Florida has more thunderstorms--and thus, more lightning strikes--than any other state! Florida averages more than ten deaths and thirty injuries from lightning per year. Approximately fifty percent of the deaths and injuries occur to individuals involved in recreational activities, and nearly forty percent of those are water-related: boating, swimming, surfing, and others.
Those who enjoy Florida's waters certainly should understand the phenomena of thunderstorms--lightning and the precautions to take in order to keep these activities pleasurable--and how to prevent tragedy.
Lightning strikes represent a flow of current from negative to positive, in most cases, and may move from the bottom to the top of a cloud, from cloud to cloud, or most-feared, from cloud to ground. And when the lightning does strike, it will most often strike the highest object in the immediate area. On a body of water, that highest object is a boat. Once it strikes the boat, the electrical charge is going to take the most direct route to the water where the electrical charge
will dissipate in all directions.
Do not become a lightning target. Preferably stay off, and definitely get off, the water whenever weather conditions are threatening. Check the weather. The National Weather Service (NWS) provides a continuously updated weather forecast for Florida and its coastline via the VHF/FM channels WX1 (162.550 MHz), WX2 (162.400 MHz), WX3 (162.475 MHz). Never go boating without listening to this service. Their short-term forecasts are quite accurate, but small localized storms might not be reported. Therefore, it is important that boaters learn to read the weather.
Watch for the development of large well-defined rising cumulus clouds. Once they reach 30,000 feet the thunderstorm is generally developing. Now is the time to head for shore. As the clouds become darker and more anvil-shaped, the thunderstorm is already in progress.
Watch for distant lighting. Listen for distant thunder. You may hear the thunder before you can see the lightning on a bright day. Seldom will you hear thunder more than five miles from its source. That thunder was caused by lightning 25 seconds earlier. The sound of thunder travels at one mile per five seconds. You are two miles from shore. The thunderstorm which is now five miles away is traveling in your direction at 20 miles per hour, which means it could be overhead within 15 minutes. Can you reach shore--two miles away--and seek shelter within that time? You better move!