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Lightning Damage

I wrote the following letter to the editor in response to the article titled “Keep Your Insurance Paid Up” in Scuttlebutt 2747:

A lightning strike contains an impressive amount of energy. Temperatures in a lightning bolt can easily exceed those found on the surface of the sun, and the electrical current can exceed 40 kiloamperes! Even if the electronics survive a lightning strike, they should be treated with suspicion, as the component parts have probably been subjected to induced voltages or currents outside their specified maximum tolerances.

Lightning protection on boats is used to minimize structural damage, not to protect electronics. Protection for electronics against lightning strikes would have to be similar to what the military uses to harden installations against nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP): a Faraday cage with electrically isolated power and signals. On a racing yacht, the weight and power required for that is prohibitive. Without protection against EMP, even a nearby lightning strike may induce enough current in the yacht’s wiring to damage on-board electronics. I have encountered many instances where a boat was not directly struck by lightning, yet had several electronic items fail.

As mentioned in the article, the best strategy is to get insurance coverage for your electronics, and keep up on the premiums. There’s little that can be done to repair an item when lightning has burned through the circuit board!

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