Boating Life

What to Do During a Storm While Boating

May 28, 2020
Ingman Marine
Boat Safety
May 28, 2020
Ingman Marine
Boat Safety

Boating is all fun and games until strong winds come knocking. Suddenly, your survival instincts kick in, and all you can think of is a way out. What’s worse? It could be a thunderstorm. Every seasoned boater knows that boating during a thunderstorm is probably one of the scariest experiences. Here in this article, Ingman Marine is going to show you some safety tips you can apply if you are caught boating during a storm, and why this is particularly crucial for you if you are boating in Florida.

Florida Seas: Can't Avoid a storm forever

If you live in Florida, then thunderstorms are nothing new to you. The United States Coast Guard Boating Safety states that there are at least 70 to 80 thunderstorm days per year in Florida. What this means is that there’s a thunderstorm at least once every four days. Now, those are high odds to go against for a boating enthusiast living in Florida.

Ultimately, you may just find yourself boating during a storm one of these days. While it is incredibly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, it is not necessarily a death sentence. There are certain boat safety measures you can take to increase your chances of survival.

Caught Boating during a Storm?

The survival tips below are general boat safety tips that should always be at the back of your mind before you climb into a boat. I suggest you make time to familiarize yourself with the dos and don’ts in the case of a storm. The steps are divided into two situations:

  1. The moment before the storm
  2. During the storm

The Moment Before The Storm

You might be lucky enough to notice the change in the weather before the thunderstorm finally hits. Or maybe the storm is somewhat in the distance. In this situation, you have some time. Here’s what you should do:

  • Head straight back to the dock as fast as you can.
  • If the storm is between you and the dock, check marine charts for the nearest shelter.
  • While rushing to safety, look out for debris, other vessels, and hazards that can topple your boat.
  • Note: if you are already caught in the middle of the storm, hurrying will be counterproductive and dangerous. Only dash for safety when you have a chance of getting to shelter before the storm gets you.

During The Storm

  • The first thing you should do if you’re boating in a storm is to ensure everyone on board is wearing personal flotation devices.
  • Reduce your speed and watch out for approaching boats and floating debris.
  • All passengers should remain as low as possible in the boat, near the centerline.
  • Head the bow of the boat into waves at a 45-degree angle, this will keep the boat in the most stable position.
  • Secure all loose items in the boat.
  • All persons on board should avoid any metallic parts of the boat. Stow items like the fishing rods, away.
  • You should try to lower metallic structures like the tower, antenna, and outriggers if possible.
  • Take note of the electronic compass readings, and crosscheck with a handheld compass. This is because you may lose your electronic compass to the storm.

Boat safety tips to help Avoid Being Struck by Lightning

There is no way to completely avoid being struck by lightning, but there are things you can do to help your odds.

Outfit Your Boat with a Lightning Protection System

Lightning protection systems aim to prevent damage to the boat, injuries, and loss of life while boating during a storm. One way to do this is through electrical bonding. Bonding electrically connects all the metallic parts of the boat, to provide an alternative path that directs the lightning strike through the metal and down to the ocean floor. This is an attempt to direct the strike away from the cabin and other places where passengers could be hurt.

Prepare Each Person

Everyone aboard must know exactly what to do in this situation. In the middle of a crisis is not the best place to teach boat safety rules. However, you may not have a choice. So, ensure everyone is wearing a life jacket, staying away from electronic and metal equipment, maintaining a low position, and is as close to the center of the boat as possible.

Safeguard Important Electronics

If you happen to be boating in a storm, reducing the likelihood of lightning hitting you should be the priority. To do this, you have to ensure that you turn off all electronic devices. You should turn off your phones, radios, and unplug other electronics. If your boat’s cabin has a microwave, place all of your electronics and important papers inside. Your microwave will act as a faraday cage, which blocks electromagnetic fields from getting to your devices and should be elevated enough to protect any papers from possible water damage.

What to do when your boat is struck by Lightning

Here’s what you can do if your boat gets hit by a lightning bolt

Severe Damage to Property

Severe damages could include situations when the lightning strike destroys your electronic system or hits an important part of the hull. This could be a part higher up, which could let in huge volumes of rain into the cabin. Or, in the worst-case scenario, it hits a part of the hull below the waterline; this could lead to the boat sinking. If your bilge pump doesn’t come on automatically, pump out the bilges to keep the boat high in the water. Since bilges are electronically controlled, you may not have much of an option if the lightning fries your electric system. The option you’re left with is to try to plug the hole to the best of your ability, and manually bail the water to avoid sinking.

Minor Damage

Minor damages include situations when you lose some of your electronic functions and your engine temporarily stops. If the engine stops, drop the anchor from the bow of the boat to prevent drifting. Close all hatches, ports, and work the bail bucket if you have to, to avoid swamping – and sinking eventually.

Person(s) Down

If hit by a bolt of lightning, the first move should be to check for life. Are all the passengers safe? Is anyone unconscious? If so, you need to immediately start administering CPR. Do this without hesitation. Don’t worry, there’s no danger of being shocked by a person hit by lightning.

Important tools to have during a storm


  • You should have a handheld compass with you, just in case you lose your electronic compass.
  • Considering that you can lose all forms of communication, you need to have two-way handheld radios somewhere on the boat.
  • Bring along a good quality spare VHF antenna.

Safety Equipment

  • Having life jackets and first aid kits on board your boat is non-negotiable.
  • You should have a fire extinguisher, atleast two handheld orange smoke signals, and flare guns.

Safest/ Not-so-safe Boats to own when you live in Florida

The type of boat you own could determine your likelihood of making it out of a storm or it’s path. Owning an open model boat (no-cabin) could spell disaster if you get stuck in the middle of a storm, but with enough horsepower may boost the likely hood of making it out of the storms’ path. Boats with masts, like sailboats, are among the most likely to be struck by lightning and move slower than power boats. Cabined boats are considered the safest because they offer shelter to your passengers.

Open Boats

Being caught in an open boat during a storm can be a terrible experience. In this case, lightning isn’t the only threat; you are open to the wind, rain, and rising waves. The best boat safety measures you can employ is to stay low and central, while also avoiding metal parts and bailing out water to avoid swamping.

Cabined Boats

By far the safest boat to be in while boating during a storm is a cabined boat. If your engine and electronics fail, you can always drop the anchor and retire to the safety of the cabin. This way, you don’t get to feel the harshness of the wind and rain directly on you. Moreover, you stand a better chance of not being struck directly by lightning when you are within the cabin.

Sail Boats/ Mast Boats

Sailboats are sometimes even more vulnerable to lightning than open boats. This is because lightning strikes the highest points, which in this case would be the masts. You would need to unplug all the masthead units, but realistically, in severe storms, they are bound to be damaged.

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Boat Insurance is a must in Florida's Sub-tropical Climate

Having boat insurance is a necessity, especially when you live in a state like Florida. This is because, as we mentioned earlier, Florida is more likely to have boat-wrecking thunderstorms than most other states. It doesn’t matter if your boat is at the docks when the storm hits, that is not necessarily a safety net.

Boats at the dockyard too can get damaged by lightning. The primary difference between boating during a storm and having a thunderstorm hitting your boat at the dock is that with the latter, no one should be on board, which significantly lowers the chances of injuries and death.

Many companies offer various kinds of insurance coverage to boat owners. But on proper examination, the policies can be streamlined to these two areas:

Covering Boat Damage

Generally, given the likelihood of boats being struck by lightning, boat insurance covers for such damages. Boat damage insurance usually protects the boat from damages as a result of theft, vandalism, lightning, fire, etc.

Passenger Liability

This type of insurance protects the passengers and crew members aboard the vessel at the time of the incident. It covers the medical bills, lawsuit expenses, and other fees that can arise as a result of bodily injury or loss of life.

The Bottom Line

All boaters in Florida should take storm season seriously. Even during off season, Florida’s sub-tropical climate is a haven for rain and in most cases that includes thunder and lightning. You should have a storm plan, plenty of life jackets, non-electronic navigation, and boat insurance before ever launching your vessel. As for your passengers, you should always inform new passengers of the storm plan and routinely re-evaluate your plan with your family to keep it current and in their minds.

Stay Safe and Happy Boating

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