Vermont, August 01, 2013. Now is the time to be on the Connecticut River. It is easy to be safe and prepared for a day on the water because so many have gone before you and their combined learning experiences allow outing and canoeing organizations to offer safety checklists. Regardless of the source, those check lists are virtually the same and here are a few of the key recommendations
On a day trip, along with ALWAYS wearing you life jacket while in the boat, wear a hat and apply sunscreen. As you start your canoe trip, it is a good idea to check the weather forecast. Tell someone your float plan: when you are leaving, where you are going and when you plan to be back. If you are paddling with a group stay together and designate someone to be the last boat in line.
Always expect the unexpected flip, so have a change of clothes in a dry bag and know how to right your boat. If your trip plan will have you on the water early or late in the day, especially with powerboats around have a light or noise signal at hand. Your canoe should carry a bailer, spare paddle, first aid kit, waterproof matches, your cell phone and last but not least duct tape.
On longer multi-day trips, along with following the day trip safety tips bring along the following: a compass, map and proper footwear in case you have to walk home; a repair kit and maybe a little more duct tape than on a day trip. It is helpful to have some extra floatation devices like a rescue throw bag, floating seat or paddle float and a towrope.
OK, what’s with the duct tape? It can patch a leaking canoe or rain gear: splint a broken paddle handle, in fact be part of a splint for a broken anything; patch torn fabric on your floatation device or seat; in a pinch, it can be a bandage for everything from blisters to wounds and it quickly removes bee stingers.
Watch for weather conditions not in the forecast. If you hear thunder, you know there is lightning. Every bit of advice from government and private sources alike offers the same first safety tip: if you hear thunder, find a safe indoor shelter. Their unanimous opinion is that no outdoor area is safe when you hear thunder.
For those using the out-of-doors well away from structures, because that is where we want to be, there are things you can do to make riding out a storm safer. After offering their number one recommendation, all the advice diverges because where you are determines what to do first.
If you are wading or paddling in a river or lake, get out of the water and start looking for wooded areas with numerous trees of even height or the lowest location away from the water if you land in a field. Stay away from wet items such as canoe ropes and objects that conduct electricity like aluminum paddles, wading poles and graphite fishing poles.
If you end up in an open area and the storm is close overhead especially if you feel your hair stand on end (an indication that lightning is about to strike); you should crouch down, elbows on knees, balanced on the balls of your feet to minimize contact with the ground. Place your hands over your ears to protect against the noise of any close thunder and if you have come from your canoe squat down on your life vest.
If you are on a high area in the landscape, get down hill fast. If you are in an open field, move to a wooded area, NOT to an isolated tree but into a stand of trees of even height. Do not lie down on the ground because you become a larger target. If you do not have an option of getting to a wooded area, go to the lowest place in an open field and squat down on the balls of your feet, on an insulator if possible, elbows on knees and hands over your ears.
Beyond isolated trees, stay away from any tall object including cliffs. If you are camping, do not run to your tent. A tent offers no protection from lightning. If you can get to a safer spot quickly, run to it as the chance of attracting a lightning strike decreases when you move. Keep running until you find a spot that is low on the landscape and therefore less likely to attract lightning, such as depressions or between rocks and assume the squatting position. The current from lightning will travel long distances through any electric conductor so stay away from wire fences.
If the storm is getting close, remember to avoid heights of land, water, pointy shapes, electric conductors and single standing objects of every kind, as they are lightning magnets.
CRWC wishes everyone safe paddling in the Connecticut River watershed and hopes you never have to use any of the lightning safety tips.
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David L. Deen is River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRWC is celebrating 60 years as a protector of the Connecticut River.