lightning stikes

So i was out the other day and got caught in a bit of a flash storm, a very common occurrence this time of year around here. It was a pretty bad one - lots of very close lightning (1 second interval type stuff) - so I made a bee line to one of the nearest islands for shelter. However, going to the island, I had to navigate some hefty and dangerous whitewater reef waves, then shallow water rocks and coral requiring me to get off my boat and carry it in over this dangerous rock surface risking getting knocked over by waves and cutting up my feet. lastly, this 'unused' beach was littered with large shards of glass that were diff'c'lt to see in this stormy situation.

So as i sat there waiting for the storm to move on I wondered what was really the safer option in this matter? Going to the island I could have: 1. hulied in very bad shore water conditions putting me at risk 2. risked damaging my boat on the rocks/coral leaving me stranded or 3. injured myself pretty badly on corral/rocks or glass while trying to get myself and my boat to safety.

Of course staying out would have put me at risk of getting struck by lightning which if happened would most likely be fatal. But i still wonder what would technically have been the smarter move? Even though very close lightning scares the #$ out of me, I kinda think that technically, staying out on my boat would have been safer then navigating this dangerous route to safety.

I'm hoping others might have opinions - or even past experiences - on this matter.

Submitted by ocwaddler on Sat, 04/11/2009 - 6:10pm

you gotta check int carbon fiber and see if it conducts electricity well or not

#1 Sat, 04/11/2009 - 7:31pm

Checking the weather report is always a good idea as well...

#2 Sat, 04/11/2009 - 8:11pm

Yes conductive. Fiberglass is not .. the buuuttt to that is you are still sitting in water ... So no need to worry if you should be sitting out there in a glass boat instead. You are still out in the open waving a wet paddle around.

Lightning DOES strike twice.

I have had guys ask me to use glass instead of carbon for paddle shafts since they often paddle far out and about on the Gulf Coast of Florida where this stuff can kick in pretty fast. Don't they use salt water on contact points for executions ?

Side story, You know those banners the guys drag behind the planes ? Well for these guys aerodynamic drag is the killer so they need as stiff and skinny as poss. for the 'leading edge' of the banner. Carbon tube perfect for this ... I make about 8 skinny but thick wall sections about 7' feet long each for the guy. When this guy landed he just 'cut' the banner @ the last minute and it would glide down harmlessly w/o any risk to plane and pilot.

The first time using the carbon tubes time the guy went to pick up the banner but grabbed the tube instead and the built up static charge knocked him straight back on his ass !

Who knew ?

#3 Sat, 04/11/2009 - 8:17pm

But you really don't need to have something metal to conduct the electricity right? trees, etc. get hit all the time. metal just helps right? and are most aikos metal?

#4 Sat, 04/11/2009 - 8:25pm


#5 Sat, 04/11/2009 - 8:38pm

Eh! Onno, No worries, stay on the canoe and head home fast if you scared? Hawaii is not like mainland where the threat of lightning is great. I'm not saying that it can't happen, but the probability of it happening here is less. The only time I've actually seen lightning strike the water, when I was paddling, was during a sunny day, when suddenly a dark cloud appeared, there was a big bright zap, followed by a loud explosion about a mile from me. Talk about being scared? I was shaking all the way back to the beach, and it was a sunny day. How you figgah?
ps: hardly get static electricity ovah here too.

#6 Sun, 04/12/2009 - 8:36am

And for your feet, try these...

I bought a pair after huli'ing in a canal during time trials that was littered with metal and who knows what else on the bottom. The soles are so thin that you get good feel for the foot pedals.


#7 Sun, 04/12/2009 - 8:58am


Whether or not the canoe is conductive, your head will likely be the point that the lightning strikes, and the electric current will pass very easily through any material your boat is made of (lightening strikes are millions of volts)... but I think that getting hit is unlikely. When there is a storm, the atmosphere gets electically charged. Since the ground (or water) is at a different electric potential, an electric current can flow when the potential builds up enough (i.e. lightning). The electric current most easily flows to things that are high and pointed, like a tower or tree (is not exactly pointed, but compared to the ground around it, it is).

As you mentioned, trees get hit all the time, and they are not a very good conductor.

I would think that being in a canoe during a storm, although extremely unpleasant due to all the rain... would be a very unlikely place to get hit with lightning, even if you were in, say, an aluminum boat.

Seated in a canoe you are maybe 3 ft high, and depending on where you are in the ocean, the waves would be higher than you are, so you really don't stick out far enough to get hit.

I would think that you have much less chance of getting hit than a fishing boat or freighter, and I'm not sure how common it is for them to get hit.

#8 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 6:24am

As far as feet protection; one of my favorite purchases this year has been a pair of "five fingers" by VIBRAM. Check out their website. Originally made for free running, they are great for paddling and other water sports.They feel like you have almost nothing on your feet, yet you have the protection to walk on sharp reefs while providing you with comfort and mobility.

#9 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 8:05am

You're right Grov: it is the head that will get hit first, and that's why I don't wear ball caps anymore, since reading a while back, about someone on land getting struck by lightning, which entered via the metal grommet at the top of the cap. I also remember being told to never sit upright in a cave during a storm. Perhaps a lightning rod cap/hat with conductor that terminated in the water may help?

#10 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 10:06am

Agree that you don't want to ruin a perfectly good hat...

For the hat-lighting-rod, I don't think would be a feel-good situation either. You would need a cable that could withstand a 10 kiloAmp current, which I'm guessing would be a heavy cable (might slow you down a bit...) or else the lightning would probably break the wire and then go through whatever else is nearby...

Also, and I'm really an lighting expert, but I'm pretty sure that having a current right next to you go from 0 amps to 10kAmps would create a lot of induced current (in the person). A lot of people get killed when they sit under trees that get hit with lightning.

One solution would be to have a portable "Faraday cage": you could keep it folded up in your Oh-S#@t box and put it around you if a storm comes up. It needs to be a fairly conductive material but I don't think it would need to be very heavy (I could be wrong about this (dead wrong)). Maybe like the mylar blankets they give out at the end of marathons, but this one would be more like a sleeping bag because the Faraday cage needs to go around your whole body. (I know... but they called Faraday crazy too...)

But on the other hand, there are lots of people that survive lightning strikes...

#11 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 11:00am

Does paddling a Mirage protects you from being struck by Lightning ?

#12 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 11:41am

Grov: Statistically, I guess paddlers have a better chance of not being struck by lightning than golfers, even though we're paddling double carbon layup canoes, carbon paddles, aluminum/carbon pedals/iako/rudder/cables, etc. I guess if we want to paddle, we just can't worry about lightning?

Regarding paddling shoes, just bought $22 Speedo shoes at Hawaii Kai Costco, which I'll try out later on the rocks and coral today, when I launch the canoe near bath house.

#13 Mon, 04/13/2009 - 11:50am


I don't know the actual stats for boats getting hit by lightning, but if I were picking a boat to be in during an electrical storm, one low to the water would be the one I picked. There's no mast, and the highest point sticking up out of the water is your head, at maybe 3 ft. That's like a very short golfer walking around, without clubs. (Since the paddling motion is below the shoulder I wouldn't expect this to matter much.)

The metal on the boat doesn't matter (unless it is pointed and sticking up above the surface). Most people think that metal "attracts" lightning", but it doesn't, it just conducts electricity better than non-conductors. Trees aren't particularly good conductors but get hit all the time. Conversely, cars are made mostly of metal, but it's kind of rare (but not unheard of) for one to get hit with lightning.

The bottom line is that just about anything can get hit by lightning, but some scenarios are less likely than others.

Hiro C,
paddling a Mirage will definitely help: you can't hit what you can't see...

#14 Tue, 04/14/2009 - 7:44am

I heard the lightning struck 3 times in 3 years in the molokai hoe

#15 Tue, 04/14/2009 - 8:25am

Tks folks. I figured i should just take my chances and stick it out on the high seas especially as there are a lot of big ships around to attract any stray lightning. I actually quite enjoy rowing in rainy, choppy conditions. Adds a bit of flavour to my usual routine.

#16 Tue, 04/14/2009 - 4:57pm

I don't like it when it's raining. Tropical rain is like buckets of water thrown in your face... at least it's warm water ;-)

#17 Tue, 04/14/2009 - 5:28pm

My brother-in-law got zapped by lightning a few years back. He was driving on a flat grade coming out of the mountains and it struck near the truck (didn't strike the truck). It shut the whole thing off and knocked him out for a few minutes. He woke up drove himself home....waited a couple of hours and finally drove himself to the hospital. His internal body temperature was way higher than it should've been and they had to have him sit in the hospital for a while before they released him. It was like he got microwaved for a bit.

He's "OK" though...tough son of gun. Ironic thing is that he works for an electrical company.

But it just shows it doesn't matter if you get struck by lightning...or what you're in or where you are are pretty much screwed if lightning is around and wants to strike you or around you.

#18 Tue, 04/14/2009 - 5:36pm

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