I am relatively new to paddling (sea kayak) and I live in Utah. Not a whole lot of water–mainly lakes and big rivers with flat sections.

Anyway, during the summer, Utah is plagued with thunderstorms, as are lots of other places, but what I would like to know is what do you do if you’re on the water when a storm threatens and shore is a long way away? Worse (in my opinion), what do you do if the closest shore is a cliff with no beach, just a rock wall–like Lake Powell?


Just keep paddlin’ and don’t worry
I do it all the time besides when God decides to come get you…he always knows where to find you.

Paddlin’ on


not much you can do
unless of course you are close to a sailboat—might want to get real close so the lightening strikes the sailboat and not the kayaker—other than that get to shore as quick as you can.

You shouldn’t be in that
situation. Thunderstorms don’t just appear, they buildup over several hours. You should check wx (weather) forecast for the area and be observant of developing conditions. Thunderstorms not only produce lightning but strong,gusty winds. All of which are hazards to be considered.

Get serious. First, it is often not
possible to predict development of thunderstorms. Second, if we all could do such a prediction, and could stay home and avoid thunderstorms, we would cancel out about half of our paddling careers. Thunderstorms are a part of everyday life, unlike hurricanes and tornados.

The risk of being struck by lightning while paddling on lakes or rivers is evidently not that high. I know of only one case in the SE where a kayaker was zapped (not struck dead on) while out in the middle of a wide river. I know of no deaths, and anyone can look back through American Whitewater records to check. I DO know of an instance on the Chattooga where people got out of their boats, cowered on the rocks, and were zapped lightly.

I think that the wind caused by a thunderstorm can often be more of a problem, even for someone trying to get to shore so that, if struck by lightning, their body will be recovered more easily.

I have been playing outside in thunderstorms for most of my 65 years, and if some of you want to hide indoors, that’s fine… I will have the outdoors more to myself.

some more info
I found some more general information on at this link:

There’s some good stuff in there.

I agree with the piece about the wind often being more of a threat to one’s safety.

Checking the weather before going on a trip seems like a no-brainer and often, I forget to check it, forget what I heard/saw, or just don’t check at all. Every action has a consequence…

Thanks to all who have energy (no pun intended) about this topic.

Zapped Twice Already!
First time was when some friends and I were driving over a raised RR crossing in a car and our vehicle got blasted. Nobody felt the juice but the blast had us all thinking we were just hit by a locomotive.

Second time was on the Thompson Causeway on the Mississippi river in Illinois. We were camped out on the “island” and had some long lasting severe T-storms. The rain stopped momentarily and we thought some hot chow would lift our spirits. I had my wife and 3 year old son in the back of the pickup sheltered by the cap and I proceeded to cook on the coleman stove placed on the open tailgate. The bolt cracked right overhead, hit the truck, jumped to my extended arm, and ran down my wet rubber raincoat and into the puddle of water I was standing in. My raincoat and rubber boots most likely saved my life that day. Made the hair on my neck stand up and cost me a nice Timex wristwatch though.

If you can avoid a storm do so. As previously stated, when it’s your time to go then that’s it!


Holly sh*t!

What an amazing story!

Thanks for sharing that with us. Lightning gets scarier and scarier the more I learn about it. Ignorance was bliss…

I always keep…
…an eye to the sky now and both ears on the weather forecasts.


I am with GK
Enjoy the show!

when your number’s up, it’s up.

On the other hand if they are predicting thunder storms you might want to rethink paddling on that day.

One day we were in the middle of the Everglades National Park on Nine mile Pond canoe trail and got caught in a hellacious lightning storm. There wasn’t much we could do so we enjoyed the fireworks, and when it was all over figured the Man didn’t want us yet.



At least
get close to the cliff, if you cannot get out of your boat because of shore obstacles. You want to avoid being the highest spot in the area. Paddle faster, I don’t care how far away the shore is, get to it.

Not sure if I would paddle next to a sail boat. Is true, they are more likely to be hit than a low craft, but often times a bolt will flair out like a river delta at the point of impact. It reaches out to all the little objects around the main bolt. Umm, that would be you in the kayak off to port.

Still, it might be safer to pace them say 100 yards of to the side or something. Just get to shore. True about when your number is up, but you can influence that to a degree.

Weather happens . . .
whether forecasted correctly or not. No one’s probably fool enough to go out when the forecast is showing purple all over the radar screen, but things do pop up unpredictably.

I’d much rather be low over a body of water (show me a lower spot in the area than that) than standing on a wet, grassy hill while holding onto my own personal set of lightning rods numbered from PW through 9, lol. When I was a teenager, my dad and I were golfing and finishing driving down the 18th fairway while a storm was rolling in. We thought we could finish before it got to us. In the middle of the fairway, while taking a practice swing and holding a 7 iron over my head, the hair on my arms starting standing straight up. I dropped the club, told Dad to get down and as we both hit the deck, the tree about 100’ away from us got lit up and split in two. We looked at each other, grabbed our clubs and called the 18th par, the only one for the day, lol.

Another time I was getting into my car in a parking lot in a driving rain and the same thing, hair on my arms stood up. Just as I jumped in the car the light pole next to me was struck. Blew the glass from the bulb all over my vehicle.

And the last one was a few years ago when the telephone line strung from the back of our yard to the corner of the house was struck. That connection is in the corner of the house about 8’ from my head as I sleep. It was at 5am, we had just returned from vacation the night before and both kids (8mos and 5years at the time) were in bed with us. The phone sitting on my nightstand made the most eerie whine for about 5 seconds and when I picked it up, the base was hot, really hot. I checked the house for smoke or flames, went back to sleep for a few hours and woke up later to find the computer, DSS/Tivo, all the phones and the well pump were fried. Kind of a good insurance deal, as I got to upgrade a 4 year old iMac bubble to the lamp shade at no cost and same thing with all of the phones and Tivo receiver. The well pump was about 40 years old, and got updated as well.

Some friends of mine near Tampa were all on vacation at a bible camp in MN several years ago when a neighbor called. Their house had been struck at 5:30 pm and falling down by the time the firefighters arrived 14 minutes later. The fire chief had to prove the time because, as he stated, he’d never seen a two story home burn through that fast. He determined that the origin of the fire was the kitchen table area, which was next to a large window, and would have had 5 kids and two adults sitting at it eating dinner had the family not been on vacation. Apparently, it made the local news because of how fast the neighbors and fire chief said the house burned.

With three close calls personally and no personal damage to show for it, I agree w/ GK. The Lord had other plans for me those days, or I wouldn’t be typing this.

On a side note, as my iMac is almost 6 years old now, the phones have been getting old and we have a laptop that seriously needs replaced, I’m thinking about unplugging the surge protectors and going straight into the phone line/ac outlets during this next storm season, lol. . . .


I like it
I like your comments, zenrider. They make a lot of sense. I haven’t yet been caught out in a storm on Lake Powell, but it’s only a matter of time. If some of you have been there, you know what I am talking about, there are sections of the lake where there is nothing but 400 ft sheer sandstone walls on either side of the water; no where to go.

I would think that shadowing a sailboat would be a decent ‘only option’ and I agree with the river delta analogy. I think the sandstone walls would dissapate some of the charge if there was a strike directly above me.

I do, however, get the underlying message: if at all possible, get to shore and get to a lightning-safe spot as fast as I can.

most large sailboats
are designed to take lightening strikes–the big ones anyway—I certainly wouldn’t touch it but being close is a better option then being far away—in any case its about the only option for a sea kayaker— when going close it a large cliff on shore the wind and waves would be more likely to kill you than the lightening --in a river or lake or a shore to windward it may work=–on a lee shore it would be a recipe for disaster—I would rather take my chances with the lightening then get dashed on the rocks in high winds and waves.

A sidenote.
As far as finding a “safe place” is concerned good luck- because that’s all it amounts to. One of my son’s was talking on the cordless phone in our kitchen as a storm approached. Next thing I saw was him throwing the phone to the floor with a few choice words to accompany the move. Seems he got mildly zapped even though the storm was not yet upon us. You may find a “safer” place but it’s still trouble when the bolts are flying.


Carbon fiber paddles
Carbon fiber and aluminum paddles will transmit energy from lightning hitting the water.

A couple years ago, when a 30% chance of rain in the Southeast meant “snowball’s chance in hell,” we actually had a BAD thunderstorm one afternoon on the river. Several of us decided to pull off on a sandbar and others decided to keep going. After a particularly bad close strike (we watched the bolt “walk” across the river), we saw one friend pull out further down the river. He told us later that the bolt had really “zapped” him through his paddle and scared him badly. Fortunately, he didn’t take a direct hit!

There’s little material out there
that doesn’t have at least a good chance of conducting that kind of voltage. Being in a poly, kevlar, fg or cf boat is no protection either.


rubber blow up kayak maybe???

Is there such a thing as actual RUBBER anymore? Seriously, what is still made of anything not synthetically produced?


If a cloud of charge collects around
you on a lake or wide river, and a strike occurs, what material your boat and paddle are made of will make little difference. A wooden, or a carbon paddle raised in the air might serve as the OCCASION for a strike to occur, but a direct strike will simply create enough plasma around the paddle shaft (and you) to carry the immense amperage.

I will grant that, for near misses, a wooden paddle >might< protect a bit better than a carbon shaft paddle, but if your hands and the shaft are wet, the shaft material might not make much difference.

I will have to check the resistance of my carbon paddle shafts and blades.