Category: weather safety

Waterspouts: What to Do If You Spot a Spout



When a tornado is on its way, most have the common sense to get out of its way or seek shelter. Unlike hurricanes, the warning period before a tornado strikes is minutes instead of days, leaving people little time to prep and reach safety. As boaters, as much as we fear the wrath of hurricanes, waterspouts, much more akin to quickly-developing tornadoes, are another natural threat that every boater should know about.

What You Need to Know About Waterspouts

  • Not Quite Tornadoes: Though they may look similar, waterspouts form over water and are usually less intense than tornadoes. That being said, waterspouts can make landfall and develop into tornadoes.   
  • Two Types: There are two distinct varieties of waterspouts: fair-weather and tornadic. Fair-weather waterspouts are more common than the tornadic variety and far less powerful. As you may assume, fair-weather waterspouts can form without intense storms powering them.

    Tornadic waterspouts, however, can contain winds up to 100mph, making them as strong as an EF1 tornado. These are formed when warm waters meet cooler air and form a vortex.

  • Safety Suggestions: As we said before, waterspouts are pretty unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t warning signs. Keep your radio tuned to NOAA Weather Radio and keep an eye on forecasts to steer clear of any potentially dangerous storms. If you spot a funnel cloud or fully formed waterspout, navigate away from it.

    Though these natural wonders may be a sight to see, never forget that they can seriously damage your vessel and cause injuries. If you cannot navigate away from the vortex, get yourself and passengers below deck after taking down sails and closing hatches. Once the waterspout has passed, you may put in a mayday call if necessary.

Though the Florida Keys are the hotspot for this extreme weather phenomenon, waterspouts can occur as far north as the Great Lakes. Before you hit the water, check the weather forecast and steer clear of dangerous storms that can spawn tornadoes and waterspouts. Stay safe, watch the skies, and have a great time with the ones you love.

Where There’s Thunder: Boating Safety Tips for Lightning Storms

boating safety tips

The summer is on its way, and with it, sunshine, pool parties and, unfortunately, the danger of lightning for boaters–a bummer, we know. However, there are three simple boating safety tips that can help you steer clear of potential risks. When the thunder starts rumbling, do you know what to do?

  • When in Doubt, Don’t Head Out: This one’s pretty simple but worth reiterating: if bad weather is forecasted to hit when you plan on being on the water, adjust your plans. Though some regions see thunderstorms nearly daily, they can often be predicted and scheduled around.

    Remember that many summertime thunderstorms, especially in the southeast, tend to come in the afternoon. Always check the latest forecasts and current weather conditions before and during your trip to stay well out of the way of dangerous lightning strikes.
  • The 30-Minute Rule: If you hear thunder while boating, seek shelter inside of your vessel if it is enclosed. Immediately stop swimming, tubing or doing other activities in or around the water and don’t resume them until there has been a break in the thunder for at least 30 minutes. Also, avoid touching metal surfaces and never use your VHF unless it is an absolute emergency during a lightning storm. 
  • Boat Lightning Protection: Lightning rods, also known as air terminals, can be installed on a boat and wired to a ground plate that would connect to and help insulate other metal objects on the vessel. During a lightning storm, you can protect your electronics by storing them in an onboard microwave, which will act as a Faraday cage–a container that, like a car, will protect whatever is inside of it from lightning.

By keeping track of the weather, following the 30-minute rule and protecting your boat before hitting the water, you can help reduce the risk of dangerous lightning strikes. Though getting struck by lightning is generally a rare occurrence, this is one force of nature you do not want to take your chances with. As always, stay safe, avoid those summer thunderstorms and have a great time while on the water!