You can, but you shouldn’t specifically seek it out. Rain rarely comes without wind on the open sea, which can increase your chance of capsizing, though it also brings more ideal sailing conditions for higher speeds and a more exhilarating voyage. Thunder is simply a noise that follows temperature changes in the atmosphere, which may or may not come with lightning activity.
Don’t be a storm-chaser though.
While there is some adrenaline involved, this isn’t to prepare you to head out at the first sign of a storm, but inform you of what could happen and how to avoid it from happening to you.
You need to have a storm strategy in mind before you head out, and be fully prepared in the event of an unexpected hurricane or tropical storm rolling in off the ocean.
You’ll always have plenty of stories to read about skippers who were not adequately prepared and the troubles that they faced.
When you’re prepared, your confidence doesn’t falter, and you kick it into overdrive to navigate the storm successfully and emerge unharmed (with a boat intact).
If you’ve ever wondered about getting stuck at sea, do yourself a favor and skip The Perfect Storm, and prepare yourself for the worst instead.
You can definitely sail in the rain and thunder, so long as all your bases are covered beforehand.
Is It Safe to be on a Sailboat During a Thunderstorm
You can find a thread of sailors saying that their boats have been struck multiple times, or stories about a chain of over a dozen lightning strikes surrounding boats in under fifteen minutes.
Thunderstorms usually come with rain and some heavy winds, so in what way is it safe to travel the open ocean in your sailboat while a thunderstorm is raging overhead?
You can’t command nature, but you can command your ship with enough experience and confidence.
There are three main fears that are most precedent when you’re treading through harsh waters.
Capsizing, lightning strikes, and losing full control of your vessel. It’s not going to be an easy voyage, and having a good friend or two with you to help you control the boat is ideal.
Here’s how you prepare for all three main fears before getting stuck in a storm like this:
It’s the age-old fear of sailors and skippers everywhere, primarily because you’re vulnerable when you’re out on the ocean, and the only thing to prey on that vulnerability is the open water.
The smaller your boat is, the more likely it is to capsize in crazy high winds and large waves, but it also means it’s the easiest to right.
If you’re on a dinghy out in a storm, it’s not going to be a fun time, but your boat isn’t going to sink underneath a harsh wave.
Longer boats will be slightly more difficult to capsize, so long as you have the right amount of crew ready to keep things steady.
This is where your keel comes into play (commonly referred to as a daggerboard).
If you have a bulb or wing keel, you can expect your boat to right itself as ferocious waves knock against the side of it and threaten to bring you down.
These boats can still capsize, but it’s a lot more difficult to do so, and you can still manually right them.
If you’re out in the middle of a thunderstorm, lightning is all around you in the clouds above.
Now, this depends on the severity of the storm, the speed of it, and your positioning, but you’re likely to be stuck in unkind waters for an hour to three hours.
You are the highest point in the ocean, and it is more than possible for your boat to get struck by lightning.
You basically have to secure everything and ride out the storm at the lowest possible point in the boat as possible if there are constant lightning and thunder activity.
It’s beyond unlikely that you would lose control of your boat, because before you head out into untamed waters, you would have a fundamental understanding of your boat, how it works, and how to prevent capsizing or losing control of direction.
You can’t change the size of the waves or the lightning above, but you can take control and use your boat as an extension of yourself to get the heck out of the way.
You can find plenty of horror stories online of boaters losing control, or “broaching” their boats, and experts agree that these issues were completely preventable in the first place.
It’s all about how you handle it.
Understand your own physical power, boating know-how, and the size of your boat in proportion to your abilities before you head out.
Nobody is expecting you to manage a 144 ft yacht on your own, but everyone expects that you don’t get in over your head by solo riding a large sailboat.
Use common sense and everything that you learned during sailing lessons in order to prevent loss of control from ever being an issue.
Can You Get Hit by Thunder on Sailing?
They’re dangerous and powerful acts of nature that you can’t accurately predict.
We can know when thunderstorms and lightning are coming (sort of), but we can’t find out how it will behave.
Thunder is just the roaring sound of air that expands around a lightning bolt, and can follow a lightning bolt’s activity or strike, but cannot harm your boat by itself.
If you’re directly beneath the sound, it can definitely harm your ears, but it’s not going to damage your boat.
That being said, lightning is a very real threat while you are out on a boat.
The reason that lightning rods exist is to be the highest point of contact from the ground (being the closest to the lightning), which means the lightning will strike it first.
If you’re out on the ocean in the middle of a thunderstorm, you’re likely the only one out there, and your boat will be the highest point on the water.
You’re basically a lightning rod in a sea of rubber.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay safe.
Life jackets contain rubber, and will nearly nullify your chance of being directly struck.
Your boat is still likely to be struck, which is why you’ll need to drop anchor (to keep it in the water and a less likely target for the lightning to strike), secure yourself with that lifejacket on, and retreat to the lowest point of below deck that you can.
This will remove nearly all chances of being personally struck or affected by the lightning.
Best Sailing Rain Gear
If the thunder rolls and the waves start sizing you up, you need to be prepared.
There’s five basic pieces of rain gear that you should have with you on your sailboat, particularly if you’re going on a solo trip or you’re just cruising until sunrise.
You’re only bringing so much with you on the boat, so you’d better make it count.
Your small amount of personal belongings would do well in a fully waterproof backpack with a sealable roll down top.
These not only help keep things dry but prevent them from rolling around below deck if the waves are relentlessly crashing against the side of your boat.
You can have a waterproof backpack with an excellent seal, but dry bags are designed for water sports.
These usually come as a single chamber, high capacity backpacks with an external suspension system.
Most times you won’t need it, apart from carrying it to/from the boat, but it’ll do you well.
Dry bags are completely sealable and generally very durable, allowing for stressful situations to arise with no sign of wear and tear after the fact.
Waterproof Nylon Jacket
Nylon is one of the cheapest waterproof materials you could ever have, and it does wonder to create a lightweight, breathable life jacket that keeps you dry when the rain is pouring down.
You don’t want to sacrifice mobility, and with flexible nylon, nothing’s going to stop you from utilizing your full range of motion when you need it most.
Not pants, true trousers that have shoulder straps and a fully waterproof shell.
This is optional, but if you end up swamping or taking on massive amounts of water on deck, they’re going to be a lifesaver.
If the rainstorm is truly ferocious and you have to navigate through it for a considerable amount of time, at least you can do it without having wet pant legs.
Waterproof Boat Shoes or Boots
Traction is one of the most important things that you need to retain when you’re caught in a rainstorm.
If you’re going it alone, you can’t afford to slip and plop into the water, especially when the waves are violently rocking your boat.
Boat shoes are good for casual sailing, but if the rain is heavy, get a pair of non-slip Gore-Tex boots to keep yourself dry, and prevent slippage on deck.
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