what happens when lightning strikes water

What happens when lightning strikes water? The majority of coastal residents are curious about this. 

Don’t worry. This blog article will answer this question and discuss the precautions you should take when lightning hits the ocean. 

When lightning strikes, most of the electrical discharge happens at the water’s surface. The majority of fish swim under the surface and are unharmed. Although experts do not know how far the lightning discharge penetrates water, swimming or boating during a thunderstorm is very dangerous.

Keep reading to learn more!

What is Lightning, and How Does It Strike?

lightning in sky

Lightning occurs when there is a massive flash of electricity, whether on the ground, in the air, or between clouds.

Under normal circumstances, the air surrounding our atmosphere is an insulator between the positive and negative charges between clouds and the Earth. 

As more electrical charge accumulates, it becomes more difficult for air to behave as an insulating medium.

When the air’s insulating power fails, a large discharge of electric charges from the clouds towards the Earth occurs, known as lightning. 

The charged regions of the atmosphere are equalized due to the lightning strike.

This will continue until the positive and negative charges build up again, at which point another flash of lightning will release the charges.

Lightning strikes in two ways: intracloud lightning and cloud-to-ground lightning.

intracloud lightning type

Intra-cloud Lighting (IC)

The most frequent form of lightning is intra-cloud, which happens inside a single cloud.

These are bolts that link two oppositely charged sections of a cloud.

Lightning that hops from one cloud to another but never strikes the Earth is known as cloud-to-cloud lightning.

Cloud to the ground (CG)

cloud to ground lightning type

Cloud-to-ground lightning occurs when a bolt of lightning impacts the Earth.

The direction in which electrons move through the bolt determines whether a CG hit is positive or negative.

The most frequent CG lightning is a negative lightning strike, in which negative charges are delivered to the Earth.

Positive CG lightning occurs when a positive charge is delivered to the ground.

Is CG strikes dangerous?

Although positive CG strikes account for around 5% of all CG strikes, they may be significantly more potent and hazardous than their negative counterparts.

Lightning is one of the most ancient natural occurrences known to man. 

Thunderstorms, extreme-level forest fires, volcanic eruptions, strong snowstorms, hurricanes, and surface nuclear detonations are all associated with it.

It often, albeit less frequently, strikes on its own.

Depending on where the electrical charge is concentrated, it may impact either land or water.

How Does Lightning Strike Water?

how lightning strikes water

Most lightning strikes produced by thunderstorms occur inside the cloud itself.

When a lightning flash is expected to impact the Earth (either land or water), a channel is formed from the lightning flash towards the Earth. 

Lightning hits downward via this route.

When lightning strikes within a hundred yards of the ground, the point of the strike throws sparks up to meet the flash. 

Normally, the things existing at the flash’s location would throw sparks up to the lightning flash. 

This is why most lightning strikes land, trees, and things such as shrubs and buildings.

A massive burst of electrical energy is thrown towards the Earth when the growing channel on Earth meets the rising channel.

Why does Lightning Strike Water?

lightning striking water

Lightning seldom strikes water because water bodies lack trees and other towering structures. However, this does not imply that no lightning hits the sea.

One explanation is that lightning isn’t always created by a downward and upward channel joining. 

As a result, similar water bodies may be struck by lightning, but what occurs after that is a different story.

What Happens When Lightning Strikes Water?

We’ve all heard that lightning never strikes twice, but it has disastrous consequences when it does.

When lightning hits land, it may inflict widespread devastation, but what about water? 

Although it is not as frequent, lightning has struck water occasionally in much fewer cases than on land.

Every year, numerous individuals are killed by lightning. Let us look at why there are fewer incidents involving water.

As previously stated, lightning strikes may be tremendously damaging to land.

Water, on the other hand, is a different story. This is what occurs when lightning hits water:

electrical charges water

1. Electrical Charges are Discharged at the Water’s Surface

Before the lightning strikes, a charge accumulates on the water’s surface, just as on trees and structures.

When it impacts, the bulk of the electrical charges is only discharged at the water’s surface, scattering horizontally rather than deep into the water.

Depending on the force of the lightning bolt, this electric charge may travel as little as 10m or as far as 100m or more.

This is why, even though aquatic bodies are routinely hit by lightning, the fish do not perish.

death and health issues

2. It May Cause Health Issues or Death in Humans

The only potentially harmful location when lightning hits the water is the surface.

Swimming on the surface or boating during a thunderstorm is hazardous.

Being struck by lightning is also very painful, even if it does not stop your heart. You’re going to be severely burned.

When you’re in the water, the agony and shock from the blow may render you unable to swim, even though your heart is still pumping.

Because lightning is likely to strike again, people attempting to save you are also at risk.

The destructive consequences of lightning hitting bodies of water include death, many impairments, substantial muscle damage, and various other health issues.

As a result, you must take the proper precautions as required.

destroy boat

3. It Destroys All of the Boat’s Electrical Components

What happens when lightning strikes ocean water?

When the lightning strikes the ocean and a boat is hit, lightning attempts to strike the ground, which is usually the water surrounding and beneath the boat.

Whatever happens to be nearby on the way down is usually destroyed: wind instruments, TV antennae, radar, lights, and so on.

Reasons For the Destruction of All These Devices

Metal is a highly excellent conductor and enables the unimpeded passage of the strike.

On the other hand, wood and carbon-fiber masts may sustain damage since neither is a good conductor.

Fortunately, rigging damage is uncommon. 

Though mast-mounted components are the most likely to be destroyed, any electrical component aboard the boat might be harmed.

In general, if the equipment functions OK after the ship was hit, it was probably not harmed; it’s common for electronics to fail months later.

damage pool

4. Lighting May Damage Pool Equipment

A lightning strike has the potential to damage the pump, the filter, and the heater of your pool.

The strike causes an overload in the electrical circuits, which has the potential to damage the equipment.

How to Stay Safe When Lightning Strikes the Water 

how to stay safe lightning

Here are some water safety rules to remember when thunder and lightning strike:

Swim Deeper Into the Water Body

Coming out if you hear thunderstorms is one technique to avoid being struck by lightning while swimming.

Swim deeper into the water body, on the other hand, to shield oneself from possibly damaging lightning strikes.

Avoid Being Near Bodies of Water

avoid bodies of water

When there is a thunderstorm, avoid being near bodies of water.

When there is a thunderstorm, you must seek cover since there is a high chance of possibly lethal electrical discharge collecting at the water’s surface.

Return to the Pool, After 30 Minutes

The absence of rain, clear sky, and sunlight are not assurances of lightning protection.

Return to the pool at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike or thunderclap.

Check the radio or internet for weather service alerts to ensure everything is in order.

Installed Surge Protectors

Surge protectors may be installed to prevent lightning from harming your pool or if you believe it is another expense that makes pool ownership too costly.

Instead, we propose swimming in public indoor pools, where you will be safe and not be struck by lightning even if it is pouring outside.

lightning water notes to consider

Notes to Consider

When lightning strikes, most of the electrical discharge happens at the water’s surface. The majority of fish swim under the surface and are unharmed. 

Although experts do not know how far the lightning discharge penetrates water, swimming or boating during a thunderstorm is very dangerous.

Even though devices are frequently broken, passengers are luckily seldom wounded.

However, the engine’s electrical system might be destroyed when lightning strikes the water.

This emphasizes the need for non-electronic signaling methods, like flares, if your boat is damaged at sea and begins to take on water, or worse, if someone is hurt.

Final Verdict

What happens when lightning strikes water?

When lightning hits the water, there is no immediate danger unless humans are on or near the surface. 

You are at extreme risk if you swim or boat during a lightning strike.

Because a lightning strike creates an electrical discharge, the further you are from it, the better.

Thanks for reading!