Whistle-blowing and flag-lowering at sea or evacuation in an outdoor swimming pool, all lifeguards have the same safety rules in any kind of weather disturbances. But what could happen if, stubborn as a mule, you decided to finish your swimming session in open water despite the warnings? Would you be in real danger or is it nothing more than an urban legend?

Nabaiji explains why following the instructions of the lifeguards is extremely important.

1. What is it?

Many people may have thought they had been hit by lightning when they saw a hottie on the beach, but too few swimmers are aware of the actual risks associated with a real storm.   Even if the phenomenon is rare at the seaside, the risk of a lightning strike in the water does indeed exist and is all the more likely in salt water! Even if the point of impact of the lightning is more than half a kilometre from where you are swimming, you still run the risk of being struck by lightning as the conduction capacities of seawater are considerable. The risk is increased if you are alone in the water and your head is protruding from the surface, which makes you more likely to attract lightning.   So as I am sure you have understood, taking a dip or going swimming in open water when a thunderstorm is approaching your training site is really not recommended!   For a lightning strike, we are talking about an electric current of nearly 100,000,000 volts in a single bolt.

2. How to React?

If by bad luck the weathermen did not forecast that a storm was on its way and you are already at the water's edge, it is important to remember some basic safety rules:

  • Listen to Instructions: Lifeguards or other safety guards around bodies of water are in charge of first aid and prevention. They are professionals trained in all the risks that can occur in, on and by the water.   It is therefore essential to trust them, their advice and their instructions during bad weather such as thunderstorms to ensure your safety and that of all other swimmers or bathers.
  • Calmly Get Out of the Water: Lightning is fond of heights. Consequently, in areas with few high points (trees, lightning rods, etc.) such as beaches, humans, given their size, can sometimes be the first victims of lightning.   Moreover, when leaving the water, it is important not to rush, run or panic, so as not to create an electric current. It is recommended to remain stationary on the ground, curled up in the foetal position.
  • Spread Out: The risk of being hit by lightning can easily be transmitted between two or more persons by the ground. In order not to put yourself in danger, it is recommended for people travelling in groups to stay about three metres apart.
  • Avoid Metal Objects: Obviously, wearing any metal objects is to be avoided (let alone lifting them towards the sky)! As conductors of electricity, they could lead to a bad experience...   On the other hand, if possible, it is advisable to take cover in your car, with the windows closed if it has a metallic body. The bodywork will act as a protective shield (Faraday cage), which will deflect and conduct the electric current to the ground from the outside. The car, a thunder shield!

What About the Fish?

It is of course a given that even our friends, fish, if hit directly by a lightning bolt, would immediately turn into fish fingers. However, and as strange as it sounds, fish sometimes emerge unscathed thanks to the water. 

That can't be right can it?

In reality, most electric currents spread horizontally and not vertically. In fact, when lightning strikes the water, the electric current will be emitted mainly on the surface and not at depth.

If the fish are not on the surface, they will be less at risk of being instantly fried. Good news for them, bad news for us.

Remember, however, that thunderstorms are often very short-lived and rapidly move towards new horizons. So there is no need to bolt off. Take adequate precautions and take shelter in a safe place to wait for the storm to pass so that you can finally enjoy your session in the sea in peace.


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