by Kealy McNeal
SW Florida is extremely hot during the summer months, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. It is important for paddlers to stay aware of the sky. Storm fronts can move in quickly, leaving you in a dangerous situation if unprepared.
If you hear thunder while paddling, immediately start heading to shore. Your vessel is the tallest object on the water, making you vulnerable to lightning strikes. Once you have reached land, and depending on where the storm is, you might need to leave your gear on the beach and seek shelter. Always remember that safety comes first - your gear can get wet and will most likely be there after the storm has passed.
If you can’t safely paddle back to your vehicle or seek shelter in a building, try to exit the water anywhere you can. Do not shelter under tall, isolated objects like trees or poles. Instead, look for a dense group of trees or shrubs of a similar height. If no shelter is available, separate yourself from others that might be in your group and minimize your contact with the ground - don’t lay down. Avoid objects that conduct electricity, including many paddles.
It is always a good idea to check the radar before you get on the water, so you can plan accordingly. While you are on your phone checking the weather, call or text someone your float plan. Include information about where you are paddling and when you plan to return.
Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the local paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.