Scuba diving in thunderstorms

Lightning strike over ocean at night

Many people find thunderstorms and lightning extremely scary and rightfully so.

However, they are a regular occurrence at many dive spots around the world and as such, you might be wondering if it’s okay to go scuba diving in thunderstorms, whether you can get struck by lightning underwater, and how to be safe on a dive.

Find out in this article!

Can you scuba dive in a thunderstorm?

Plenty of divers have been caught by thunderstorms while diving, however, you should avoid it at all costs. While rain and the wind are not dangerous per se, lightning strikes can cause injury or death. As such, it is best to not scuba dive during thunderstorms.

No, don’t do it. Please. Just don’t. It’s not worth the risk and the visibility will be awful anyway.

Many years back, there was even a small survey on whether people would still dare to dive during a thunderstorm and the vast majority agreed it is much better to just sit the dive out instead.

Thunderstorm approaching
When a thunderstorm approaches, it is best to stay out of the water.

Can you scuba dive when there is lightning?

It is not safe to scuba dive when there is a lightning storm. Although lightning does not usually hit objects underwater, it is very dangerous to be at the surface where you can be hit. Stay out of the water during lightning to avoid accidents.

You can also check out this interesting study on the effect of a lightning’s pressure blast.

Dangers of lightning for scuba divers

The biggest dangers of lightning for scuba divers in particular are:

  • Electrocution at the surface
  • Burns from the electricity
  • Ear and hearing damage from the pressure wave (even underwater)

There are also several other injuries from lightning, however, they are not specific to in-water activities like scuba diving.

Here is an incredible video of a group of scuba divers witnessing a lightning strike underwater. It happens around the 22-second mark and you can hear that they are obviously (and rightfully so) afraid.

What to do when you’re caught diving in a thunderstorm?

Sometimes, you might get surprised by a thunderstorm or have no way to evade it (for example when you’re on a dive boat). In this case, here are a few things you can do when caught in a thunderstorm as a diver:

  • Get out of the water immediately
  • If you are in a small boat, crouch down in the center away from metal railings
  • Keep arms and legs in the boat
  • Lower down or protrude the radio antenna
  • On bigger boats, get inside and stay there
  • Technical divers only: If you have a rebreather or a lot(!) of gas to decompress, it can be the safer option to stay underwater and wait for the storm to pass

Do fish die from lightning?

No, fish do not usually die from lightning strikes, as the electricity does not penetrate deep enough to hit them. The chances of getting struck by lightning underwater are even slimmer in saltwater, however, there have been rare cases of fish getting electrocuted in shallow freshwater wells.

You can also check out this fun little graphic from the NOAA website, how the charge disperses at the surface and does not penetrate the water.

How to prevent getting caught by lightning as a diver

The key to avoiding accidents during thunderstorms is thorough dive planning and sticking to “better safe than sorry”. Here are some best practices to avoid getting hit by lightning as a diver:

  • Check the weather forecast shortly before a dive
  • Do not enter the water during a storm
  • Stay away from beaches, small boats, and other open vessels
  • Do not hold on to metal conductors (equipment pieces, metal rods, railings)
  • Do not stand in puddles of water
  • Do not wear dripping wetsuits

If you are with a group of divers, ensure you follow lightning safety guidelines, like the ones published by the United States Lifesaving Association.

Lightning strike
Lightning is indeed dangerous.

What to do when somebody got hit by lightning

In case of a lightning strike on a person, here are some immediate first aid measures to follow:

  • Ensure scene safety (victims do not carry an electrical charge and can be touched)
  • Follow local protocols for trauma injury and triage. If necessary, safe, and appropriate, move the victim to a safe place away from the threat of another lightning strike
  • Summon an ambulance as needed according to local protocols
  • CPR and/or AED may be necessary
  • Heart irregularities, shock, or sudden loss of consciousness are possible. Keep the conscious victim calm and monitor closely

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