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May 2011

Weathering the storm

Take cover when lightning strikes

Summer thunderstorms can develop and intensify quickly. If you’re on the water and notice thunderstorms developing, seek shelter on land in a safe building or vehicle as soon as possible.

Lightning can travel up to 10 miles from a storm, so you could be in danger even with blue skies overhead. Don’t wait for rain to fall before taking action. Many lightning deaths occur ahead of a storm because people wait until the last minute to seek shelter.

You shouldn’t head out when storms are forecast, but if you are caught on the water during a thunderstorm and cannot get to shore in time, the following tips may help lessen your chances of being struck by lightning.

  • Don’t fish, water-ski or swim.
  • Divers should get out of the water and into a sturdy shelter or boat cabin. If that’s not possible, dive as deep as possible for the storm’s duration.
  • Lower, remove or tie down radio antennas and other protruding devices unless they are part of a lightning protection system.
  • Go to the center of your boat’s cabin. If your boat has no cabin, crouch down in the boat’s center, stay as low as possible, and avoid touching metal. Keep arms and legs inside the vessel.
  • Don’t use or touch electrical equipment, including the radio, except in an emergency.
  • Always wear a life jacket. A lightning strike could render you unconscious, causing you to fall overboard.
  • If your boat has a lightning protection system, avoid contact with any device connected to that system. If your hands come in contact with two connected components at once, lightning could travel through your body on a path through your heart.

If you know or suspect that your boat has been struck by lightning, check the electrical system and compass for damage after the storm.

If someone has been struck by lightning, begin first aid immediately and call for emergency assistance. Lightning victims do not carry a charge and are safe to touch. Check to see if the person is breathing and has a pulse. Begin CPR if necessary. Check the victim for burns—one where the lighting entered the body and one where it exited. –Brian Nelson

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