This past couple of weeks have brought us some absolutely spectacular lightning shows. Lightning with a thunder accompaniment always brings thoughts of safety (and fear) to mind. In a previous post about lightning safety, I managed to ease my mind by convincing myself that the higher masts around us would protect us from a strike. However, the truth of the matter is, if lightning would have struck our sailboat, there is no telling where it would have ended up. Our mast was deck stepped (the bottom of the mast sits on top of the deck, instead of going right through to the keel), which means that any lightning strike coming down the mast would have had to jump somewhere to continue its downward path. This is how holes get blown in the bottom of boats. Add the fact that the mast was practically sitting directly over our heads when we were laying in the v-berth and, well … you get the picture.
So now we are in a big metal boat; a big, highly conductive surface directly connected to ground (water), with a nice high metal canopy framework begging for a lightning strike. So am I really any safer?
I asked around the marina, and for the most part, people did not think that the metal boat would be safer – but then I came upon another boater who lives on a steel sailboat. He’s got the full deal going for him – a nice high metal mast and a highly conductive steel surface connected directly to ground. What he suggested is that we are actually safer in our steel shells because (in theory) the lightning strike should take the path of least resistance and flow easily and directly through the hull and into the lake. He likened it to a Faraday Cage.
Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
Cars and aircraft. When lightning strikes an aircraft or a car the electric currents induced on it are forced to travel on the outer skin of the vehicle’s body. If you were in a car, and the car were struck by lightning, it is not in fact the rubber tires that would save your life. If the lightning can jump from the ground to the sky, then it can jump from the ground to your car. What actually happens, is by being enclosed by the car’s cabin, the lightning travels around you, through the conductive frame of the car. This is because the car forms a Faraday Cage.
This is talking about cars and aircraft, but from what I can tell should also apply to boats. Anyone out there want to confirm this for me? Any modern day Franklin’s or Faraday’s want to experiment with this? (Go fly a kite!)
(Lightning Hitting CN Tower photo’s taken by Mathias Roussea on June 5th, 2008.)