Are Aluminum Boats Safe In Lightning?

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If you own a metal boat made with aluminum and alloy, you will certainly be concerned about safety in storms.

The idea of getting caught out during a lightning storm in a metal boat is the stuff of nightmares.

Are aluminum boats safe in lightning?

The answer is no, it is not safe to be out in a lightning storm in an aluminum boat.

The explanation is simple. Aluminum is an electrical conductor. It means that electricity can pass through it, looking for a pathway to the ground.

So if you own an aluminum boat, you should be cautious and avoid open waters when there is a storm. Stay on land until the storm has passed.

However, you should know that all boats are at risk in a lightning storm. This is regardless of whether they have tall masts or not. If the boat uses a sail, it is at more risk than a bigger vessel that doesn’t use a mast.

All boats are at risk in a lightning storm regardless of whether they have tall masts or not.

But what can you do to protect yourself from a lightning strike? What are the vital things you should know about your aluminum boat and a lightning strike?

In this article, we discuss dealing with bad weather in aluminum boats.


Are Aluminum Boats Safe In Lightning?

The short answer is that no, an aluminum boat is not a safe place to be in a lightning storm. The taller the boat (e.g. a sailboat with a mast), the more danger.

But your aluminum pontoon boat is still in quite a bit of danger if the dark clouds and roaring thunder come in.

As a boat captain, it is your responsibility to pay close attention to the weather and to operate in a safe manner. That means watching for storms, and reacting before they arrive. Use a marine radio or other devices to follow the weather, and get back to safety ahead of the bad weather.

Should You Go Sailing when it Rains?

The next question you may have is, should you go sailing if it is raining?

The answer to this question is relative to your situation. Obviously not all rains bring thunderstorms and lightning!

The difference between rainfall with lightning storms and plain rainfall is the type of cloud present.

These clouds are the Cumulonimbus and the Nimbostratus clouds. Let’s look a bit closer at these clouds.

Hey, I see a wolf over there! And there’s a butterfly!

Clouds 101

Nimbostratus Clouds

A nimbostratus cloud is a large and flat cloud that extends horizontally across the skyline. It appears very close to the earth. It covers portions of the sky and is the cause of rain, snow, and drizzle.

If you are boating under a nimbostratus cloud, you have nothing to worry about.

So are aluminum boats safe from lightning under a Nimbostratus cloud?

Yes, they are safe from lightning. Though you still need to worry about wind, water, and fog!

Fishing or cruising in this weather is relatively safe despite the wetness involved. It may cause a thick fog. But if you bring your navigation gear along, you should not have much to worry about taking a direct hit.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

A cumulonimbus cloud is different from a Nimbostratus cloud. If you own an aluminum boat, this is one cloud you want to avoid when there is a thunderstorm.

But, how can you tell if the cloud above is a Cumulonimbus cloud?

The cloud will look like a big lump growing in the sky. And as the lump grows, this serves as an indication that a storm is coming.

If you are on the water in an aluminum boat and you see cumulonimbus clouds, you should take action. Make sure your weather is on and begin to head back to port. Do not wait for the storm to start.

If you are on the water in an aluminum boat and you see cumulonimbus clouds, you should take action. Make sure your weather is on and begin to head back to port. Do not wait for the storm to start.

If you see this emerging weather before you head out, postpone your trip until after the storm has passed.

Before you go sailing when it rains, you should always use the sky to evaluate the incoming weather. If it is a Cumulonimbus cloud growing in the sky, it is unsafe to be on the boat until it has passed.

How can lightning damage an aluminum boat?

Another thing we want to touch on is how lightning can damage an aluminum boat, even if you’re not in it.

The first thing to take note of is that when lightning damages a boat, it leaves a mark to serve as evidence.

If it is a boat that has an antenna or a mast, the outcome will be different. For antennas, the lightning strike will blow them to pieces. But masts will absorb the electric voltage.

If the voltage is too great, it may crack the mast.

As for wooden masts, they stand no change since the lightning will split them like a tree.

Another thing to note is that anytime lightning hits any part of an aluminum boat, it is simply trying to reach the ground through the part of least resistance.

So after making the journey from the sky down to earth, if it doesn’t find such a low resistance path, it will make one for itself.

That is why it cracks open parts of the boat or any object it hits. And once this happens, it will pass through the electrical systems, as well as the grounding wires onboard.

This will also happen even if it is a fiberglass boat!

The consequence of this is almost all the electrical appliances and units onboard will be fried.

Your marine radio, TV sets, antennas, refrigerators, electric cooler, everything will be blown up, just like that.

The fuses will not be left out too.

So after such an event, everything will most likely have to be replaced since nothing may be spared (except hopefully your life, since you wisely were not on board when lighting struck).

Deciding Whether to Sail or Boat in a Thunderstorm

Now you know the different key clouds (nimbostratus and cumulonimbus) and how the latter is the cause of lightning strikes. The answer to that original question, “Are aluminum boats safe in lightning” is easy to answer.

No boat is safe in lighting.

What you should then decide is whether you want to go sailing in a thunderstorm. Or you may want to stay away for fear of having your boat struck.

Our take is that you should wait until after the storm has passed, even if you have to wait until the next day. We arrive at this conclusion for two key reasons.

1. You May Read the Clouds Wrong

You may mistake a cumulonimbus cloud for a nimbostratus cloud. You’ll then head out, only to be caught out in the middle of a frightful lightning experience.

Unless you are an expert meteorologist (which you are likely not), you may read the cloud wrong. That’s not going to be a fun experience.

Even the most experienced boaters make mistakes sometimes.

You can rely somewhat on the weather channel on your marine radio for aid, but even they can be wrong too!

2. Weather Patterns are Ever-Changing

Prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future! Sometimes everyone gets it wrong, and those mild rain clouds turn into torrential downpours. It’s just a reality, especially if you live in an area with a dynamic climate.

So, you may accurately predict rising nimbostratus clouds and then head out to sea, only for the weather to change after a few hours and a cumulonimbus cloud appears.

Lightning is no joke. And being caught up amidst surging waves in a pontoon boat or bass boat is an experience anyone would shudder!

A distant lightning strike may not kill you, but do you want to risk it? Even if things go well, you run the risk of having your entire set of onboard electric units fried with just a single strike.

Read the Room!

Are there any other boats out there with you on the water? Is the marina filled with docked boats and moored sails? If so, maybe that’s for a reason! If nobody else thinks it’s a good idea to be out on the water, maybe you should pay attention.

If you notice the other boats all heading for shore, even if the weather looks clear, there may be something you’re missing!

How Likely Is An Aluminum Boat to Be Struck By Lightning?

So let’s play a game of chance. What are the odds that your aluminum boat will be struck by lightning?

We have heard of blown rooftops of houses and severed trees. For a vessel with a metal railing floating on top of the water, a lightning strike is more likely.

Look, the odds of that happening is very low. The changing weather conditions and your location will increase those odds if you are in the wrong place.

We can only rely on historic data. And what we do know is that there are fewer cases of boats struck by lightning than there are houses struck by lighting.

Of course, there are a lot more houses out there than boats!

There are fewer cases of boats struck by lightning than there are houses struck by lightning.

Some experts argue that structures close to coastal regions are more susceptible to lightning strikes than others in the hinterlands.

So the odds of lightning striking your metal hull is slim. But you still don’t want to test these odds, do you?

Are ya feelin lucky, punk?

So stay away from the sea when you hear thunder at least until after the storm has passed.

What Can I Do If I’m Caught in a Storm?

Crazy things happen, even when we plan our itinerary meticulously. You may start your day with clear, blue skies. And let’s say your angling expedition takes you further from the coast than you anticipate, and a storm appears from nowhere.

What do you do? Here are some helpful tips.

Stay tuned to the Weather Channel on Your Marine Radio

Anytime you are out at sea, the weather channel should be your friend.
Keep your radio on. Tune in to weather channels or stations. They constantly give you a weather report. Pop-up storms will be difficult to avoid. They happen quickly.

Once you get an update, act on the information as quickly as possible.

Stay Calm and Wait it Out

If the storm has caught up with you, there is very little you can do to avoid it, so don’t panic. Kill your engine and electronic equipment and anchor the boat if you can, and wait it out.

While waiting it out, wrap your fishing rods and bilge pumps in a thick cloth or rubber material.

Keep your shoes on, don’t take them off for any reason. This will protect you in case of thunder strike hits.

You should also wrap up large metal objects, metal jewelry, and aluminum mast if you have any onboard.

Mind Your Hands

Mind your hands by keeping one in your pocket while holding onto any static object that is not metal.

Make sure that whatever you are holding is not wet. This may attract electricity which may do substantial damage or minor damage.

Use Non-Conductive Materials

If you have decided to make the journey back to base amidst the storm, use only a nonconductive material to navigate the boat. A piece of wood or rubber since neither is a conductor of electricity. Also, put the throttle in idle mode and lower the antennas.

Bring down any elevated object that is pointing skywards at the highest point.

Talk to the Crew

If you have company, make sure everyone knows what’s up, and what to do. If any crew member suddenly becomes unconscious, perform CPR to resuscitate them.

At this point, you should do all you can to take the boat to land. If you are miles offshore launch a signal flare to alert other boats so they can get the medical attention they need.

Some tips to take in include:
· Get everyone below the boat deck
· Stay away from the boat’s sides and the waterline
· Stay away from the anti lightning system in the boat
· Avoid the boat mast or antennas
· Avoid electric appliances


Are aluminum boats safe in lightning and thunder? No, they are not. No boat is safe in lighting.

Learn to read the clouds and identify rain clouds from storm clouds. Get a marine radio and make sure it’s in a workable state. You need access to the weather! And pay attention to other boaters. If everyone else is headed to the marina, you should too.

All that said, it is highly unlikely that you or your aluminum boat will be struck by lightning, even out in a storm. So stay calm and ride it out.