Depending on where you moor or sail your houseboat during the year, lightning is going to be a concern.
Boats moored in Florida, for example, are much more likely to be struck by lightning than in California, but the odds are still roughly one in one thousand chances your boat will be hit.
Whether you are docked at the marina or out on open water, it is essential to stay safe and informed about the potential dangers that come with owning a watercraft during a storm.
Are houseboats safe during lightning?
The chances that your boat will be struck by lightning is 1 in 1,000. However, lightning can cause a lot of damage, and can even harm a person if they are touching metal or near the lightning path during the actual strike. Furthermore, lightning can cause damage to the hull, resulting in leaks and even sinking.
What Typically Happens When Lightning Strikes a Houseboat?
When lightning strikes a boat, the electricity is attempting to find a path down to the water.
It is much more common on sailboats to be struck by lightning, as they have a towering mast that acts as a lightning rod.
Many boat materials can conduct lightning quickly to the water, such as aluminum, but wood and carbon fiber can become damaged, catch fire, or even explode upon contact.
Furthermore, lightning can destroy TV antennas, radar instruments, wind instruments, navigation electronics, and lighting systems on your boat from the electric currents.
Finally, lightning will follow the path of least resistance, and that’s usually metal or a good conductor. If lightning strikes your boat, stay away from – and don’t touch – any metals or conductors that could help lightning travel into your body.
If your boat has been struck by lightning, it is possible that lasting damage, or even permanent damage, can occur.
While it is often considered to be a myth, lightning has been known to travel through a boat and blow a hole through the bottom of the hull. This can create a leak that will ultimately lead to the sinking of your boat if you’re not careful.
Even more, lightning can destroy your controls or electronics if it finds access to those circuits in the boat.
Finally, if you aren’t careful, you can find that there are smaller damages from a lightning strike, such as fried wires or broken light bulbs that can cause injury or other damage if you’re not careful.
Once you know that the storm is over, check out the boat for any damages.
How Often Does Lightning Strike Houseboats?
Lightning will rarely strike a boat.
As we mentioned before, the chances that you could get struck by lightning during a storm is 1 in 1,000.
However, some factors can increase your chances, such as where you moor your boat, the materials your boat is made of, or what kind of boat you have that you are living on.
It is important to keep this in mind when you live on a boat:
Where You Moor:
It is no secret that some parts of the world are more likely to suffer terrible storms than others.
This is why you need to be careful about where you decide to moor your boat.
For example, living off the coast of Miami may mean better scenery, great culture, good food, and sunny weather, but it can also mean hurricane season and significant thunderstorms.
If you were to live on a houseboat off the coast of Alaska, though, you are less likely to get struck by an electrical storm than you are to get stuck in the snow and ice.
So while this may seem pretty simplistic to say, mooring in a place that has many storms each year is going to wildly increase your chances of getting struck by lightning.
Materials Your Boat is Made of:
Lightning is no more or less likely to strike one material over the other, but the aftermath of a strike on certain materials can cause havoc on you and your boat.
As we mentioned before, metals are more likely to conduct lightning quickly and directly through your boat. This can damage electronics and people if they are touching the same metal at the time of the strike.
However, wooden or carbon fiber boats can become twisted, warped, damaged, or catch fire upon impact, as they are not as good at conducting electricity through them upon impact.
If your boat is made of one material over the other, the likelihood that you will sustain damages is going to be higher.
What Kind of Boat You Have:
If you own a sailboat, you are far more likely to be struck by lightning than a flat craft like a bass boat.
Depending on what kind of boat you have, you will need to consider the possibility of being struck by lightning.
If you live on an average houseboat without any fancy masts or protruding objects, you may feel a little better in a lightning storm than someone who is on a sailboat.
Again, though, it is still quite rare to get struck by lightning.
Should you Leave your Boat During Lightning Storms?
Living on a boat makes it a little harder to leave it behind in inclement weather.
Especially if you live somewhere that is more susceptible to large storms and dangerous weather, you can’t always just leave your home each time it looks like the weather is going to turn nasty.
Therefore, it is completely up to the owner of the boat if they want to leave for the night and let the storm blow over – especially if you are already safely moored at port.
Now, of course, this is a case-by-case situation. If a hurricane is coming, LEAVE. If it is a pretty dangerous electric storm, consider booking a hotel for the night.
However, if it is just a regular thunderstorm, you should be alright to stay down at the docks if it makes you comfortable to do so.
Now, if you are out on the water or far away from shore and cannot leave, it is highly recommended that you stay in your cabin and away from metal or electronic devices during a storm.
What do you do with a Houseboat During Lightning Storms?
Deciding what to do with your houseboat during a lightning storm comes down to planning, training, and where you are during the storm.
If you are out on the open water, it is going to be a lot harder to deal with a storm than if you were moored in a marina or a cove surrounded by high trees.
Let’s discuss the different procedures you should follow depending on where your boat is located:
On the Water:
In the event of a lightning storm, it is highly advisable that you head straight for land and try to get to the port.
Out on the water and using the proper instruments, such as the use of a barometer and a hygrometer to measure humidity, you may sense a storm coming way before it actually hits you.
However, storms move very fast over open water and can travel great distances very quickly.
Therefore, when in doubt, head for land.
Furthermore, if you are living on your boat full time and you moor offshore at night, consider keeping land within sight and in easy reach in case of any problems that might occur – even for problems that are not related to a storm.
If, however, you can’t get to shore, it is crucial that you get away from all metal and electronics. Stay in your cabin and not out on the deck of the vessel.
Finally, once the storm passes, try to assess all damages and make sure you have the ability to send a distress signal if the ship is so badly damaged you may sink or can’t call for help.
Moored in the Marina:
If your boat is moored in the marina, you really only have two options.
It is very difficult to pull a large boat out of the marina, and it can be very expensive.
This means that you can’t always run from a storm whenever one hits since they are very common on the water and in places like Florida or the Gulf Coast.
You then will mostly decide if you are going to stay on the boat or if you are going to stay onshore for the storm.
Furthermore, it is important to remove any lightning attractors, such as umbrellas, fishing poles, or anything made of metal that might protrude from the boat, whether you are staying on board for the night or not.
How do you Protect a Houseboat from Lightning?
Protecting your houseboat from lightning requires that you remove anything that might attract it.
If you live on a sailboat, more than likely, there’s not much you can do about the mast.
However, if you have anything metal or tall protruding from the boat that could attract lightning, remove that or store it below decks: this means the radio antenna, fishing poles, or any other devices.
You also want to make sure that you invest in modern lightning protection devices such as grounding plates, or side flash and equalization conductors.
These objects are not proven to always protect you or even prevent a lightning strike, but it is believed that they can help lower damages should a strike occur.
Finally, keep in mind that no amount of preparation can fully protect you from a lightning strike or prevent any damage from occurring. It is, therefore, important to do everything you can, but ultimately you will only be able to hope for the best.
Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.