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Florida Severe Weather & Boating

Lightning  On The Water

With an average of 1.4 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each year, no other state in the country experiences more lightning strikes than Florida. Lightning is very dangerous and can travel as far as 10 miles from a thunderstorm! So while it may not be raining at your location, lightning can still reach you. The key to remaining safe from a lightning strike is to keep an eye to the sky and watch for darkening skies on the horizon along with distant rumbles of thunder.

The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with NO cabin. It is crucial to listen to the weather when you are boating. If thunderstorms are forecast, don't go out. If you are out on the water and skies are threatening, get back to land and find a safe building or safe vehicle.



Boats with cabins offer a safer, but not perfect, environment. Safety is increased further if the boat has a properly installed lightning protection system. If you are inside the cabin, stay away from metal and all electrical components. STAY OFF THE RADIO UNLESS IT IS AN EMERGENCY!

If you are caught in a thunderstorm on a small boat, drop anchor and get as low as possible.   Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels are relatively safe. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces. be sure to put on your Life Jacket.


Rip Currents

Year-round warm weather and abundant sunshine attract millions of people to Florida to dive, snorkel, swim, ski, fish, cruise, or sail each year. Fair weather and fine seas treat Florida beachgoers to very agreeable conditions most of the time. However, weather and water can change rapidly. Dangerous rip currents, waves, lightning, and waterspouts are among the marine hazards facing anyone who enjoys Florida’s beaches. Rip currents are especially dangerous to swimmers because they can pull unprepared swimmers away from shore and into deeper offshore waters.


Waterspouts and Thunderstorms

Waterspouts are tornadoes over water. But scientific work over the last 30 or so years has led to a more complicated picture with waterspouts differing in some ways from tornadoes over land, especially large ones. Waterspouts and all the different kinds of tornadoes have a similar basic structure with air moving upward. At the ground or ocean surface, winds are rushing faster and faster as they swirl into the vortex and then upward. Often with both tornadoes and waterspouts, the vortex is seen coming down from the cloud, but not obviously touching the ground or ocean. Such vortices that don't seem to touch the ground are called "funnels" or "funnel clouds." Full Article

Before you go boating, get a marine weather forecast. The National Weather Service issues marine broadcasts when thunderstorms are in an area, which includes a waterspout watch or warning. Boaters should never go out when thunderstorm conditions exist because of the dangers of wind, lightning and waterspouts. While you are boating, listen to NOAA Weather Radio which will provide the most current weather warnings. If you are already out and hear a warning or see black clouds piling up, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible

If you do get caught in a storm, or otherwise spot a waterspout, try to get away from it by driving your boat at right angles to it. If it is bearing down on you, put on your lifejacket if you aren't already wearing one. Then, try to protect yourself from any flying debris, which tends to do the most damage.

Waterspouts  occur more frequently in the Florida Keys than anywhere in the world.Waters around the Keys, especially from Marathon past Key West on westward to the Dry Tortugas, probably see 400 or 500 waterspouts a year. Since they are so common, most go unreported unless they cause damage.


Any boat in the water should be secured in a snug harbor (don’t even think about riding out the storm at sea unless you’re the skipper of an aircraft carrier). The trick is deciding which harbors will be still be snug if a hurricane comes ashore and which will be vulnerable. Storm surge—high water—is a major consideration. A storm surge of 10’ or more is common in a hurricane, so a seawall or sandy spit that normally protects a harbor may not offer any protection in a hurricane. Crowded, rock strewn harbors are picturesque, but they may not be the best place to keep your boat in a storm. Rocks are hard on boats, should yours break loose, and in a crowded harbor the chance of another boat breaking loose and banging into your boat is that much greater. Finally, what is the bottom of the harbor like? If you plan to anchor, check your charts to see how much water your boat will be anchored in. The best anchoring is usually in sand, followed by clay, hard mud, shells, broken shells, and soft mud. Also, water can sometimes be blown out of the harbor, leaving boats stranded briefly. If this happens, your boat would rather settle onto anything but rocks. More Information