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Old 28-08-2009, 15:33   #1
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Lightning Strike

So, my boat got hit by lightning last night. Luckily the damage seems to be limited to the electrical system. My Windex and VHF antenna are gone from the top of the mast. The tricolor is still there but only the anchor light actually still works. My DC panel is pretty much shot. The little LED's for all the circuits with anything connected to the mast all blew out and my voltmeter and ammeter are both unresponsive.

We've been planning all summer to take the last week before school starts and hit some of our favorite places in the lower bay. I was sitting in my chair in the family room going over the charts for our trip when the lightning struck (we keep the boat on a dock behind our house). I didn't go out immediately due to the intensity of the lightning still going on, but when it finally slacked up a little I went out and checked all the through hulls and bilge pockets to make sure the lightning hadn't blown any holes in the hull. Everything was good and all bilge pockets dry. So in that respect, we were lucky. My VHF and SSB won't power up. I haven't tried the radar, but I'm guessing the news won't be good there either.

We're insured through Allstate. We called our local agent with a claim this morning, but he said he would have to pass us off to somebody in Richmond that handles the boat claims. It's 6:30PM here and I haven't heard from the "Boat" person yet. I'm not impressed so far. I'll let you know how it turns out. I'm going to get the boat hauled out and inspected for my own peace of mind, whether the insurance is going to cover it or not. We'll probably have to take down the mast as well to re-run new wiring. So instead of spending next week sailing I'll be dealing with yard crews and insurance people. Fun fun.

The irony is that I thought it would be Hurricane Danny screwing up our vacation plans. When that started to fall apart I was thinking how lucky we were. They were even forecasting 15-20 kts from the South for Saturday, perfect for our first leg to Deltaville. Just goes to show you can never take Mother Nature for granted. One way or another she will get you.

On the bright side, I'm going to get my fall bottom cleaning and zinc replacement out of the way early!

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Old 29-08-2009, 03:19   #2
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You have my commiserations, Ti' Punch.

Be very thorough in you examination, and search for damage. As you know, lightning is insidious, and somewhat capricious.
You may have subtle (or serious) damage, in the most improbable places, and little or none in more obvious targets.

Good luck!

Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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Old 29-08-2009, 05:52   #3
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Last boat I saw that had been hit was at Cracker Boy Maina in West Palm, in April. The adjuster found where the strike had exited near the bottom of the mast; he condemned the mast. The obvious area was smaller than a quarter and looked insignificant being little more that a slight color change.

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Old 29-08-2009, 06:57   #4
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Lightning strikes, good fun.

We had one while on board and outside in the weather dripping wet.

Blew all electronics and lights (apart from really cheap Chinese fluro's)

Replaced all rigging wire , new electrics and some cosmetics where wiring had blown out of the glassed in conduits and all was good again
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Old 29-08-2009, 07:12   #5
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Very sorry to hear of your misfortune Ti' Punch. A couple weeks ago, three boats were struck by lightning here on Lake Ontario (very rare for this area). Each of the boats had extensive damage to the electronics, and there was various levels of damage to thru-hulls and the hulls themselves. It was expected that the rigging wire would need to be replaced on at least one of the sailboats, but I hear that the surveyor found that the wire did not need to be replaced after all. Assuming your insurance company will require a surveyor to assess the damage, I'll be interested to hear whether you actually end up needing to replace the rigging wire (some would probably replace it regardless for peace of mind). All the boats were hauled out, one had to be right away or it would have sunk.

Also of interest, one of the boats had a large ground plate, and one did not. Of course we're talking fresh water here - I had wondered how they would perform when not in salt water. The boat with the ground plate did have damage to the upper part of the rudder (apparently the current came through the rudder stock and exited at the waterline) but no other hull damage. The other boat without the ground plate had small pin-holes all around the keel, plus a couple damaged thru-hulls, plus a couple holes where ground wires ran internally up against the hull near the waterline (wires from the rigging down to the keel). Neither boat ended up haveing the rigging wire replaced.
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Old 29-08-2009, 07:21   #6
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Lightning strike

My biggest fear after Hurricanes. I live in Panama and man do we have the lightning.. We just had a tornado yesterday.. Took alot of roofs off. I have lived here 4 years and never heard a tornado in Panama the country.
Sailing is 80% boredom and 20% sheer terror so FIRSTMATE then go sailing. Life is a journey, not a destination.
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Old 29-08-2009, 08:26   #7
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boat across canal from us got hit the other day---fried everything and went up power cord to fry some of the house---ouch--was his second hit in 4 yrs----he has lightning protection and is a nasa scientist--the unprotected boats are fine.....go weird --we sailed thru electrical storms and with the stuff all around us didnt get hit---were soooo lucky----kat was scared and hid on top of me---but no hits---no protection and no hits....whew.....
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Old 29-08-2009, 08:28   #8
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Thanks for the advice and commiseration everyone. My boat is grounded and for now it looks it did it's job and protected the hull. I'll feel a lot better once we get her up on blocks and get a close up look at everything below the waterline.

I started the engines up yesterday after work and they fired right up. Normally the oil pressure alarm lights and buzzers go off for a second until the engines come up to speed and oil pressure normalizes, but that didn't happen. So there's obviously something not right there. Also, neither RPM gauge was working either. My depth meter and electro-compass still seem to be working properly, so I've got that going for me.

Tuesday is the earliest the yard can pull the boat. I still haven't heard from the insurance company. I started calling surveyors on my own, and by chance got one that does surveys for my insurer. He told me that normally the insurance company will assign the surveyor to the case and then the surveyor will contact me within 24-48 hours. He was worried that if I hired a guy on my own that the insurer wouldn't pay for it and would still require a second survey commissioned by them. I thought that was nice of him to let me know that instead of just taking my money. I guess I just want to get this whole process rolling and really I need to take a deep breath and let things move at their own pace.

The wife and kids (and me of course) are REALLY disappointed that we aren't leaving on our trip today. Everyone has been looking forward to it all summer. When the engines started yesterday I briefly thought about going anyway. I have a handheld VHF and GPS that were not on the boat at the time of the strike. The engines and the depth meter are working, and I can approximate the engine RPM by sound and throttle position. We'd probably be fine. But then the prudent side of my brain took over and I started thinking about the unknowns with the mast and rigging and obviously the right thing to do is take the time next week to get Ti' Punch back into shape.

On the bright side, there's a bunch of stuff I want to get done in the yard. While the mast is down I'm going to replace the masthead tri-color/anchor light with LED's, the same for the steaming/deck light. I'm also going to replace all the halyards (What does everybody think about Spectra/Dyneema for halyards?). I'm thinking about adding steps to the mast. Some day we'd like to leave the Chesapeake behind and do some cruising in the tropics. I understand that being able to climb the mast is an asset when looking for coral heads and reefs. Lastly, I'm thinking about going with Tack Tick to replace the Windex. Has anybody had any luck with these wireless instruments?

Sorry for the long posts. I appreciate having this forum to get all of this out of my head and in front of you guys. I've been lurking here for a long time with just the occasional post, but typing all of this out has helped me organize my thoughts. I've learned a lot here on the pages of Cruisersforum, so thanks everyone.

Best regards,

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Old 31-08-2009, 17:22   #9
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Been there done that (lightning strike). You're doing the right thing to check it carefully.

I'm all for Spectra halyards. Is there any reason to use another kind? Spectra is made with Polyester braid covers, handles nicely, and is UV-resistant. The Dyneema I've seen has all been single-braid, not the nicest feel on your hands, a bit slippery for use with rope clutches, and only good for about 5 years of UV exposure. Dyneema is good for standing rigging. I used it for top-shrouds on my last boat, and have used Spectra-core double-braid running rigging in the last three boats -- for about 9 years and no complaints.

If you really want to go for mast steps consider the type that fold flush. Those fixed-types add a lot of windage and I'd bet they've snagged sheets/halyards and ripped sails in more than one case, probably at the worst possible time. BTW I don't recall ever seeing them on a boat that was actually sailing...
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Old 31-08-2009, 17:37   #10
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Tough luck.

I was luckier on Friday.
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Old 02-09-2009, 12:50   #11
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Update - Got the in-water inspection by the insurance surveyor done early this morning. Haul-out was around 11AM. So far it looks like we got off lucky. The lightning appears to have exited the boat through the sail drives according to the surveyor. They look fine to me, and everything ran fine on our way from the dock down to the boat yard. The RPM indications are erratic, so something happened, but I'm just glad the lightning exited without doing damage to the hull. The mast is going to come down for inspection as well, so we'll see what's up with the standing rigging.

Right now the yard is waiting for the surveyor's official report. Once they get that, the yard will give us an estimate. Then the insurance company will tell us what they are going to cover and what we'll have to eat. I've already learned one important thing through this whole process. There are two types of insurance policies, depreciated value and replacement cost. Guess which one we have... do you know what yours is? Probably worth checking out before you find out the hard way.
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Old 02-09-2009, 19:39   #12
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You're not alone, I imagine very few of us have replacement cost insurance - much more expensive, especially for older boats, so we "self insure" the difference. Good luck, we'll stay tuned.
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Old 08-09-2009, 19:02   #13
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very few of us have replacement cost insurance - much more expensive, especially for older boats, so we "self insure" the difference
Actually what you're looking for is "New For Old" coverage. The world "Replacement" by itself means just that. If you have a 1990 boat and take a lightning hit, straight replacement cost would mean they pay to replace your electronics with 1990 electronics. Since your boat had 1990 electronics before the strike, this would leave the boat in essentially the same condition it was before the strike. If you decide to get the 2009 electronics, then you would have to pay the difference.

With "New For Old" or "Betterment" coverage, then they would pay to replace your 1990 electronics with 2009 electronics. So the boat would actually end up in a "better" condition than before the strike. This may seem like sematics, but I would not someone to read a policy, see the word replacement, and think they automatically have the more comprehensive coverage. (and yes, it does cost more). If your policy says replacement, then you want to read further see how that is defined. (Often there is a second paragraph about it.)

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Old 16-09-2009, 14:08   #14
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Update - Well, we've had some significant progress since the last post. The only thing we're still waiting on is for the mast to come down for inspection. That may happen this week still. The yard sent the estimates for everything else to the insurance company earlier this week, and we heard back from them today. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised. They are covering all of the labor and I think they have been very fair so far on what they are giving us on the depreciated value of the equipment. Luckily, the previous owner was very meticulous about keeping receipts and records for everything he had installed on the boat and I followed his lead for anything I put on, so we were able to provide all of that to the insurance company.

Both the insurance surveyor and the agent were both clear that lightning may cause damage that isn't readily apparent right away and that if anything came up in the future that we felt was related to the strike we should contact them and they would make it right. That is totally opposite of what I was expecting. I assumed they would make us sign something relinquishing all future claims or something, but that was not the case at all. Overall, Allstate has exceeded my expectations.

Thanks for the clarification TabbyCat. This is my first exposure to all this stuff. Most of my electronics were less than 5 years old at the time of the strike, so I was really worried about how they were going to handle the depreciation aspect, but like I said, I think they have been more than fair. I guess whatever type of policy you have it's important to be with a company that cares about its customers. Unfortunately, I don't know of any easy way to find out if a company is good or not without going through some drama like this. It looks like we picked a winner.
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Old 16-09-2009, 14:14   #15
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Pic of my boat on the lift

This is my first attempt at posting a picture. Hope it works.
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