LeBlanc: Boats and lightning are a bad combination

Our weather around here in Southeast Texas has been going through a cycle once again that I don't care for. We have been having strong, gusty winds at times that makes the lake look like the Galveston Bay in a squall, and then days of hot dry weather without a stir of a breeze. We've had some pretty potent thunderstorms whipping around and doing some damage and carrying some strong lightning with them.

I have a some thoughts about the cause of the extremes and one is that we are ravaging our planet faster than it can restore itself. Such lack of forethought will not last indefinitely and we will reap what we sow!

Anyway, whatever kind of nut case you may think me to be, the fact that we have been getting a lot of thunderstorms and lightning and from what the weathermen are predicting we're gonna have some pretty active summer weather which will probably run from now through early November. We could even encounter some more hurricanes, but who knows.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the Gulf Coast has squalls, thunderstorms and now and then a hurricane.

I grew up on the coast and have lived most of my days no farther away from the Gulf than I do right now. Of course, there were a couple times I was prompted to depart God's country, like a tour of duty in the U.S. Military and then a while later in a lapse in good judgment I took a job in Missouri. Oh well, we all do stupid things and I don't mean my time in the U.S. Military.

Most boaters have been on the water when a squall or thunderstorm pops up and I hope they had enough sense to get off of the water as soon as possible until it passed.

Though the odds of getting struck by lightening are normally figured to be about one in a million for folks on dry land, if you are on the water in a boat, the odds of it being struck by lightning are significantly higher, about one in a thousand. Now that ought to get the attention of any sane boater.

However, having said that, it is important to note that not all boats are created equal when it comes to lightning. A recent analysis of a ten-year span in the United States shows that certain boats are significantly more at risk than others, so let us see what we know about which once are the most likely to be a target and what can you do if you are caught on open water.

I have been around boats all of my life and my first experience in a boat by myself came at an early age on a homemade pirogue that my father built. He built three boats when I was at home and each was a work of art.

I love sailboats. They have a completely different feel and action that cannot be matched by any kind of powerboat. If you switch a sailboat from wind power to engine power it doesn't even feel like the same boat.

Despite my love for sailboats and assurances of safe methods for handling lightening from people who should know, a monohull sailboat with the masts pointing to the sky have significantly more lightning strike potential than powerboats: 3.8 chances per 1,000 for sailboats, versus a 0.1 chance in 1,000 for bass boats, runabouts, and pontoon boats.

You can also see that larger boats of all types present a larger target and are struck more often than smaller ones. A boat 40 to 65 feet in length has 6 chances per 1,000, while boats 16-25 feet have just a 0.2 chance per 1,000. Now if you Increase the height of a sailboat mast from 35 to 45 feet the probability nearly triples the odds of being hit.

I guess what we should keep in mind is when we are on the water in a boat, take a look around and you will see that our boat is the highest thing around and can act as a lightening rod, so to speak.

To lessen the chance of a strike the best thing to do us run for protection and not remain in the open, so long as you can make it all the way back to shore and take shelter in your car or an enclosed building.

For those folks hung up on electronic gizmos, fish finders, cell phones and most other such high tech items turn it all off and don’t touch them. If you can, remove them and store them down below somewhere. Lower antennas. In an open boat, stay low, and keep your arms and legs inside.

Pull in the fishing lines or wakeboarders early as strikes can occur miles in front of thunderstorm clouds. Listen to the weather reports and learn to read weather conditions. If there’s an enclosed cabin go below to the center. If your boat has a lightning protection system, avoid touching anything connected to it such as a mast.

So folks, the best way to stay away from lightening is like most other dangers, don't put yourself in harms way and use some common sense. Don't get paranoid, but pay attention to the weather before and while you are on the water.

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