Lightning While Sailing

Discussion in 'Laser Talk' started by torrid, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. torrid

    torrid Just sailing

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    Here's a general question for the Laser forum community. What experiences have you had with lightning while sailing? I'll share mine from a regatta this weekend.

    As I approached the finish line for one race, I noticed a cloud off in the distance that I thought looked a little dark. About the time I tacked for the finish, I saw a flash of lightning about a half mile away.

    There had been no predictions of thunderstorms in the weather report. This was a localized "pop up" storm that will frequently occur in the summer.

    Not really sure what to do, I go ahead and finish before heading back to where I launched. It was a 20-30 minute sail back to the launch point, and there was nowhere nearby that I could pull out. It was pretty clear that I was going to be stuck out on the water when the storm hit.

    I got about halfway in when the storm lets loose. It started raining so heavily that I lost sight of shore. The wind had picked up, and I was sailing on a beam reach with the sail luffing (still making a pretty good clip). Soon there was a microburst that completely knocked me over.

    At this point my boat is on its side, and I'm on the centerboard. I decided this was a pretty good way to ride out the storm. The rain lets up after about five minutes, so I right the boat and continue to head in.

    The storm had largely gone by, but the lightning stayed behind. One bolt of lightning struck the water about 50-75 yards away from me, and I felt static electricity through my body and ironically through the mainsheet.

    The whole thing had passed by the time I got the boat out of the water and the sail down. All racing was cancelled for the rest of the day.

    This storm pretty much caught the entire fleet flat-footed. A couple of sailors headed off in the opposite direction from the storm and avoided the worst of it. In retrospect that was the best thing to do. At the time I just wanted to get off the water, and that mean sailing back to the launch area through the middle of the storm.

    This is the worst experience I have had with lightning in almost 20 years of sailing, and I'm not eager to repeat it.
     
  2. Rob B

    Rob B Active Member

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    I heard about a guy on a laser taking a direct hit. It blew him off the boat and blew the deck off the boat. He was fine.
     
  3. Murphs

    Murphs New Member

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    Yep, this happened a few years ago at my club.

    The lightning hit the top of the mast, and jumped to the deck at the join of the bottom and top section. Separated the deck from the hull from the bow back to the cockpit.

    There was ~40 lasers out on the water and we could all feel each lightning strike on the water and then bam, a boat got hit. Was pretty scary
     
  4. lasereng

    lasereng Member

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    that would be my worst nightmare, ive often seen storms while on the water but never been caught in the middle. thats up there with capsizing and seeing a shark lol
     
  5. Wavedancer

    Wavedancer Upside down? Staff Member

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    Pretty scary stories, but fortunately it ended OK. But I have wondered about what the best course of action is when lightning gets close. Capsize the boat and hang onto the daggerboard? Or just hang on to the sheet and get away from the boat a bit? The idea being to lessen the chance of lightning striking the mast. Where I sail, the water is warm during season when we have lightning; therefore, hypothermia is not an issue.

    Or is getting in the water not a good idea?

    Thoughts?
     
  6. chip.whitesides

    chip.whitesides New Member

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    Was at above mentioned regatta this weekend as well. Never been in so much lightning in an unprotected area. From what I read yesterday you dont want to be in the water. Some recommend turtling the boat and lying prostrate on top of the turtled hull. On the other hand one source stated that the highest risk is in a small boat without a mast. So - not sure what to next time.

    Looked at the radar loop and the storm popped up and caught us all in about a 20 min time frame, so very little time to escape. It was a cool microburst though - if you like that sort of thing.
     
  7. Der_Dude

    Der_Dude Member

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    I'm not an expert in this field. I have just experienced some thunder storms and lightning hits on the water (escaped unscathed every time). The best advice I could give would be to try and sail away from the cell, if you can. Usually the cell is visible quite well unless you are already in it. Try and "read" the clouds to detect a cell early. Look out for the anvil-shape developing on top of the cloud (air rising vertically quickly).

    If you cannot escape, take a good look around before it hits because you may have very limited visibilty for some time, sometimes for up to 20 Minutes and down to a few meters. You want to make sure you are heading in a safe direction when you are practically blind and 30 or more knots drive you in a direction you didn't chose - you can travel a long way in strong winds during 20 Minutes...

    Also take (mental) note of other boats in the vicinity. They might need your help, they might be able to help you. They might also become dangerous if they go out of control.

    Expect the storm to be accompanied by sudden squalls/very strong gusts. It might even be a good idea to capsize your boat before the gusts hit to prevent damage to the rig. You could also hide under it or under the sail from the hail (did that on a yacht last year when hail the size of golf balls came down on us and there was nowhere else to go; the strong dacron was good protection).

    If the lighting comes close I would stay out of the water, for reasons I can't really explain. Maybe somebody more informed could jump in here a offer a good explanation. Mine is that I got the impression that the lightning is felt stronger in the water than in the boat, even if the boat is really wet and it is pouring and pretty much everything, including the moist air, will act as a conductor. It seems to me, water will still be the better conductor then.

    According to this (in German):

    http://www.bluewater.de/blitzschutz3.htm

    and other contemplations on the problem I've read, the most important factor for the amount of damage caused by lightning seems to be the electrical resistance it encounters in the object that it passes through on it'way to who knows where (the center of the earth?). Little resistance = small damage. The resistance should be pretty small on a laser compared to a yacht, where lightning can build up a lot of energy inside the boat if it cannot escape quickly. Damage on yachts, apart from fried electronics, often includes chunks of the lower rudder and/or keel missing - blown away. That could be seen as an indicator that the most energy builds up down there. One possible explanation could be that the energy arrives or unloads there especially suddenly and violently because it has built up before closing the gap - or the resistance - between two good conductors and then unloads even fiercer (in probably fractions of a second). Does this make sense?

    Luckily, they say the chance of being hit by lightning directly is very, very small, much smaller than the one of winning the jack pot in a lottery. So the largest danger will probably be hypothermia and/or drowning after the boat capsizes and/or gets damaged in strong winds or due to shock if the hit is really close by (all very good reasons for a good pfd btw).
     
  8. bjmoose

    bjmoose Member

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  9. gouvernail

    gouvernail Active Member

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    Wd got caoght by a lightning storm dutring a US laser nationals in the Northeast a few years ago. I think the reason was the gods were further punishing us for using rabbit starts at a nationals.

    Regardless. One fellow had a huge hole blown out of the bottom of his boat and he was VERY shook up for a few hours. More than mentally...he was physically messed up as well. Lucky as hell not to be hurt seriously or dead.

    John Bently who was near the strike had a numb arm for a few days.

    Many of us saw the cell as it approached and quit the race and sailed sideways across its front and out of harms way.

    If there was a lesson learned by the competitors it was:

    Screw what the RC is doing. No race is that important. In fact...I have no recollection where I even finished in that regatta and doubt many others remember their finishes either. I am alive and have lots of other fine memories.
    If there is a dangerous looking storm approaching, try to figure out where it is headed and do whatever you can to get the hell out of the way.

    The RC??
    ABANDON flags are on board for a reason. Get the fleet the hell off the water. Remember, no matter what the rules say, most of the sailors feel like they have to stay out as long as the RC has not cancelled.
    Yes, RC you are the fleet's mommy. Do your unwitten job and be a decent parent.
     
  10. Krycek

    Krycek Member

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    I don't mean to be a dark cloud on this conversation... but let me just say that everyone (including myself) who has experiecned a lightning strike on the water is very lucky. The best thing to do is a get out of there... I've had good luck skirting the leading edge of the storm.. especially if the storm is accompanied with a squall line. As said earlier... no race is that important. I'm a professional paramedic and we lost someone just last weekend to a lightning strike on the water. I know all the odds say you'll be safe... but it's a game I would rather not play....
     
  11. Der_Dude

    Der_Dude Member

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    I am surprised by those numbers, especially the 60 to 70 deaths per year and the odds of a strike in lifetime of 1/5000. Do You know wether those numbers include deaths and injuries indirectly caused by lightning, due to traffic accidents and fires etc. caused by lightning for instance?

    Agree fully that no race would be worth risking the danger of a lightning strike or the other dangers of sailing in a thunder storm.
     
  12. Der_Dude

    Der_Dude Member

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  13. Der_Dude

    Der_Dude Member

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  14. Merrily

    Merrily Administrator Staff Member

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    [/quote]However the risk seems to be much higher in the U.S. than in Germany (where I sail and live). In a quick search I found the number of +/- 5 lightning related deaths a year in Germany (pop. 82 million), which would - statistically - mean less than a third of the fatalities recorded in the U.S. But then, what does that tell you? Maybe U.S.Americans spend more time outdoors, maybe they take more risks ...
    [/quote]

    The frequency of lightning varies greatly across the United States. Some places have hardly any, and others like the midwest have lots. I've lost a number of big old trees over the years due to lightning strikes at my home in the midwest. It's likely that the greater number of fatalities is due to more lightning here than in Germany.
     

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