Boat Gets Hit by Lightning

Nothing gets as much attention as when a boat gets hit by lightning.  Lightning is one of nature’s wonderful spectacles. I am forever in awe and can recall some spectacular lightning shows when sailing. Locations such as the Caribbean’s Mona Passage between the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico spring to mind as my most memorable, actually quite scary at the same time mesmerizing. Florida is considered the lightning capital of the world in a boating and yacht cruising context.  If you are sailing down to Key West or sailing along the Gulf Coast your risks will be higher. Other locations such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, in particular Cuba and Colombia, The Gulf of Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Northern Australia, Western Pacific Islands, West Africa and Central America are all classed as high activity areas. Along the Pacific coast of Mexico, Central and South America they have the infamous chubasco, which are very violent and intense squalls accompanied by much lightning.

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Florida is probably the capital of the world for this so if sailing down to Key West your risks will be higher. On an average year Florida experiences greater than ten deaths and more than thirty injuries.

The odds of a lightning strike on your boat in any single year are assessed at around 1 in 1,000 and this increases to 3.3 in 1,000 in hot spot lightning areas such as Florida. This website gives you real time lightning strike activity around the world, check out this great lightning activity website.

What is also important to note is that some 50% of those deaths and injuries happen to people doing recreational activities, and of that some 40% are water-related, which includes boating, sailing, fishing and swimming.

More than a 1,000 people are killed worldwide annually by lightning strikes, and in the USA, lightning transient damage exceeds 1 billion dollars.  The majority of lightning strikes take place between noon and 18:00 hours.  In Florida some 40% of deaths and injuries are related to water based recreational activities. 

It is said that Java in Indonesia is probably the worst lightning spot on the planet. Some estimates state there are over 45,000 thunderstorms every day and 100 lightning discharge events per second. A leading marine insurance company says they process around 200 lightning related damage cases each year.  Of course, claims have also soared as many boats now have significantly greater levels of sophisticated and expensive electronics. 

When a Boat Gets Hit by Lightning

On a recent summer passage, I was unfortunately hit by a rather unpleasant weather front, accompanied by a great deal of lightning activity all around, and it had me looking at the whole subject again.  The subject is much expanded in the latest 4th Edition of the Marine Electrical and Electronics Bible. 

This has long been a problem for mariners.  As far back as the early 1800's on old sailing ships, the boat builders were installing protection systems to minimize the catastrophic effects of strikes. These methods were essentially based upon the grounding of spars and rigging. 

More than one vessel lost their mizzens and masts along with subsequent electromagnetic pulse related compass problems as a result. Protection systems were also evolved as a response to dissipation of the strike energy.

In the early 21st century, more than 200 years on, the same measures are still valid, even though the subject seems frequently awash in controversy, misinformation and misunderstanding.

What causes a lightning strike? There is a very detailed review in the Marine Electrical and Electronics Bible, 4th Edition. It has all you need to know to understand one of natures great phenomena and all about lightning strike protection and more.

How do you protect yourselves and the boat against a strike?  What to do when a boat gets hit by lightning, boat lightning protection and more.

More useful information on how to design and set up your boat lightning protection system lightning rods and more.

Safety and protection for you and your boat during a storm and all about lightning and more. What to do when a boat hit by lightning.

Lightning Sailboat Strike Protection

It is a simple fact that virtually all marine classification societies and national marine authorities lay down recommendations for protection of vessels from lighting strikes. One good example is The National Fire Protection Association, Lightning Protection Code but relative few yachts owners adhere to them. The ABYC also has many recommendations in their rules, consult Standard TE-4 Lightning Protection.

Strikes cause, along with death and injury an enormous amount of damage in shore installations, in particular in the telecommunications and electrical power distribution industries. Much of the lightning recommendations are predicated on these measures to mitigate strikes however the reality is they don't necessarily translate into the marine world as the environment is very different.

Lightning Sailboat Strike Protection

Do you want more lightning sailboat protection and related boat electrical systems, such as corrosion? This article was extracted from The Marine Electrical & Electronics Bible and this is available through Lightning Sailboat Strike Protection