College Angler’s Boat Struck by Lightning

While practicing for an upcoming bass tournament, the boat of an angler from McKendree University (Illinois) was hit by lightning.

College Angler’s Boat Struck by Lightning

Late in the afternoon on June 21, 2021, while practicing for a collegiate bass fishing event on Lay Lake in Alabama, the boat of McKendree University (Illinois) angler Trevor McKinney was struck by lightning. He and teammate Blake Jackson were traveling at high speed back to the lake access ahead of an incoming storm when the bass boat was hit. Thankfully, the anglers made it back to the ramp safely, and McKinney was checked out by EMS and given the all-clear before leaving the lake. And this is not a misprint: A few days later the duo won the event!

McKendree University (Illinois) anglers Blake Jackson (left) and Trevor McKinney.
McKendree University (Illinois) anglers Blake Jackson (left) and Trevor McKinney.

The Association of Collegiate Anglers staff spoke with both anglers, as well as McKendree University Head Bass Fishing Coach Jon Rinderer, for details of what occurred.

“It was kind of getting dark, and we wanted to run down a little closer to the boat ramp,” said Jackson. “We knew storms were kind of in the area, but not close. It starts raining and we start taking off down the lake. We’re running about 55-60 (mph), something like that. And then it just starts raining, so I duck down in the bottom of the boat and kind of just turn around a little bit so it’s not pelting me in the face. Next thing I know, he’s (Trevor) running, and I just see this bolt of lightning right in my face. It had to either hit Trevor’s shoulder, Trevor’s seat, maybe the pole in the back of the boat — but it was just right there in your face.” 

Both McKinney and Coach Rinderer reported that the shock went through McKinney’s body and exited via his pant seat and out through the driver’s chair in the boat.

“I was just kind of stunned you know,” said McKinney. “It was something that you’d never expect just driving down the lake. Honestly, it felt like somebody shot me with a taser. My body just kind of froze up. For an hour afterwards, I was just kind of shaking.”

According to Jackson, the moments immediately following the lightning strike were intense. As McKinney struggled to come to and recover from the incident, Jackson took control of the boat and safely navigated the pair back to the boat ramp, which was approximately 25 miles away.  Upon arriving at the boat ramp, EMS and other emergency personnel were waiting on shore to provide any needed medical care.

“Before the boat actually got to the dock, EMS was in the parking lot,” said Coach Rinderer. “They got Trevor right in the truck, checked his EKG, heart rate, blood pressure.”

All of McKinney’s vitals came back as normal and he was released there at the boat ramp. At this time, he doesn’t report any further illness or complications.

The week of June 20-26, 2021, marks National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, which was started in 2001 to call attention to this underrated killer.

According to reports from BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files, the odds of your boat being struck by lightning in any year are about one in 1,000. Even so, McKinney has now had two close calls. The recent incident on Lay Lake in Alabama marks the second life-threatening encounter that McKinney has had with lightning while out on the water fishing.

“I was on Kentucky Lake one day, and the same thing happened,” he said. “The dock that we sought shelter in, it probably wasn’t smart at the time, was a metal dock. I grabbed ahold of it to pull our boat up under it. Right as I did, lightning struck. This huge blue light popped the dock, nailed it, and it nailed me.” 

Important note: The storm that affected McKinney and Jackson was still roughly 20 miles away at the moment that lightning struck their boat.

“It was the only lightning bolt that we had seen all day,” Jackson said. “There weren’t any before that, and we didn’t see any after. You know, it never even really stormed where it was at. Out of nowhere that (lightning bolt) came down and it was kind of just one of those freak accidents.”

“I never would have dreamed that we’d of been running down the river and out of nowhere we get struck by lightning,” said McKinney. “It is definitely something that you need to take seriously.”

“It’s nothing to fool with, and it often strikes much further away than the clouds and the intense part,” stressed Coach Rinderer.  “There are a lot of those rogue bolts that come out of nowhere. Don’t underestimate it and get off the water. Don’t wait till the last second, it’s not worth your life.” 

Since the introduction of National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, lightning fatalities in the United States have dropped from about 55 per year to less than 30.  This reduction in fatalities is largely due to greater awareness of the lightning danger, and people seeking safety when thunderstorms threaten. Click here for a brochure on lightning safety for you and your family.

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