Lightning vs superyacht: How to stay safe in a storm

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23 September 2020 16:45
Written by

Laura Nicholls

When a 42-metre motor yacht was damaged by a lightning strike, the owner was left not only without his yacht for over six months, but with a bill for at least €500,000 for repair costs. This incident is just one of nearly 250 lightning strike cases that the insurance firm Pantaenius deals with on an annual basis – the majority of which are catamarans, as they are more frequently struck than monohulls due to having a larger surface area in the water.

TIS yacht by Lürssen maiden voyage

Photo: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht Times

After an accident like this, superyacht repairs are always complex and time-consuming, especially when the ship can no longer reach the shipyard on its own keel due to lightning damage. In areas such as the Pacific, the repair possibilities for large yachts are particularly limited.


Jasali II sailing yacht in Sardinia

Photo: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht Times


Keen to share their expertise to help improve safety are Pantaenius’s claims department and the team’s manager, Holger Flindt, who told SuperYacht Times all about the ins-and-outs of how superyachts fare against lightning.  


Yachts in bad weather storm

Photo: @speckfechta

To what extent can the damage be on board a struck superyacht?

Damage from a lightning strike does not usually result in a total loss, but the damage from loss of use can be enormous for an owner. Lightning is known to take the path with the least resistance to grounding potential, which is usually via the yacht’s electrical systems. 

In the event of a lightning strike, the lightning current can penetrate through the entire network and damage all connecting devices such as GPS, chart plotter, AIS, radar equipment, autopilot, satellite communication and radars. If the strike encounters resistance, rudder blades can be split, masts can burst and hull or keel casings can be blown away.


Lightning storm at sea

Photo: Trevor McKinnon

Why aren’t all yachts protected from lightning?

Unfortunately, there is still no standardised regulation on lightning protection for yachts – including series-produced yachts. Although large yachts built according to class regulations are often equipped with such systems, there is no obligation for the shipyard to install one and so, it is the owner’s responsibility to acquire the appropriate protective devices.

In the USA, there is a newly developed system that aims to completely prevent lightning strikes to yachts by ionizing the air at masthead height, instead of diverting the lightning current. In Europe, however, these devices are not yet available and extensive tests are pending.


Lightning storm at sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Photo: Stefano Zocca

So, what can yacht owners and builders do to stay safe?

A lightning protection system is strongly recommended, as although it does not prevent lightning strikes, it means that the impact point and path of the lightning current is controlled. By conducting the lightning current, the system can direct the current from the standing cargo and the mast profile into the keel and into the water. There are simple makeshift solutions made from copper conductors and clamping devices that can be attached to sailing yacht masts, shrouds and stays.

Here are some top tips if those on board a superyacht find themselves approaching a thunderstorm:

  • If possible, call at the nearest port or visit a protective bay
  • Swimmers should leave the water immediately
  • Withdraw fishing lines
  • If possible, go below deck. If you must remain on deck, do not stand and sit as low as possible with closed legs in the boat wearing shoes with rubber soles.
  • Do not touch metal parts
  • Disconnect shore power connection if in port
  • Switch off the main switch; if possible disconnect the mains plug and antenna plug from electrical and electronic equipment, as well as the cable connections to receivers on the masthead.






PantaeniusTo find out more about Pantaenius and their broad portfolio of products which include insurance