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Old 21-07-2007, 16:09   #1
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was hit by lightning today

Took a lightning hit to the top of the mast this afternoon. Simultaneous flash and thunderclap in driving rain, followed by my masthead tricolor splashing into the drink to starboard. About a second later my windvane lands in the cockpit, in pieces of course.

In assessing damage there were some things expected and some unexpected.

Fried Electronics:

On board stereo
VHF radio
VHF antenna
Solar panel charge controller
Windvane
Masthead Tricolor
Mast running lamp

Surprisingly, The list of Electronics which were Not Fried:

2 cell phones on the salon table, both of which were on.
Handheld GPS, with me in the cockpit which was operating.
Canon Rebel Digital camera in the salon, which was switched off.

Electrical connectors on both the Stereo and VHF radio were melted. Interior breakers had popped.

The real mystery is I know where the voltage came onboard.... but where the heck did it exit?? No obvious cracks in the hull at the waterline when I examined her back in the slip. When still underway, I pulled all the bilge panels and examined the interior hull in detail and it looked perfect. No water in the bilge. Also, there is no obvious darkened track left by the lightning.

Have I checked everything?
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Old 21-07-2007, 16:21   #2
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through the bottom of your keel - electricy seeks GROUND - you need a diver (or yourself) to go down and find where it exited. Hope you have insurance. You can about count all conductors as toast. Radar? interior lights? Batt charger/inverter .. even the batteries themselves.
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Old 21-07-2007, 17:05   #3
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Rick,
Make sure to have your engines checked. The lightning can go out the shafts/saildrives and leave welding slag in the engines/trans
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Old 21-07-2007, 17:06   #4
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Wow, Rick, you have been having your trials lately. Keep your head down...
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Old 21-07-2007, 17:52   #5
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Pat,

I was running with engines at the time of the hit, and kept motoring all the way back to the marina, about 2 hours running time.

Keeping my head down......
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Old 21-07-2007, 23:12   #6
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It was probably that new zink bolt!
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Old 22-07-2007, 02:48   #7
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Mate, who did you piss off?
Note that what didn't fry was not connected. So you have had a high voltage flow through your DC power system. I imagine the strike hit your wiring in the light at the top of the mast and not the mast itself. You may need to check the wiring running inside the mast has not been damaged. As the wiring is ultimately earthed to the engine, Pat is right in that the exit could be via the propulsion gear. Take note of any noises that may not have been noticed before. It is probably fortunate that you were under power at the time, as Gears and bearings would all be under load and coated in oil, so voltage would have easily transfered through. If the gear box was stationary, then gears and more importantly bearings would have been vulnerable to arcing damage.
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Old 22-07-2007, 04:33   #8
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I think we can safely assume that the mast wiring is toasted. I don't know about the cabin wiring. When I reset the breakers, all of the cabin lighting worked great. I obviously have to inspect it closer today, but it may be toast as well.

As for the lightning exit.... Having slept on this, I'm leaning towards the idea that the high voltage was in the DC wiring and stayed there, just as Alan and Thomas suspect. If that's the case, it definately exited through the P-strut bolts and/or the propeller shaft. I inspected both areas yesterday before I left the boat and they looked fine. Incidently, I wasn't shocked at all, and I was bare footed standing at the helm on a rainsoaked cockpit deck.

I'm heading down to the boat as soon as the sun comes up for a closer inspection.

CSYman, hang on to that charge controller, as I'll need one on Monday!!
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Old 22-07-2007, 05:00   #9
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One other comment on rigging. My boat has 2 forestays, 2 backstays, a pair of uppers and a pair of lowers. In all there are six 1/4 inch wires holding up my deck stepped mast. Yet if what we suspect is true, high voltage ignored the metal mast and all the wire stays and instead remained inside the DC wiring. This seems to contradict everything I've read on the subject and because I live in Florida, I've done a fair amount of reading on the subject. Granted, none of the stays have a direct path to ground, but the backstays aren't more than a couple of feet off the water. In fact, if they were bonded, I still wonder about this as the boat DC wiring has to be grounded and might still offer a less obstructed path to ground.

So much for the faraday cage argument.

Heading for the boat now...
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Old 22-07-2007, 05:07   #10
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Awww... Rick! I'm glad to hear you're ok. That's just too much stuff going wrong in one week.

Good to see you are having a positive attitude and not letting it get you down.
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Old 22-07-2007, 07:03   #11
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Rick-
As Wheels notes, it should be no surprise that the UNWIRED devices survived. Dont jump to too many conclusions though.

"I still wonder about this as the boat DC wiring has to be grounded and might still offer a less obstructed path to ground.

So much for the faraday cage argument."

The purpose of a Faraday cage is to prevent jumps, flashovers, and induction damage. In your case the air gap between the wiring and the devices was big enough--but if the charge had been stronger, or the devices closer to some wiring--they might have been fried by a flashover or induction surge.

On DC wiring, there is quite a lot of dissent about whether it should or should NOT BE grounded, as in bonded to the grounding system. There's also room to think about installing lightning arrestors (i.e. spark gap devices) in some of the wiring, and for doing some odd things like keeping the VHF antenna physically disconnected and grounded when the radio is not in use--or at least, when the wx looks like it might include lightning.

It could be that the strike came down the nav light wiring and/or the radio antenna cable, and then spread out to "better" paths. The coax may also be internally damaged, and every bit of wire in the boat is now suspect until cleared.

Check the batteries, the zap must have gotten into them too.
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Old 22-07-2007, 07:13   #12
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Rick, I do not think you got the direct hit. As you mast is standing on the deck it is electrically isolated from the water. Electrical current goes always the least resistive path. I would speculate that the charge went in different direction than we think. I think that direct hit would do much more damage to your boat and you would be blinded by the lightning for a couple of seconds. If like you said that the metal connections to your radio and VHF were melted the current would melt other parts of your boat too especially tiny wire connections like antenna cable (18AWG?) and circuits inside your radios. Your electronics and all connected to DC navigation equipment would be fried together. However, we know very little about this phenomenon as it is very unpredictable.
I would suggest that you disconnect all equipment and check every circuit insulation separately using appropriate insulation tester.
Let us know how your investigation is going.

Chris
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Old 22-07-2007, 07:42   #13
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we never found the exit path from our hit last year. I believe it dissipated in the batteries, as it blew all of the acid out of the batteries. But after all the grief and months of dealing with it, we now have all new stuff . From autopilot to radios to GPSs, basically all instruments and lighting
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Old 22-07-2007, 11:12   #14
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Well, I can add a solar panel to the list of fried electronics. There are a couple of blocking diodes in my Siemans panel and at least one of them is toast.

Rodz, I'm not so sure exactly what happened. I felt no shock or discomfort which would seem to indicate I was caught up in a side flash of some sort. On the other hand, everything on top of the mast ain't there anymore and much that was connected to DC wiring suffered damage.

It's a boat!
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Old 22-07-2007, 12:09   #15
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Before and After lightning strike mast photos

Before





And After


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