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Old 16-07-2012, 14:15   #1
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Emergency Squall Procedures

When I was learning to sail on the Hudson River (in club 420s), the instructors used to make the kids do a drill called "emergency squall procedures". The point was to drill with what any two-person crew should do in case they were caught away from port in a storm. The procedure involved the crew heaving-to, dropping the mainsail, putting the boom in the water (as a potential lightning conductor), and covering themselves with the limp mainsail. Fortunately, no one in that sailing school has ever had to use this for real.

Fast-forward a few years. I'm sailing my father's J/24 on the river in the Tappan Zee area, between Ossining and Haverstraw, with two of my good friends. The nice thing about this area of the river is its calm nature - very rarely do we have major storms that cause damage to boats on the river. We were sailing home after a short day trip of about 5 miles, when I noticed that a major storm was bearing down on us. The boat was already overpowered with the 130 Genoa, and the wind was stiffening to about 20 kts. We heard tons of thunder and saw a few flashes of lightning in the distance, so I decided we should not try to sail through and instead should find a safe place to ride out the storm. By this time it had begun to rain quite hard - water was pouring off of the mainsail. We dropped our sails and threw out the anchor just off of a peninsula that juts out into the river, giving us some protection. Remembering the procedure from sailing school, I decided to take our spinnaker pole, which was already on deck, and put one end in the water with the other end still on the mast ring (on the J/24, the boom does not reach the water over the gunwales). WE hunkered down for about an hour and rode out the storm, and thankfully we were not hit by lightning.

I am wondering what you guys think about what we did and whether you have any similar experiences with electrical storms. I have been doing a little reading and have seen several stories of boats being hit by lightning, but most of these were when the boats were at the dock and had no physical grounding. In all cases the electrical systems were fried and in some cases the high voltage even burned large holes in the hulls of fiberglass boats. However, I have not found any stories of people who have more direct experience. Is the emergency squall procedure worth it on the little boats? Would my procedure have provided any significant protection if we had been hit?

Just some electrical reference about the boat - The mast and spinnaker pole are both aluminum and the boat is equipped with a minimal electrical system - nav lights, cabin lights, and that's about it. None of it is hooked up or working, being currently under repair. There are two wires from a light halfway up the mast all the way down to the mast seat on the inside of the hull, which has a metal plate that the mast sits on. The standing rigging and all the deck fittings are bolted through the deck and there are no deck fittings that connect the deck and topsides. There is no lightning protection system onboard.

Lightning and Boats
This is one interesting perspective that I found online, but of course it's only one

Another interesting link.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Old 16-07-2012, 15:51   #2
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Re: Emergency Squall Procedures

I don't think anyone can prove having the pole in the water helped or not.

Living in west central Florida I have been in a few thunderstorms. Some say it is the lightening capital of the world. It's either one or two though.
I had a 18' mono and had wire clamped to the fore-stay and shrouds trailing in the water. It was the "wisdom" of the time. Sailed in a couple and was anchored in a couple. Never got hit. I guess that proves it -- NOT!

Had a Gemini 105Mc in a couple - no wires but had the drive leg down in a storm and lightening struck or was pretty darn close cause I got a pretty good "jolt" that made me not want to ever test a tazer.

Who knows what is next.
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Old 16-07-2012, 16:11   #3
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Re: Emergency Squall Procedures

Down here in Panama we have heard of and met people who have been struck. One couple had a near strike and it fried all their electronics. SOme people get hit on the mast and only a few things get busted.

I can tell you it is mostly luck of the draw and location. most of the tricks to grounding do do anything to help as the energy bouncing around in the air fries the little stuff and most of the wiring is left in decent shape. That is why you put what you can into your oven or microwave, to protect from the electricity bouncing around in the cabin.

This is what I've heard from people who have been hit. It definately would be a major bummer (knock on wood).

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Old 16-07-2012, 16:22   #4
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Re: Emergency Squall Procedures

Sounds like a reasonable strategy to me. Not sure about the pole, but the more potential paths to ground, that don't pass through the hull, the better.

My H33 got struck at anchor last year and one path went down the back stay, jumped to the rudder post, followed the rudder post to the water and exited there (fortunately, before entering the rudder and blowing its way out). Another path went down the depth transducer wire (which ran all the way from the cockpit to the bow) and then exited at and around the transducer (leaving lots of tiny holes in the hull). If it will do these tricks then I expect following a spin pole is fairly likely.
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Old 16-07-2012, 22:28   #5
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Re: Emergency Squall Procedures

it seems a lot more reasonable than doing nothing! ____Grant.
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