Cuda the boat dog

Cuda, a very protective Labrador, is always on alert for potential threats at sea, especially dangerous lightning. You should never try to use a cat as a lightning detector on a boat.

Predicting the weather in the Florida Keys can be a daunting task for boaters, especially when they are planning a trip and want to avoid running into dangerous summertime lightning storms. Unfortunately our intense sun and high humidity can combine to heat up our islands and surrounding shallow waters, creating updrafts which are capable of spawning sudden unexpected severe localized thunderstorms.

Thankfully my dog, Cuda, is an amazing “lightning detector.” His innate K-9 abilities allow him to sense changes in barometric pressure and his keen hearing allows him to pick up the first clap of thunder … usually long before the storm clouds even begin to threaten our location. The cowering look in Cuda’s eyes and his heightened nervousness clearly serves as a pre-storm indicator, so I know it is time to pull up anchor and “run away bravely” … so he can once again hide in the safety of our bathroom!

For those of you poor souls who don’t have a dog on your boat, I would highly recommend investing in a mobile lightning detector. This essential technology just might save your life and a simple entry level lightning detector can be bought for about the price of a case of chum. These detectors will monitor the environment for radio/electric lightning impulses, and notify you when lightning is moving into your area by signaling with a flashing red light, as well as an auditory beep. In addition, they will provide you with an estimate of your current distance from the lightning-storm while also keeping a running count on the number of strikes.

For wretched sailors who don’t have a dog or lightning detector on-board, but are boating in a location where you are still receiving signals from a cell tower, you may want to periodically check your cellphone, so you can monitor for the development of lightning throughout the day. There are numerous apps/sites on-line designed to provide you with up-to-date lightning data. I personally like the Weather Bug “spark lightning map,” as it provides an easy-to-use graphic.

For mariners heading way offshore, I would suggest you consider adding a satellite weather system to your GPS unit (if your budget can swing it … as there is also a monthly subscription). This technology provides vital satellite precipitation and lightning information, and there is nothing like real time lightning icons flashing on your GPS screen to get your attention.

I have seen firsthand the damage a bolt of lightning can inflict (up to 300 million volts and 40,000 degrees of heat) on a human body, and this experience certainly convinced me of the need to use extreme caution when there is lightning in the area, especially when your boat becomes the tallest structure on the ocean! If you are out boating, and you suspect there is a chance of impending lightning developing in your area the first thing you should do is immediately stop fishing and stow away all of those “personal lightning rods” and then head for a safe location (like your bathroom).

Due to environmental influences, lightning detectors may have some inherent limitations (well, except for my Labrador Cuda … he is always 100% accurate). And as a result, this technology may not be able to pick up every lightning strike. So a smart sailor will always keep an eye on the sky (and their dog) while venturing out on the water!

Capt. Pete Peterson welcomes comments and suggestions sent to