Lightning and Kayaking

I am doing some research here. I have been to most of the websites about lightning and safety and what to do like get off the water ASAP and seek shelter, but could find nothing specific about what to do if you are in your kayak and you cannot get off the water. The reasons for not being able to get off the water could range from being in the middle of a long open water and the nearest land being 10 miles away or paddling along a stretch of coastline that has no takeout areas and there are only rock cliffs for miles and miles etc. Other than not getting on the water in the first place if there is a potential for thunder storms, what is the safest thing to do if you find yourself in this situation and you are in a kayak? Stay in the boat and try to keep in a tucked position with your body close to your boat? Get out of the boat turn it upside down and duck you head under the cockpit? Not sure what other options there might be.

i have been on a schooner in a huge
thunderstorm and jsut kept right on trucking…

i would fear for my life in a kayak…

in TITS3 there is a part where Justine and Alun are paddling a crossing and there is a good thunderstorm raging on around them…scared them well…


what ever you don’t play
golf in the kayak. I understand golfing while lightening is not a good thing.

I did a brief talk on this when i went down to baja over thanksgiving.

what i found was they recomend staying in your boat, but giving yourself pletny of distance between partners.

lightning travels over the water

Minnesota Canoe Assoc. article
This article on the Minnesota Canoe Association website may be helpful:

Logic vs. Emotion
Logically, I tell myself I am a very small target on a very large surface. I tell myself there are plenty of pilings, trees, sailboats, etc., that are out in the water for every storm that comes through, and they seem to survive (but somebody once pointed out that we no longer see the ones that got struck). That’s the logical brain talking.

In actuality, when the clouds close in, the wind picks up, and the lightning starts to flash, I paddle as fast as I can to get off the water. And I think that’s what I’d do if I was somewhere I could not get off the water…paddle fast as I can to get somewhere I could get off the water. All the while, I’d be repeating the mantra, “small target, big water, small target…”

One other aspect of lighting is that lightning is not logical. It behaves in unpredictable ways. It strikes where you wouldn’t expect it to strike, and some of the things you think it should strike, don’t get struck. In 1998 a woman was struck sitting in the second row of RFK stadium in Washington, DC. The field there is dug into the ground, so she was basically in a hole, surrounded by a 100 foot (guessing here) ring of concrete and steel, topped with steel light stanchions that stick up even higher. The roof is equiped with lightning rods designed to attract lightning by offering a direct circuit to the ground. Lightning avoided all that stuff and reached down into the second row and zapped the lady. Where’s the predictable logic in that?

BTW, the woman survived, although she was hospitalized for a long time. I’m not sure I am remembering it correctly that she went on to become some sort of religous zealot, but if she did, I can understand. She had to be asking herself “out of 50,000 people, why me?”

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Good article


Seems like
Seems like you ought to be able to protect yourself with some arrangement of wire just as a sailboat is protected. We just need a few volunteers for some testing…

when golfing, grab a 9 iron. Even God can’t hit a 9 iron LOL

The NOAA lightning recommendations
are so totally ridiculous that I don’t know how anyone can use them.

If you are caught out on a lake in a lightning storm, access your OVERALL situation (wind, waves, storm movement, available landings) and decide on the best course of action based on your OVERALL situation. If you make reaching the nearest shore your first priority, you may end up being swamped or blown where you very much do not want to go.

If you are caught on a relatively narrow river (such as the Chattooga) in a lighting storm, I do not recommend doing anything special, because you are much less likely to be struck than are the towering trees on both banks. Friends of mine were strongly zapped because they got off the water and were huddling on rocks on that river.

Lots Of Respect
I was struck by lighting once about fifteen years ago. Actually, the sailboat I was in was struck by lightning. Obviously it happened very quickly with no warning. I was in a 38 foot Dufour under full sail attempting to get to the nearest harbor. The lightning hit the mast and I could hear a big bang and the entire boat was pushed downwards as if a big hand had hit it. I looked up and saw smoke comming from the top of my mast. The anometer and vane and masthead light were completely gone. I was holding a metal wheel but felt no sensation of electricity.

Later I found that the number 2 copper wire connecting the mast to the mast step and grounding plate was burned completely through. Two VHFs, a loran, a radar, a knot meter, depth meter, wind direction/speed indicator all toast. But no other issues as a result.

I would not want to have that happen while paddling.


Close call
Not paddling, but about 12 years ago I was walking from the grocery store to my car, pouring rain, lightning and thunder. The hair on my arms stood straight up and I could literally feel a tingle everywhere. I was near my SUV, opened the door and jumped in. It couldn’t have been a second later that the light pole right next to my vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree and the sound left me deaf for about 10 minutes. I just sat there in the car, dazed and confused with broken glass all over the hood of my SUV from the light above. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I ever felt that tingle while on the water. . . .

Transition zones
I agree. It’s probaly safer to stay in the boats if you are down in a narrow river valley.

If you do decide to take out you might want to heed the advice in the Minesota Canoe Association article and avoid transition zones, like where the water meets the land.

When lightning strikes, millions of volts must dissapate through the ground creating a voltage gradient. There can be thousands of volts potential across an inch of ground. Transition zones where the current travels from water to soil or soil to rock can cause that potential to be even higher. You can literaly have hundreds of thousands of volts run up one leg and down the other.

So if you do take out, get well clear of the shore, keep your feet together and try not touch anything else.



The best way to avoid lightning
is to recognize a thundercloud (cumulonimbus or CB) before it is on top of you. If you see a tall dark cloud in the distance with a distinctive anvil shape, that’s a sure sign of a thunderstorm. Remebmer that CBs travel roughly in the direction the anvil top is pointing (actually slightly to the left of that).

A 9-iron is a pretty easy club to hit. Novices to the game are encouraged to use 7-8-9-irons and a pitching wedge because they’re so easy to hit and get a ball airborn. I imagine God would probably give Tiger a run for his money with a 9-iron…

A 1-iron, on the other hand, is a whole 'nother story, friend…

The saying goes: “If you’re ever caught on the course in a thunderstorm and it’s lightening, hold up a 1-iron. Even GOD cain’t hit a 1-iron.”

Most famous reciter of the story (just the last line actually) is Lee Trevino, who was hit by lightning & survived to tell the srory.

So do NOT whip out your 1-iron on the water in a t-storm. Indeed, make like Steve Martin used to say “Let’s get small” as you


-Frank in Miami

And then what??

I think the message above about knowing what to look for in the sky is an important point. The longer the crossing (including paddles along shore where taking out is impossible), the more important the preparation becomes. Check the weather forecast, leave the marine radio on to receive warnings, and keep an eye on the sky. The more time you have to deal with a situation before it happens, the better off you’ll be.

I know the original poster wasn’t looking for that kind of information and bad weather can still happen even with the best preparation. I know this from experience, as I’m sure many of us do as well. The post above about assessing the overall situation would be my advice.

ok all of this advise is directed more at open water paddling. I paddle almost exclusively rivers… what is the protocall if you should happen to get caught out on the river?

should you take out and wait it out?

or is ok to just keep going?

would aluminum shafted paddles make any difference over carbon fiber as far as conductivity?

I dont mind paddling through a rain storm, but im not sure whats best when lightning starts…

Reiterate what Marley said
I am also curious as to the course of action on a river. I (a novice and relatively new to) paddling the Susquehanna river in PA. There are many small islands and either side of the river to pull out on. But few places to get truly far away from the water. Logic would seem to say, stay on the river as long as the wind, rain, etc don’t threaten to tip you. That way you are at the lowest point possible in the entire river valley. Of course, the best option is to avoid padddling at all in bad or possible bad weather, but thunderstorm are sometimes unexpected. What do you all think?

I agree.

if i were stuck on the river right now, i would probably stay on the river since i would be the lowest point. My boat is plastic, my paddle is carbon fiber, and really the only metal i have is the screws in my boat that hold on the deck straps.

curious as to what someone who knows what they are talking about says. Thats just my gut instinct.

I like to paddle in the rain, its very relaxing as long as its not too cold, but there have been many times that ive been caught on the river by a spot/fast moving thunderstorm.