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Old 09-10-2006, 07:43   #1
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Struck by Lightning/seeking advice

My sailboat took a direct hit to the mast by lightning at approximtely 9 am one morning about two weeks ago. I notified my insurance company within the hour and they had an adjuster out to inspect the damage the same afternoon. Needless to say the boat sustained a great amount of damage to electronic instruments, gadgets, masthead gizmos and electric circuitry. There was and still is no indication that any thruhulls were damaged, as determined by no leaks after two weeks. Last week the adjuster ordered an inspection of the electrical system and a technician with a firm that does boat electrical system installations and repairs came to the boat to inspect damage. So far, so good. I asked the adjuster if he intended to have the boat hauled to inspect the damage. He said no. I have two questions at this stage of the situation. #1-Should I insist upon a haulout to check the bottom? (one friend said a lightning strike could result in paint blistering that was not detectable with just a scuba dive inspection) If I should insist on the haulout, what arguments should I use in my favor to counter the negative attitude of the adjuster? I would appreciate any advice.
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Old 09-10-2006, 10:28   #2
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Underwater inspection should reveal any problems

If any trapped moisture was heated by the lightning current outside the hull a diver should be able to see any blistering. Inspect carefully around the thru-hulls and around the pintles and gugeons and where the rudder post enters the fiberglass of the rudder.

More likely is a cracked or blown-out depth sounder transducer. If the outside of the transducer shows any distortion then it must be replaced. If no visible damage is observed make sure to take the boat into a depth known for the sounder to be able to read and note that no degradation in ability to read a known bottom exists else replace the transducer and perhaps even the sounder.

You may discover damaged gear for many months unless you carefully check everything. For example, I found that the speed control for the sewing machine was destroyed although the machine itself was fine.

Look at every lamp and LED indicator of every electric item aboard. Check every electrical item even though not connected to anything at the time of the hit. Items merely in the vicinity of the expanding/contracting magnetic field of the hit may be damaged.
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Old 09-10-2006, 12:21   #3
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To add to Rick, if you have a through hull Transducer, hit it with a big hammer ;-). The fact that the Transducer has to be replaced will ensure your haul out, in which you can then check the hull :-)
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Old 09-10-2006, 16:57   #4
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Yeah .... what Wheels said ... heck, I can tell that transducer is bad from here! :-)
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Old 09-10-2006, 18:22   #5
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I went through this a few years ago myself. If your eletronics are out, unless the equipment is brand new, then you will probably need to be hauled anyway. In most cases, if the instruments are fried, you will need to replace the depth sounder transducer, because even if they are not damaged, you cannot reuse the existing tranducer with the new instrument. I went through this on my boat. I wanted to keep the old depth sounder transducer if at all possible since swapping tranducers meant a whole lot of fiberglass work. Even though the old transducer may have been working, and was from the same maunfacturer, that manufacturer said that the old transducer was not compatable with the new instrument.

BoatUS who was the insurer, preferred to replace anything that was questionable rather than wait for it to fail later since they had found that these questionable additional items typically showed up later anyway and at that time were more expensive to repair in a second round of repairs rather than when the boat was originally apart.

BoatUS agreed to do work, that the surveyor had originally questioned the necessity of. For example, the new instruments required different sized holes in the bulkhead. The yard and I proposed glassing the old holes shut, awlgripping the bulkhead and installing the new instruments. The surveyor suggested installing plexiglass cover over the bulkhead and drilling new holes in the plastic. It would have left a structurally compromised, Swiss cheese of a bulkhead with a piece of plexiglass hiding the holes. The price difference was not all that large, and BoatUS agreed to the more expensive fiberglass repair agreeing with my case that the strength of the main bulkhead would be compromised.

I don't know if this helps you at all but if you are working with BoatUS they have an adjuster named Georgeann Broth who really seems to understand lightning strikes and who within reason was very sympathetic towards working with me to make the boat whole again.

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Old 09-10-2006, 19:22   #6
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Speaking as an adjuster... If there is any indication at all that there is damage to anything below the waterline, a haul out should be covered. Of course, your insurance company might not see it that way. Industry standard is that if there is no indication of damage that would require a haul out, it can not be included in the initial appraisal. However, If you haul out, and you find damage from the lightning, the haul out would then be covered. Again, I will say your insurance company might be different. If you haul out, and do not find any damage. You are stuck with the bill for the haul out. True, the determination of whether the boat needs to be hauled out is subjective, and most adjusters that actually handle boat claims will show good judgement. If you choose, in the interest of your own piece of mind, to haul out at your own expense, you will ultimately benefit be knowing if there is or is not damage. If it were my boat, I would probably haul out regardless of what the insurance covered.
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Old 09-10-2006, 19:27   #7
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When I got hit we hauled the boat and also pulled the stick. Everything was inspected. I had "treeing" (burn marks) at all the thruhulls and at the gudgeon and pintle but no holes, not even tiny ones. The insurance company insisted on trying to repair the electronics before replacing them, a step which cost them even more. It took nearly a year to get everything fixed. The bottom should definitely be inspected. Your rudder might have a few holes in it which wouldn't result in water in the bilge but surely would require repairs. I don't know if a diver might not miss some burns or cracks in the hull. I would want it hauled.
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Old 09-10-2006, 21:35   #8
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This time I will be seriuose. IMO if a surveyor makes silly recomendations like what happend with Jeff, he shouldn't be a surveyor. Secondly, The insurance company shoudn't use him, unless they want to cut corners of course. If it aint done right the first time, it bites "someone in the end. Hopefully it is the insurance company.
Electronics hit by lightening are throw away IMO. I have learn't that from a lot of experiance. You may fix it, but I can bet on it that the unit will fail again in some other area. Fix that, and it will fail yet again. I have found units that had IC failure six months later. Why did I attribute that to a fault of lightening strike? Well when you do a lot of one particular type of electronics, you see a common failure pattern and then you have area's that were usually "bullet proof". It would never fail in that part of circuitry. But after a lightening strike, you could have uncommon failures for months to come.
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Old 09-10-2006, 22:33   #9
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The lightening had to exit the boat to ground SOMEWHERE and SOMEHOW. Typically it is the deepest part of the boat where it exits to ground. It typically fries everything on it way through. This would include ANY thru hull transducer even if it didn't use that as the exit point. Since the sounding transducer is typically embedded into the hull, it requires the boat be hauled to remove/replace it.

The wiring in your stick is probably fried. You'll have to pull the stick too.

Good luck. oh.. and remember, MOST marine insurance is replacement cost - not prorated for age.
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Old 10-10-2006, 06:26   #10
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Many thanks to all who replied. I am going to call the adjuster this morning and discuss the situation in detail. The information learned here should be of great help. And BTW regarding the exit point of the electricity: I had some grounding gizmos attached to the lower part of the mast that probably directed much of the electricity overboard before it went below (as determined by scortch marks on the gizmo and at the attachment point on the mast of the main gizmo). The gizmo is a self-made knockoff of one available for sale on the internet made by a Canadian-based company. It is a 8"x6" copper plate formed to the curvature of the mast that I had strapped to a point low on the mast. Sauttered to the plate was a 10 foot length of #2 copper cable which was sauttered to a weighted 1 1/2" x 3 ft. copper pipe and led overboard. I also had a battery jumper cable alligator clipped to each of the upper shrouds and led overboard. This much copper probably diverted a good bit of the electricity but obviously not enough keep from damaging most of my electronics and blowing fuses all over the boat. I also have a grounding dynaplate that probably sent some of the electrons off the boat. I normally do not hang the grounding cable overboard but only do so if I have good advance warning of an approaching severe electrical storm as we did that morning and am near the boat. I fabricated it to use when at sea or at anchor and not at the boat slip. Regarding the use of such grounding devices. One of my concerns prior to making the grounding gizmo, after reading much on the subject, was that the better grounded the boat is then the better chance it may have of attracting lightning. If I hadn't strapped it on then maybe I would not have been hit. The top of the mast has one of the little brushes at the top; a so-called ionic dissapator. I've heard those little gizmos are of questionable value also. Anyway, thanks again for all the great information. Whatever the outcome, my planned winter cruise to Central America is postponed from our original November 1 departure. C'est la vie (or in the words of Forrest Gump, "stuff happens.")
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Old 10-10-2006, 10:47   #11
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Joe-
If your adjuster doesn't think a haul is necessary, ask him what will be cheaper. A haul, so you all can look at it, or a diver spending maybe two hours closely examining everything under the hull and taking pictures to document it and show it to you.
Betcha the haul is cheaper.<G>

Keep a close eye on your bilge pumps, a lightning strike can cause thousands of pinhole perforations below the water line if it has exited there.

Every inch of wiring and electronics on the boat is now suspect, including the engine harness. The engine block and compass may have been (re)magnetized, too. Lightning can arc weld things (freeze up things you wouldn't think to look at, or melt masthead sheeves) as well as burn out the electricals, so you really want to inspect EVERYthing up close and personal.

Very few adjusters would want to invest that kind of inspection time in any project. Before you sign off on the settlement check, see if they'll make the settlement "final" or if they'll allow for further recovery on extra "hidden damages" that are missed the first time around. Sometimes they'll say no--but you can always ask them "would you rather pay for an all-day survey with an electrician, mechanic, and surveyor looking at every inch of every system, or just agree to cover things we might miss in a shorter cheaper survey for 90 days after?"
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Old 10-10-2006, 12:44   #12
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To "Earth" or not to "Earth" is the big question debated for years, and both sides have valid points. I don't believe anyside has the ultimate answer. We also have some great discussion here on the CF if you care to do a search.
One major argument is, does a well Earthed boat attract lightning? The answer is yes, but there is just as much chance of a strike for a none-earthed boat. Remember, the strike has just traveled many miles through air, the last few feet of the boat is nothing.
One thing that IS known, there is a "leader" that comes up from the ground first, and this allows a path that the return current follows to ground. What is not clearly known yet is, does a well earth object high in the air act as a leader? allow a leader to form from the top of it? or have no affect at all. It was once believed that lightning would go to the closest point. So a mast head would be a prime target. But it has now been proven that objects at height don't neccesarily get hit first. In fact, it has been seen in marina's, that sometimes the mast that is lower than others tend to get hit. Another famouse incident that made scientists scratch their heads was a woman recieving a direct hit in the lower stands of a stadium. Why did it single out her when there were people much higher up. So although there can be some basic truth to lightning following electrical theory, sometimes it seems to not want to follow the rules as we can "see" them.
So the next theory for us to follow would be as you have done. Create a path to get as much current to ground as you can. And it is possible that you have managed to do so. The reason why you lost the electronics could be stray currents, but also most likely due to other voltages being setup in wires running through your boat, due to the massive electromagnetic field created by the huge current in the air. This current is transposed to any other conductor. And that includes conductors inside equipment, so the unit does not have to be plugged in. The best remidy to protect equipment is to place them inside a metal box and the box MUST be earthed for currents of this madnitude. Some use the oven, but the ovens are not usually earthed.
Let us know the outcome, it will be interestign to hear the result of the damage.
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Old 10-10-2006, 15:24   #13
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Hellosailor: Tanks for the input urging me to be extremely thorough. And thanks for mentioning the ship's compass located at the helm. I had not thought of that instrument and it has not been checked. I will do that at my first opportunity.
Wheels:Thanks for the update on some of the theory regarding lightning strikes. Yes, I have read that objects do not have to be directly wired to the object that is struck by lightning to be effected. Induced current by the strong electromagnetic field or something of that nature damaged my boat approximately 3 years ago. In that incident my boat received damage to certain circuits from a strike to the mast of a boat about 40 yards away and damaged the GPS, a circuit board by the nav table and one of the 10 wires in the radar cable. In this present incident I was conderned about hand held GPS and VHF units that I have on board. They were stored in a wooden locker near the nav table and inside soft carrying cases. I have checked them out and they appear to be working. I will be glad to pass along the results as I learn about them; both the electrical ones and the insurance companies handling of my claim.
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Old 20-01-2007, 23:25   #14
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Any further updates on this subject, particularly from alaskadog.
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Old 11-04-2007, 08:45   #15
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so, for a new sailor in a Potter 19, is it worth it to get lightning 'protection?' Especially since I sail in S. Florida...lightning capitol.
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