what would you do if a storm

with lightening suprised you on a sunny day and you were an hour away from your launch site and vehicle?

How far from land?
Get onto hard land if available first - reason to have rain gear or a bivey in your boat…

about a hundred feet give or take
I stayed close to the shore and just a few feet off of all of the docks and boathouses. The sun was hot on my shoulders and there were no dark clouds in the sky. It came up all of a sudden.

It rained so hard I had to take off my glasses to see. I didn’t mind the rain, wind and waves but I kept a close watch on the flashes of light. They were in the distance and my idea was to immediately get to land if they came any closer.

I would pull into the closest spot

– Last Updated: Jun-05-06 12:40 PM EST –

on land, find an area with trees, and sit a few yards from the shorter trees in the area, with my PFD under my butt to avoid ground currents.

During the summer, I keep an eye on the squall lines that occasionally come in and almost never seem to hit Galveston Island, but make sure I have an out. Only problem - there are few trees on much of the island.

Never thought about using the PFD to protect from a ground current.

I shall also keep a more watchful eye on the entire sky not just the sun and clouds ahead of me.

The next day, I went to another lake. Same beautiful conditions but again the same conditions. By the time that storm hit I was well out of the lake and drinking beer under a tent at my cousins fifteen miles away.

NWS Radar
T-storms are a summertime fact of life in many parts of the country. One thing you can do is to check the short-range NWS radar loop before heading out to see if there is any activity moving toward you. This is, of course, not foolproof as cells can develop pretty much out of the blue. So, if you do see activity, you will know that there is a chance you’ll be hit. If you don’t see activity, keep an eye out anyway, especially if a “chance” of storms is in the forecast. I find that my forward speed really increases when I hear thunder :wink:

Weather radios
You can get little weather radios, some GMRS units come with weather station on one channel, help you keep up to date.

You Mean What DID I Do
The time I was at the lake I paddled about 40 yards from the trees.

The time I was in Taylor’s Creek I pulled up to someone’s dock and sat in my boat.

The time I was in the middle of the sound I just kept on paddlin’.

What I did . .
I studied the heck out of every source of weather info I could find and developed a system to avoid ever being surprised again. We don’t stay off the water just because it’s forecasted for T-storms. But we are never caught by surprise either. With a bit of studying you can sort out the obvious telltales pretty easily.


Personal and “If a family member” risk

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For me what Jed does we all do, that is make personal choices, either by calculated risk, like Jed, or others by dumb luck, not looking or thinking ahead, absent choices, failing to make informed choices through tiredness, poor information, or calculated choices, like Jed is saying. In the Northeast to not go out on days of scattered T-storms means hardly paddling at all. It is a calculated risk.

That said your question is what to do. Well, once a squall comes, lightining can be ahead of it by 4-8 miles, so don't wait till overhead. They travel far faster than a kayak so can't outrun or sidestep it, unless very isolated storm. The tell tales are often there, but not always, so your question is real, what to do.

The biggest danger from lightning on water is similar to lightning when standing on saturated ground, a ground striike that spreads horizontaly. The chance of this is FAR higher than a direct strike.

As on land, on water, raft up, secure kayaks together. This does increase the chance of a group hit, so again a calculated risk that one hit all hit. However, if raft in two's not a whole group this is minimized. This affords one the chance to both crouch in the cockpit squating with ankles together, hands over ears. Why? The reduced danger of current going up one ankle and across the other and out back into water rather than up through your heart and brain. Hands over ears so eardrums don't burst, a real risk.

It is NOT significant whether one is sitting or laying down, forces of where a bolt hits and spreads are MUCH LARGER than what you do with your body. If you can squat on a foam seat even better insulation.

Also having a Wilderness First Responder medical training, it is known that over 70% of folks hit by lightning can have their heart and breathing be restart by compressions and forced breathing. Lightning arrests the heart and breathing mechanisms, so a "jump start" is helpful, unlike heart attack victims where a defib is often required and CPR may not be helpful. So don't think they are electrically charged, know they may be deaf from eardrum broken and do use CPR.

OK what do I do, I stay close to shore on days of scattered storms. I get off water when flash to crash is 30 seconds or less, and stay off for 30 minutes after strom passes. I get on DRY land, away from trees and roots and saturated ground. The cone of safety around trees has been disproved. I spread the group out, all hunker on ankles and hands on ears.

For me I can still paddle but my calculated risk is my own and if I lead I use the formula of what would a loved one ask of me if it where my own family member.


Squall line
If a thunderstorm is building fast enough to surprise you, you’ll probably get hit with a really nasty squall line when it moves in. If you can’t get off the water, get ready for it – loose gear stowed, appropriate clothing on, PFD on & snug, safety gear accessible. If you have a partner, consider rafting up, or make a plan for what to do if you get separated.

lightning links
This is interesting. I set out to show that statistically, lightning might not be all that great a risk, compared to other risks. Well, I was wrong. Apparently, the odds of getting struck by lightning are not only less than one in a million for any given year, but are 1 in 3000 over a lifetime. Who knew?




squal lines are forecasted
squal lines are caused by fast moving cold fronts - as such they show up on the forecast early enough to offer no suprises.

Yes and one’s chances increase markedly on open water due to indrect sufrace conduction. Actually Florida accounts for a huge % of hits, so kayaking there look out.

I paddled one of our barrier Islands today. I was paddling in saltmarshes mostly. I was about 8 miles from the put in and turned around to start back. It started to rain about half way back. It started the thunder and lightning about three miles from the put in. I thought about stopping on a sand bar and figured that lightning would like me on a sand bar as much as it would in my kayak so I continued paddling. There were no trees or other shelter for at least two miles in and direction, at least that I was aware of or could see.

Happy Paddling,


Don’t worry, the odds are way in your
favor. No one likes to be out in a thunderstorm, but the probability that you will be struck is actually quite small. Somewhat more of a concern is wind and waves, so concentrate on the wind and wave issue while planning to get ashore soon, if it will make a difference. Many storms pass quickly, and NOAA advice aside, once the storm has passed, even if you still hear thunder, your chances of being struck are close to baseline.

I hate to think of people panicking over stupid advice about lightning when they should be more concerned about wind and waves.

A different point of view
There is a small group of people–I’m one—-who believe that the best practice is to make a cone hat out of tin foil and put it on your head, as it will appease the lightning gods. Some consider this a silly superstition. I think its just good paranormal management.

Paul S.

But, you are missing the boat. On
top of that cone hat, you need to place a car antennae raised to the maximum. Even better would be one of those big ham radio antenanae. Also tie bare wire to your wrists and dangle it in the water.

You must be from
a more enthusiastic tribe. We just use the cone hats. Also, we would never go for the bare wire idea. As a purely practical point, we always make sure we are insulated, in case the cone hats don’t work.

Paul S.

My experience…
I kayak (5 yrs), canoe (8yr), sail (15…) and climb (53…). I have had body/facial hair standing on end, metal glasses frames buzzing, etc. I have seen/heard/felt “FLA-BLAM”, ears ringing! I sat out a storm in the exact same spot on the Grand Teton where climbers died just a couple of years later.

On Yellowstone Lake (elev. 7700), I was sailing/camping with my family, incl. two young children. Boat=21’San Juan. I looked at the 0545 morning sky and said “This is a T-Storm Day.” I began motoring back to Bridge Bay before anyone else was awake. At 0800 the motor died and the water was flat and glassy; T-Storms building. The VHF radio = no response (either a dead spot or everyone was asleep. I propelled the boat by rocking with m’sail tight/flat and keel fully down = 1.6mph by GPS; still 7 miles to the nearest dock. Do the math! Squall line HIT with 3’-4’ waves/surf and 40 kt wind. Main reefed before! We just ran with it. Yes, there was lightening. Finally, NPS responded to VHF calls, and a maintenance boat stood by us as we rode it out. Lasted about 20-30 minutes… then flat, glassy calm. Whew!!

The previous posts, especially by the Wildy Responder, all have good info and advice. Especially, 30 seconds-30 minutes! But perhaps Ben Franklin had it right: “Some men are weatherwise, other men are otherwise.” But even when you do everything right, but it goes wrong, one can survive. Yes, I bought a new motor! And yes, a 28’ aluminum mast makes a foil dunce hat with a 6’ antenna look like nothing!