by Des Ryan
The USA's Mississippi River is the latest body of water to attract a lightning strike on a boater. The boater was a good Samaritan trying to assist members of the Alton Fire Department who had responded to a distressed boat attempting to reach the dock when he was hit. He had leapt from his boat onto a nearby dock before the lightning struck. Miraculously he survived to report, 'It was the worst pain ever'.
lightning strike over the Mississippi - 'the worst storms I've ever seen' - photo by Ryan Smith
The incident occurred at the Alton Marina in Illinois during a series of storms that hit the area.
The Alton Fire Department responded to a call of a capsized boat at a little after 7 p.m. Saturday and found a boat in distress on the Mississippi River near the Marina.
Another boater, Kraig Hinson, on another boat which had already reached the wharf, witnessed the distressed boat and was attempting to assist the first responders from the docks of the marina when lightning struck nearby. Alton Fire Department responders observed electricity from the lightning strike transfer through the railings Hinson was close to and through Hinson.
Hinson walked by himself back to the marina office and received medical attention from the responders. He initially refused to be transported to the hospital, but told them he would go on his own.
'I went down and tried to assist with the rescue and I probably should have just stayed in my boat,' Hinson said. He described the sensation of the indirect lightning strike as, 'the worst pain ever. It went through me and I felt dragged into the dock railing.'
Several firefighters from the Alton Fire Department witnessed the electricity course through Hinson.
'I’ve had a boat here for five years and this is one of the worst storms I’ve seen,' Hinson said. 'We just pulled in before the storm started. When the fire department came down, I was extremely worried for my friends. We had a hard time getting in.'
Caught in a thunderstorm? - a few tips:
Lightning deaths and injuries to boaters are on the rise, mainly because there are more boaters that make good targets. Indeed, out on the water you are a good target.
It is generally agreed by those who have experienced a lightning strike on their boat that, while it may be prudent to install lightning deflectors, in practice the power of a lightning strike can be so powerful it will jump large distances and destroy all metal equipment in its path.
Turn off all your electrical gear and put gear like a GPS and your mobile phone in a microwave if you are lucky enough to have one.
In larger boats where you have any kind of structure around you, be it a cabin or just a Bimini top, you have a fair degree of safety. Fortunately, injuries to people IN boats are very few as you have a cone of protection around you. It is best to stay as much as possible in the middle of the cabin during the worst of the storm if it's possible.
People in open boats are most at risk. The potential for injury increases if you have wet, bare feet. So, no matter the size of the boat, wear rubber-soled shoes.
If you have hydraulic steering in your boat, and most boats do these days, you needn't fear holding the metal steering wheel. There is an exception however, and that is if your boat has copper hydraulic lines. In that case, holding the wheel puts your body directly in a ground path. Mostly, only larger and older, and especially Oriental built boats will have copper lines, so it's best to check on the material.
Things to avoid holding onto are Bimini top frames, ladders, towers and large railings.
Particularly keep your distance from radio antennas which are real lightning rods. Lower them as a storm approaches. Keep passengers in the cabin. By all means, keep your hands off the radio mike; holding it is like strapping a lightning rod to your body.
In an open boat one is very vulnerable and there is not much you can do to avoid being a target except to avoid standing up.