraft often are the highest points around.
Indeed, many of the lightning casualties in the Keys over the years have involved those on boats or bridges. Therefore, every responsible captain, guide, or recreational boater should employ a few basic precautions to ensure the safety of both crew and clients.
#1: When thunder roars, go indoors!
Death by lightning is avoidable. When thunderstorms threaten, there really is no completely safe place outside. The best refuge is a sturdy building with walls, wires, plumbing, and closed windows, or a hard-topped car with windows up. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from a thunderstorm, so if you can hear thunder, then you may be in danger. Plan your activities so you do not get caught outside in a thunderstorm.
#2: Stay low, or go below!
Thunderstorms can develop quickly, and it may not be possible to return to port or a safe shelter indoors. In this case, stay in the center of the boat cabin, if possible. Most lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with no cabin. If no cabin is available, stay low in the boat so as to minimize your chances of being struck. The dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike are height, pointy shape, and isolation. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference where lightning strikes. However, while metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it, so stay away from electronics and any portion of the boat connected to the lightning protection system. Ships and other vessels with metal hulls generally are much safer, as long as you stay away from metal, and remain in the cabin.
Lightning long has been an underrated weather hazard. Lightning kills more people than hurricanes in an average year in the United States. All thunderstorms produce lightning, and are dangerous. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place. Lightning safety is an inconvenience that can save your life.
Finally, remember to check the weather before heading out on the water, and as always, be weather-ready, and stay safe!
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