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Old 09-18-2014   #1
Elkins, West Virginia
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 3
Lightning Plans

Hey everyone, I am curious what you do in the event a lightning storm rolls in. The outfitter I work at and along with the other companies on the river continue downriver for the most part as we are under the impression that being the lowest point in the valley is not that big of a deal. My company specifically will pull over for ten minutes or so to let the storm pass. I am basically trying to piece together a procedure for when I private boat as my paddling partner (my girlfriend) does not want to be on the water with storms in the area. Thanks!

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Old 09-18-2014   #2
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 06
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 57
Good question. Im curious what others do as well. When I guided in PA, the banks of the river were always considered the most dangerous during a storm. One year a group got caught in a storm and eddy to shore only to have a massive branch fall off a tree puncturing a tube, luckily no one got hit. I will try to eddy out in center and hunker down for a little behind rocks if I think it will blast through. But if not, sitting around will just make clients/ girlfriends cold or worse hypodermic. 85% of the time I continue down river, paddling to stay warm and getting closer to warm car/tent and dry clothes.

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Old 09-18-2014   #3
glenn's Avatar
BZN, Montana
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 1,489
Never let your paddling partners becomes hypodermic. Also continue on the boof parade. It's in everyone's interest for both fun and safety.
The sunshine walked beside her
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Old 09-18-2014   #4
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Never worked for a river guide company but most organizations I worked for had people stop and get into "lightning position" if it was within 7-10 miles of us (based on seconds from lightning to thunder). It does seem like every reliable source recommends being away from rocks/caves (they can splinter lightning), the tallest trees and comparatively open spaces. Fighting hypothermia became a problem for long storms. Major thunderstorms are one of the reasons I love ponchos on land as I have found them to be much warmer than suits.

What we do on the river most of the time....keep rowing. Yeah, its less than ideal to be on the water (always some contact with water it seems wether in a bucket boat or SB) but it always seems like sixes compared to shore. When storms sit right on top of us with consistent lightning then we do find shore and hunker down.

In the backcountry it seems there are less clearcut "best" choices and more opportunities to weigh less ideal versus less ideal when it comes to lightning.

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Old 09-18-2014   #5
Andy H.'s Avatar
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,909
I usually stand up on my drybox, shake my fist at the dark, tumultuous skies, as the first fat drops of rain are pelting my upturned face and shout at the top of my lungs, "I ain't skeerd of NOTHIN! Not you, not lightning, not the overrated forces of nature! Man shall overpower and subdue you, wicked Universe!"

Seriously, though, this was discussed here a few years and IIRC and no one could recall an instance when a boater on the river had been struck. My thought is that, as unpleasant and frightening as it can be, floating on the river puts one at the lowest point of the local landscape, and that staying on the river doesn't put you in any greater danger than pulling over to shore, especially if you'll be hanging out under a tree or an overhang. Knock wood...

Does anyone know of an instance when a rafter or kayaker on the river has been struck by lightning? If so, come forth and tell us.


Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
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Old 09-18-2014   #6
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
We also pretty much just kept going, the theory being getting on shore put you closer to trees that seemed to be the most often hit targets.

Once on Gore we were racing for State Bridge, trying to beat a storm and lightning was hitting maybe a couple of miles upstream. I mean, BIG strikes. When the hair on my arms started standing up and I could smell the ozone I seriously thought about getting to shore, but decided there wasn't any place safer there than sitting on water in a (sort of) rubber cocoon. Anyway, the storm passed, we loaded up at State Bridge and discussed the day at State Bridge Bar (RIP) over Jelly Beans and beers.

The consensus was we should maybe look into the proper procedure for lightning storms on the river.

By the way, our practice in camp when lightning started hitting was to elect the "nastiest passenger", help them move their tent to the highest spot in camp and erect (using an oar and some braided wire from the repair kit) a lightning rod next to the tent. We'd tell them the safest thing was for them to stay in their tent until the storm passed.
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Old 09-18-2014   #7
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Originally Posted by Andy H. View Post

Does anyone know of an instance when a rafter or kayaker on the river has been struck by lightning? If so, come forth and tell us.


Never heard of it and a google search provided nothing....other then this gem, which looks made up but I have to post because of a few of the witty replies

"That is quite an oar deal"
"You can't have your kayak and heat it too"

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Old 09-18-2014   #8
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
OK, we're only 30 years late doing our research, but this is what I found;
NWS Lightning Safety Outdoors
  • On the Water: The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with no cabin. It is crucial to listen to weather information when you are boating. If thunderstorms are forecast, do not go out. If you are out and cannot get back to land and safety, drop anchor and get as low as possible. Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels are relatively safe. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces. Stay off the radio unless it is an emergency!
  • Scuba Divers: If the boat you are in does not have a cabin you can get into during lightning activity, then you are safer diving deep into the water for the duration of the storm or as long as possible.
These actions may slightly reduce your risk of being struck by lightning:
  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
  • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
  • Stay away from water, wet items (such as ropes) and metal objects (such as fences and poles). Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances
So I guess the short answer is; you pretty much have to just hunker down and pray, dive to the bottom of the river, or head for shore away from tall trees to camp in a ravine.

(Next; How to avoid flash floods)

Schutzie predicts someone will soon post how they built a lightning protection system for their raft. You know, cause they could.
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Old 09-18-2014   #9
south lake tahoe, California
Paddling Since: 1974
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 95
Mount a 1 iron to your raft, cause even God can't hit a 1 iron.

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Old 09-18-2014   #10
elkhaven's Avatar
Belgrade, Montana
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 1,659
the lighting protection system for my raft is the flag the boat in front of me is flyin'

Yesterday's gone on down the river and you can't get it back. - Agustus McCrae
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