ON THE WATER WITH HOBIE: When Lightning Crashes

While the calendar may be pushing toward fall, we are still in the heart of hurricane season. A recent storm rolled through, and a buddy of mine’s dock took a direct lightning strike. It left his Hobie Adventure 16 incinerated. It slapped me in the face and told me it was time to revisit the weather safety issue.

Photo courtesy of Joe Kaminski
Photo courtesy of Joe Kaminski

While this is a column directed towards the kayak-fishing community, it should provide anyone who spends time on the water some helpful reminders to help keep you safe and alive.

As kayak anglers, we realize we need to pay more attention to fast-moving storms than our powerboat counterparts who can hop on plane and stay ahead of the nasty stuff. We usually only travel a limited distance from our launch, so we need to always remind ourselves that no manufacturer has produced the 50-mph, self-propelled option (yet). It is important to remember a quick-moving squall can come out of nowhere and be on top of you in a matter of minutes.

No matter how fit you are, pedaling or paddling back to a launch 2 miles away at 5 mph will still take about 25 minutes. This is a race you do not want to make a habit of trying to win, as it only takes one bolt of lightning to spell disaster.

On average 100 people are killed by lightning in the U.S. each year. Another 600 or so are injured by lightning strikes. While it is usually a freak occurrence, a single bolt of lightning can travel as far as 10 miles from a cloud. On average, the Rule of five usually works. In essence, you can gauge the distance between yourself and a thunderstorm by counting the seconds between the lightning flash and thunder clap then dividing by five. Basically, if you hear thunder about 10 seconds after a flash, the storm is around 2 miles away. As a general rule, if you can see the storm clouds and can hear more than just a grumble, it’s time to start heading back to the launch.

Today’s technology is a true blessing when it comes to safety on the water. With your smart phone you can add apps that will help you plan how far you want to travel from your launch site and when it’s time to return home. If spending a couple of bucks is not an issue, I would select RadarScope. Even though it has a one-time $9.99 price tag, this app has meteorologist-quality, up to the minute weather tracking in high detail. If you are looking for a free app, turn to WeatherBug, which has real-time lightning detection and all the other basic weather needs to make sure you arrive home safely after a day on the water.
Pedal Safe.


John “JD” Donohue is a proud member of Hobie Kayaks Pro Fishing Team and can be reached at hobiefishingteam@gmail.com.

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