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Old 05-15-2013, 12:39 PM   #1
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Lightning Strikes on Electric Boats

I'm curious about the implications of a lightning strike on an electric boat...safeguards in the system?
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Old 05-15-2013, 03:29 PM   #2
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Whiplash?
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Old 05-15-2013, 03:45 PM   #3
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I would rather be on Reuben's Sunshine in a lightning storm than my Cal 40 with 55' aluminum lightning rod sticking up.
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Old 05-15-2013, 03:45 PM   #4
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Having been aboard a Huckins in Lake St. Clair one summer she was struck by lightning, I still know nothing of this amazing force of nature. My feeling is if you gather a group of "experts" in a room, there will be as many ideas as to lightning protection as there are persons. Some like to attract the lightning - others like to try and keep it away - others like to ground it - others like a field of grounds surrounding the boat at the waterline.

I know nothing!
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Old 05-15-2013, 04:13 PM   #5
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The newest theories about lightning protection for boats is that the airborne charge is trying to get to the surface of the water which has acquired the opposite charge. Therefore, you want a lightning rod that is tied to a waterline ground.

Most boat manufacturers choose the ignorance route. I have talked to many manufacturers who believe that fitting a lightning protection system to their boats somehow increases their liability. Whereas, if the vessel has no lightning protection system and they never make any claims regarding lightning protection, then they cannot be held liable. Seriously flawed thinking in my mind is that it shows a total disregard for the safety of their customers.

The safest place to be in a lightning storm at sea is a submarine. The second safest is in a metal boat, provided the mast is tied to the hull. I would not frequent high lightning strike areas in a fiberglass boat without a lightning rod tied to a water-plane ground.
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Old 05-15-2013, 04:36 PM   #6
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You know more than I, Portager!

How many persons are injured per year due to lightning strikes on boats? It is my understanding, lightning tends to wipe out electronics (that's what happened to us in Michigan) and perhaps a few circuits.

Like you say, the "newest theories..." Maybe someone here is an expert?

I recall being told to ground my standing rigging with a chain led to the water in a wooden ketch I lived aboard - never did get struck by lightning - never did rig a chain.

I've seen those wire brushes sold that are fitted high in the rigging. I have no idea what they do?

But, you're right - as a builder, why should I try to solve a problem for which there is no consensus on the solution - and if it did end up in a court of law, each side could produce expert witnesses - one saying the builder did the right thing - the other saying he did not.

I feel it is up to the owner to outfit his boat in a safe manner, not mine. And I feel lightning protection is part of his purview. Like life-rafts - EPIRBs - handhelds - paper charts - seamanship. Not my job. My job is to engineer and build a safe boat for its expected type of cruising. Not to protect from every contingency. Should builders put in flotation in case the boat gets holed?

I'd be curious how many builders include lightning protection as standard outfitting?
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Old 05-15-2013, 04:51 PM   #7
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Whiplash?
But from acceleration or deceleration...
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Old 05-15-2013, 05:06 PM   #8
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I'm not sure about injuries, because most boats that are hit are unoccupied, but according to BoatUS Lightning! Flash, BANG! Your Boat's Been Hit - Now What? - Seaworthy the chances of a boat being hit in florida are 3.3 boats per thousand per year.

Here are some more stats fer ya, "Not surprisingly, the majority of strikes are on sailboats (4 per 1000), but power boats get struck also (5 per 10,000); Trawlers have the highest rate for power boats (2 per 1000) and lightning has struck houseboats, bass boats, and even PWCs."

To my knowledge Ewen Thomson, from the University of Florida (I think) is the most renowned lightning researcher. Ewen Thomson has and is working hard to establish standards for lightning protection.

You're right about incorporation of lightning protection when there isn't an excepted standard. Blame that on ABYC. Your life boat analogy is a little different though. Most people that venture off shore know they need a life boat. However, most people think that the manufacturer designed lightning protection into their boat and the brochure does not say that lightning protection is the owners responsibility. Also, lightning protection is much easier and cheaper to incorporate during the build than it is to add as a retro-fit.

I'm not picking on you, at least you willing to discuss the issue. I picking on all the builders that sell boats without lightning protection and the buyers that are too ignorant to know that they need it. O, and while I'm busy throwing people under the bus, lets add the insurance companies that should require lightning protection on boats instead of just blindly paying insurance claims. We are all paying for that (or at least those of us that have boats)!

I am now backing down off my peach crate. Sorry for the interruption.
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Old 05-15-2013, 05:13 PM   #9
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If a manufacturer added "lightning protection" to a boat and it didn't work (which is a virtual certainty) he would be sued out of existence before the smoke cleared.

Far better to not even mention it.
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Old 05-15-2013, 05:43 PM   #10
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I wish there was an ostrich emoticon with it's head in the sand and lightning hitting it in the but...
or better yet a lawyer

That what the legal verbiage in fine print is for. Lawyers get paid good money to write that BS. It would be far better for a manufacturer to incorporate the best lightning protection available with no written or implied warranty of lightning protection than to bury their head in the sand and pretent the problem does not exist.
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Old 05-16-2013, 08:02 AM   #11
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Porteger: you say it yourself: Ewen Tompson is working on a standard. Until there is a standard, doing anything as a manufacturer is a lose/lose. One can't blame ABYC - there is no consensus among experts. If there were a consensus AND standards that the products liability insurance companies supported, I'm sure you'd see builders incorporating lightning protection as standard - like air bags in cars.
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Old 05-16-2013, 09:47 AM   #12
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That is a chicken and an egg argument, but it just doesn't hold water anymore. There are lightning protection standards; ABYC TE4, ISO 10134 and NFPA 780 Ch. 8 (pre-2008). They work pretty good they just aren't perfect.

Builders on land have known how to protect buildings from lightning for over a century. Proper lightning protection is built into every building and is required by building code in every country in the world that has building codes and wire brushes do not comply.

The only issue on boats is how to tie the lightning down conductors into the ground plane to prevent side flashed. Also, side flash are only an issue in fresh water.

The standards exist so there is no excuse for ignoring the problem. There is also nothing keeping a builder from exceeding the minimum standards. Go to About MLP and do a little research. You will see that it is a science and no longer black magic. Some boat builders are providing lightning protection so the egg has been cracked. Now builders that are ignoring the problem are actually increasing their liability.
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Old 05-16-2013, 09:59 AM   #13
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Why do boats need lightning protection, and if so how designed for each vessel? An age old question and as R Trane says much more complicated than a shore based system. To whit:
  • Does protection if you are at the marina offer the same protection as compared to cruising and vice versa?
  • How about when you are on the hard?
  • How about if you are anchored with an all chain vs rope rode?
  • How about salt vs fresh water?
  • Why worry if you cruise in low lightning areas?
The list is endless and the answers not the same. For sure though, an all electric solar boat cruising in the lightning capital of NA- Florida - could prove interesting if struck
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Old 05-16-2013, 12:56 PM   #14
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It would be far better for a manufacturer to incorporate the best lightning protection available with no written or implied warranty of lightning protection than to bury their head in the sand and pretent the problem does not exist.
Everyone knows the potential for a lightning strike exists, that is pretty much a given. No one is pretending it does not exist so strike that statement please.

If you can describe the "best lightning protection available" you might become a prizewinning fiction writer or a multi-millionaire. Best for what kind of boat where in what atmospheric and environmental conditions? Just making the statement that the boat is built with "lightning protection" implies that it is "protected" to some degree and if it ever got hit by lightning the manufacturer would be stuck with a bill for every new electronic device on the market at the time. Heaven forbid anyone got hurt.

What degree of "protection" do you propose? How would you measure the level at which it failed to "protect" vs what level of "protection" is provided by the "best lightning protection available?"
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Old 05-16-2013, 01:41 PM   #15
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Everyone knows the potential for a lightning strike exists, that is pretty much a given. No one is pretending it does not exist so strike that statement please.

If you can describe the "best lightning protection available" you might become a prizewinning fiction writer or a multi-millionaire. Best for what kind of boat where in what atmospheric and environmental conditions? Just making the statement that the boat is built with "lightning protection" implies that it is "protected" to some degree and if it ever got hit by lightning the manufacturer would be stuck with a bill for every new electronic device on the market at the time. Heaven forbid anyone got hurt.

What degree of "protection" do you propose? How would you measure the level at which it failed to "protect" vs what level of "protection" is provided by the "best lightning protection available?"
I posed the original question as it relates to an all electric boat...not one with alternate technology propulsion such as diesel. In addition to lightning, I wonder about hail. Taking reasonable precautions to make the design robust seems prudent and logical if one wants to market such a boat. Different than making a declaration that the vessel is lightning or hail proof. But so far, I'm getting the sense that designers simply ignore the issue.
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:32 PM   #16
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I'm getting the sense that designers simply ignore the issue.
With no more malice or misfeasance than the way designers ignore earthquakes, tsumamis, waterspouts, breaching whales, or icebergs.

Though, I have the gut feeling a lightning strike on a state of the art electroboat might lead to a sudden release of smoke and very long term loss of propulsion.

That lovely charging system for the latest Li battery technology probably wouldn't respond well to a massive EMP.
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:34 PM   #17
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Why do boats need lightning protection, and if so how designed for each vessel? An age old question and as R Trane says much more complicated than a shore based system. To whit:
  • Does protection if you are at the marina offer the same protection as compared to cruising and vice versa?
  • How about when you are on the hard?
  • How about if you are anchored with an all chain vs rope rode?
  • How about salt vs fresh water?
  • Why worry if you cruise in low lightning areas?
The list is endless and the answers not the same. For sure though, an all electric solar boat cruising in the lightning capital of NA- Florida - could prove interesting if struck
The most authoritative source on lightning statistics in the USA is NOAA NWS Lightning Safety Resources and Links as a summary in;
2012 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light12.pdf there were 28 lightning fatalities, 3 boating 10.7%,
2011 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light11.pdf there were 26 lightning fatalities, 0 boating, 0%
2010 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light10.pdf there were 29 lightning fatalities, 2 boating, 6.9%
2009 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light09.pdf there were 34 lightning fatalities, 2 boating, 5.9%
2008 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light08.pdf there were 28 lightning fatalities, 3 boating, 11.1%
2007 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light07.pdf there were 45 lightning fatalities, 2 boating, 4.4%
2006 http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/light06.pdf there were 47 lightning fatalities, 2 boating, 4%

So over a 7 year period there were 14 fatalities to people on boats from lightning. The reason that boats need lightning protection is because most of these 14 fatalities could have been prevented with adequate lightning protection. Of all weather related fatalities, lightning fatalities are the easiest to prevent.

Dr. Ewen Thomson is a renowned authority on lightning protection. His web site Marine Lightning Protection Inc. provides details on how to design and install a lightning protection system (I won't repeat all his information here). They also provide consulting services Consulting if you don't feel comfortable designing your own lightning protection.

Does protection if you are at the marina offer the same protection as compared to cruising and vice versa? Yes, a properly designed lightning protection system installed on the boat will provide the same level of protection in the marina and cruising.

How about when you are on the hard? When your on the hard the the electrodes should be connected to grounding devices similar to your home lightning protection system.

How about if you are anchored with an all chain vs rope rode? That should not make any difference. When a charge builds up in the clouds and opposite charge is drawn to the surface which created the potential energy that causes the discharge. This is why side flashes occur the maximum potential is between the sky and the surface of the water. The anchor is going to the bottom where the potential is actually lower.

How about salt vs fresh water? Because salt water is a better conductor that fresh water the side flash is less common in salt water than fresh water.

Why worry if you cruise in low lightning areas? If you only cruise in an area with very low lightning strike incidence http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/..._1997-2012.png then you can go back to burring your head in the sand.

The list of answers is just an long as the list of questions.

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Originally Posted by RickB View Post
Everyone knows the potential for a lightning strike exists, that is pretty much a given. No one is pretending it does not exist so strike that statement please.
Well that is a start. I was referring to builders that choose to pretend that the risk of a lightning strike does not exist. I think that if you asked most boat buyers they assume that boats are equipped with lightning protection.

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Originally Posted by RickB View Post
If you can describe the "best lightning protection available" you might become a prizewinning fiction writer or a multi-millionaire. Best for what kind of boat where in what atmospheric and environmental conditions? Just making the statement that the boat is built with "lightning protection" implies that it is "protected" to some degree and if it ever got hit by lightning the manufacturer would be stuck with a bill for every new electronic device on the market at the time. Heaven forbid anyone got hurt.

What degree of "protection" do you propose? How would you measure the level at which it failed to "protect" vs what level of "protection" is provided by the "best lightning protection available?"
Once you have read Dr. Ewen Thomson web site Marine Lightning Protection Inc. I think the majority of your questions will be answered. When I first started my career in the aerospace business I was a rocket propulsion expert. One of my jobs was to assure that the launch facility meet the companies safety requirements. I significant part of this involved evaluating the lightning protection system at the launch pad to assure that the rocket, missile or launch vehicle was not struck by lightning. The principals that were used on launch pads were identical to what Dr. Ewen Thomson proposes except the grounding rods that were driven into the ground are replaces by electrodes at the waterline.

This isn't black magic that nobody understands. This is application of scientific principals that have been known and understood for over 100 years.
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:52 PM   #18
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It looks like we have found something to replace "fuel polishing systems" as a must have in order to sleep at night.
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Old 05-16-2013, 05:52 PM   #19
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So over a 7 year period there were 14 fatalities to people on boats from lightning. The reason that boats need lightning protection is because most of these 14 fatalities could have been prevented with adequate lightning protection. Of all weather related fatalities, lightning fatalities are the easiest to prevent. This isn't black magic that nobody understands. This is application of scientific principals that have been known and understood for over 100 years.
I am of the opinion that in areas where I boat my risks from a lightning strike are nil as opposed to death by drowning, fire, lost at sea or malfeasance on the part of me or other Captains (or cruising Carnival).

My work related lightning mitigation challenges have been considerable with rooms of experts from the power companies, EEs and large motor and transformer vendors seldom in 100% agreement. It seems a tricky subject, especially at 5300 meters in the lightning common Andes. But I would never claim to be an expert on this or any other subject for fear of embarrassment when meeting a real one.
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Old 05-16-2013, 05:52 PM   #20
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Portager has a good point and making light of it doesn't change that. Electrical and electronic systems on aircraft routinely undergo lightning analysis and testing....at a test facility, of course. The test and analysis methodologies are well understood. That's not to say I'd support lightning tests for every little pleasure boat that comes along. But I would have serious concerns about an all electric cruiser style boat that is designed with no thought to the threat. I have yet to encounter tsunami, earthquake, whales, etc. on the Great lakes....occasionally an iceberg...but lightning and hail are another story.
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