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I learned long ago from an old successful salesman that the first thing one had to do in a prospective sales presentation was to get the customers undivided attention. So, in an effort to get your undivided attention, I will cite some of the very grim boating fatality statistics from the Florida Marine Police.

For instance, the current 2010 statistics show that most boating fatalities to date are from drowning. The cause of those drowning … nearly 90% were not wearing life jackets when they entered the water. Following are just two examples:

  1. On May 22 a boater fell overboard from a 32 foot contender and drowned.
  2. On May 23 a 14 foot Jon boat was swamped on Eagle Lake with 4 on board.  A 23 year old drowned while attempting to swim to shore.

Many have advised me that they carry life jackets on board their vessel with the idea of putting them on when an emergency arises. Detailed case studies show that boat accidents and capsizing happen so fast that there is usually no time to don a life jacket. Remember the Scout motto: Be prepared. So, wear your life jacket. If not for you, think of your family with you out of the picture.

Now, back to the main subject of this month: Lightning. You will see the lightning before you hear the thunder because sound travels much slower than light. You can determine the distance of the storm by counting one thousand one to five after you see the lightning.  Each five counts tell you that the lightning is about one mile away. If your count shows that the storm is less that 10 miles, you should head for safety since data shows that lightning can strike out 10 miles in front of a storm where the sky may even be clear. The comment that if you can hear the thunder, head inside or for shelter is so true.

I want to remind everyone to be alert, and on the lookout for lightning, one of the weather hazards we face, especially on hot humid days, here in Florida. It is that time of year now when those hot, humid and muggy days sometimes come to an end with menacing, dark clouds gathering on the horizon. In order to make sure that our boating/fishing trip is one that begins and ends safely, we should keep a wary eye on those clouds gathering on the horizon. Boaters should keep an eye on afternoon cumulus clouds in hot weather because they are capable of turning into thunderheads if there is enough moisture in them. If you recognize the changing situation, you may be able to run for safety before there is any danger.

In hazy weather, you may not be able to see the thunderhead forming since haze limits visibility and is ideal weather for a thunderstorm. On such hot, hazy days, you should be alert for static on your am radio, the sound of thunder or the flicker of lightning. On such hot, muggy, hazy days, you should plan on staying close to port so you can run in if necessary.

Lightning is a serious boating hazard. It takes place not only between clouds and the water, but also between clouds and within clouds and usually strikes the highest item around the area. When you are out on the water, you may be the highest thing around for miles. Also, the more frequent the lightning, the more severe the storm.

The best way to escape the dangers of lightning is to avoid it. The more weather-wise you become, the less likely you are to be caught out on the water in a thunderstorm. If you should be caught out in a thunderstorm, each person on board should don a life jacket, if not wearing one already. Next, pinpoint your exact location before the storm arrives because heavy rain will reduce your visibility. Reduce your boat speed and secure all loose gear on or below deck.

Once the storm hits take the first, and usually the strongest, gusts of wind on your bow, not abeam. Try to keep a heading into the wind and approach the increasing waves at a 45% angle that will keep your propeller under water and reduce pounding. Stay low in the boat and keep away from metal objects since a nearby strike could send strong electrical charges into the boat.

You can lessen the danger of lightning damage to your boat by having a grounding system installed if your boat does not have one. A good grounding system neutralizes the difference in electrical potential between water and air and prevents static buildup. This is the same reason farmers put lightning rods on their barns. There are no guaranteed safeguards against lightning. It is very unpredictable and powerful. Therefore, avoid it if at all possible.

Know before you go, pay attention to changing weather conditions, get off the water as soon as you can when lightning is approaching, and continue to enjoy safe boating throughout the year.

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