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
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!