protection from lightning

What to do if you’re caught paddling on a lake or river and a storm erupts with lightning? My assumption (untested) is that the best thing is to paddle close to the shore but not to take out. I’m assuming the shore is tree lined, so trees can attract the lightning. But if the shore has no trees?

good basic advice here
this link gives some basics.

Lightning is complex and frivolous. The notion that it will ALWAYS go for the highest object around is not true. I saw a fellow camper get knocked to the ground by a lightning strike as he was walking ahead of me on a wide path between lines of tall pine trees. (he was stunned but not badly hurt). I’ve read first person accounts of people paddling in deep gorges being struck. And in the mountains, it may enter overhangs and caves rather than higher adjacent ridgelines. If I was trapped too far offshore to make it to land within reasonable time I would stash my regular paddle, grab my short wooden storm paddle for bracing, and fold myself as low over the foredeck as I could until I could judge by sound and light timing that the storm was passing by. If I could make it to an open beach I would quickly exit the boat, crouch to drag it above the surf line and then remove my PFD and crouch on it with my head down until the storm passed. MOuntaineering safety courses advise people to do the same thing with their backpacks (crouch on them) if caught in the open or on an exposed slope. This is to insulate you from ground currents.

And electrocution hazards (including from stray currents at badly grounded docks and marina structures) are more likely on fresh than salt water. Salt water is more conductive so it is a more attractive path to ground for current than a human body.

BTW, many people don’t realize that carbon fiber is electrically conductive like metal so be aware what your paddles and helmets are made of.

What NOAA says

Send out de Grumman foyst

– Last Updated: Jul-02-11 12:35 PM EST –

Wit de tallest paddler in it usin' a ZRE waarin' a MAC-T or a more fashoonable Tin Foil Tilley.


No trees. I would go to shore and get out. I would get away from my canoe as I do have metal objects in my gear, even if my canoe is royalex. Then, you crouch and keep your ankles together so that, if a strike is nearby, the electricity does not travel up one leg and down the other - try to eliminate a path up and through the body and back to ground. Remember, lightning is an electrical arc bridging a thousand feet or so…if it strikes nearby, it isn’t going to have much trouble arcing around your pfd or tennis shoes.

It doesn’t always strike the tallest object, but it does strike the taller objects more often.

If it is just a threat, you should be paddling near shore and if the shore is tree lined, within the area described by a 45 (or so) degree slope from the treetops to the water. Because, it is more likely to strike the tallest object. You should be near shore just because of the winds that a thunderstorm might bring with little warning.

A forest is reasonably safe, a big tall isolated tree is not.

Do not, I repeat, do not start golfing.

So, what is your position on what NOAA
says? Is their advice always evidence based, or extrapolated from isolated incidents? Do they compare the risk of being struck by lightning outdoors with other risks, such as being killed or injured driving to and from recreational activities?

I like the one about SCUBA divers diving deep into the water to wait out a lightning storm.

My experience is that the risk of drowning is much higher for paddlers than the risk of being struck by lightning. This is obvious not only from the experience within paddling clubs and paddling websites, but also from reading the newspapers. I’ve recreated outside during thunderstorms from childhood to old age, and I say I’m not going to have NOAA use their nanny neuroses to restrict my life. They are so focused on lightning that they can’t see the rest of existence.

Lightning is not the risk they make it out to be. Their recommendations make sense only if one puts a very high priority on minimising a rather low risk.

another tidbit to drop = graphite flyrod

– Last Updated: Jul-05-11 11:35 AM EST –

Carbon graphite.....a canoe with CG layup?, definitely anything *mostly graphite...a flyrod left standing up = a NO-NO. Cellar-garage door left open with just screen during a hot mid-summer t-storm...and graphite flyrod, in 2 ~40" sections, standing up next to a water pipe ~20' away from the door = zapped. Could hear the SNAP and see the electric-like flash from upstairs in the kitchen, ~20' away...but well surrounded by plenty of wall and floor. Yep the flyrod had whitish powder mark. I've also seen many lightning bolts occasionally strike/eminate-from low-lying shorelines..maybe rock? Have always paddled my buns off to get to shore and walk into somewhat dense, middle-height trees...up from any exposed or rocky shoreline... As said...don't expose yourself or be near to exposed objects.

I’ll just paddle close to the shore and stay in my canoe in your lake scenario (or a river) with nothing else around. Whatever is on the shore, trees or no trees, there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course, I wouldn’t park under an isolated tree.

I feel the odds are that the lightning is more likely to strike the land around the lake or river than the water surface. Hence, I prefer to stay in the boat right near the shore rather than get out and sit on the land. Of course, if it’s a real downpour and my open canoe starts to fill up, I’ll eventually get out to dump it.

My position is to adopt what they say to
the situation you are in. What they say is the straight facts. What you do about that is your decision. It is important to know that certain strategies do not reduce your risk or do so minimally. Why are you opposed to knowing what things work and what things don’t?

Straight facts? It’s shot through with
unexamined generalizations, and is unreferenced to any other scale of risk. How is one supposed to know what to do, when one has no way of judging the level of risk? NOAA wants everyone to cower indoors for half an hour after they last hear thunder. Is there any comparable level of customary cowering?

I want them to admit that the actual level of risk is low, compared to other, everyday risks. Then we can decide what to do about their recommendations.

Electrically conductive materials
I remember reading a study somewhere (I’ll try to locate it) stating that the material of the pole (or paddle) attracting the lightning is not that essential.

I paddle with a carbon paddle but I do not think switching to a wooden paddle during a thunder storm would make that much difference.

Lightning might strike a plastic paddle as well as a carbon paddle. The current will travel on the surface of the shaft and the shaft is most likely to be wet due to rain and salt water exposure making it conductive. If the electrical resistance in the paddle turns out to be too big then the lightning will simply take a different path (i.e. your hands holding the paddle).

You need to normalize your observations
The reason there are more apparent drownings that lightning strike deaths is that there is ALWAYS water present when paddling but lightning is present only occasionally. And there are fewer paddlers out and about on days when lightning is present.

If NOAA wasn’t hyper conservative in its
If NOAA wasn’t hyper conservative in its recommendations they’d get sued every time somebody got struck.

You want them to admit that the risk is low as if they are being deliberately deceptive. To what end would they perpetrate such a deception?

I tend to agree with you…
About getting out. I’ve seen lightning bounce on the water. It can actually skim on the surface and that’s scary. I once paddled in with lightning cracking right over us. You just start praying. Supposedly that squat position is supposed to be best once you’re out of the boat. I’m very cautious about dark clouds in the summer and don’t take chances. I can understand why some may feel more secure sitting in their kayak next to shore with no trees than getting out. Tough call.

Good read about lightning
The excellent outdoor/nature writer, Gretel Erlich, was struck by lightning while working a ranch. She wrote a pretty interesting book about recovering from the big zap. Here’s a link to a review

They are not being deceptive, They
are so focused on one problem area that they have lost perspective.

To ask people to stay indoors for half an hour after the last time they hear thunder shows tremendous lack of perspective. To ask people to forgo outdoor recreation when the thunderstorm probability rises above 30% shows that NOAA does not understand the difference between physical life and real life.

Your statement about NOAA being sued is based on legal ignorance. They are in no such danger.

All I want is for NOAA to tell the facts, and the truth about the risk of being harmed by lightning. All of us are in more danger from auto accidents, from risk of drowning, and probably from risk of fire, certain diseases, and from depression and boredom waiting indoors, measuring the amount of time since the last thunder.

Why look at it that way? The only
relevant comparison is whether in any given year of paddling, I stand more chance of being killed by lightning, drowned in a paddling accident, or killed in an auto accident.

That’s how you compare risk. You don’t “normalise” based on time of exposure.

Even saying that, I think NOAA way overstates the risk of being killed by lightning while paddling or hiking. We’ve had about five times as many deaths in my area from trees landing on cars during storms as we have from lightning. And then there’s those poor souls who drowned in a ditch after getting out of their cars to take shelter from a tornado.

I understand the limited liability
I understand the extremely limited liability of government forecasters under sovereign immunity. That doesn’t stop people from bringing suits or complaining to their congressman that “something has to be done”. NWS, USGS Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, etc… get sued all the time over thunderstorms, hurricanes, inaccurate river forecasts, rip current drownings,… The vast majority of suits are thrown out under FTCA protection but a few are successful. Inaccuracy in forecasting is immune from negligence or liability claims for the most part. Giving the all clear when data still indicates “some” level of risk has resulted in a couple of successful lawsuits.

An irrational public gets you unreasonable safety recommendations from an agency concerned with public safety. This is the reason that a rotating thunderstorm that might produce an EF0 at most generates the same automatic “run for the hills” canned tornado warning as an obvious supercell with a hook echo and likely tornado on the ground.

As far as the relative risk of lightening. If I never modified my activity around storms, living where I live, the risk of death or severe injury by lightening probably would become comparable to other more common causes of death or severe injury, not up there with driving a car but not insignificant either. When we are having one of our typical summer storms with lots of lightening I’d be foolish to go out and do scheduled intervals on the lake in my carbon fibre boat with my carbon fiber paddle. Likewise, if I followed the 30 minutes rule or the “if you can hear thunder rule” I’d never go outside during the wet season. But I don’t consider completely dismissing the risk entirely as too remote to worry about to be a reasonable action in an area with the strike density that we have.

why not?
"""“That’s how you compare risk. You don’t “normalise” based on time of exposure.”"""

Why not? I paddle about 12hrs a week. If I always did scheduled training irrespective of the weather my time of exposure to lightening would be quite high (we get a lot of lightening in central Florida especially since I live where the seabreeze collision happens most often) and the risk of dieing due to strike relative to all the other things in life would increase. Time of exposure matters. Back when I lived in the Shenandoah valley I could be outside everyday all day and be exposed to less lightening than I am down here just walking to and from my car.

Down here, lightening is much more likely to kill you than wind (at least with our summer storms, winter thunderstorms that are associated with frontal systems and mid-latitude cyclones are a different beast).

The numbers of weather deaths in general are vanishingly small compared to car accidents but there aren’t that many people knocking about in severe weather while just about everybody is hurtling down the road everyday.

Sorry incorrect info
as the 45 degree cone is a myth

Trees are no help either if you happen to be in contact with roots.