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How do you protect yourself from lightning at sea?

Storms are frequent in the summertime. Since the start of the summer, a number of storms have already swept through France, and the damage caused can be significant - both to people and things.
On dry land, the precautions to take when a storm hits are well-known and more often than not remembered. But what do you do when a storm brews at sea? How do you avoid capsizing, fires or being washed overboard?
Here are a few precautions and tips to keep you safe at sea in stormy weather.

Conducting and
non-conducting objects

To start with, you need to know that some materials and objects conduct lightning, while others attract it. Just like on land, lightning at sea will naturally gravitate towards electrical conductors, metal, water, tall objects and especially the human body.
The next thing to know is what your boat is made from. Lightning will behave differently depending on the materials used to build your boat:
wood isn't a conductor, but will naturally become one upon contact with water.
Plastic resins and resin derivatives (such as polyester) don't conduct lightning, but won't afford you any protection. Once again, contact with water is the culprit here.
Composite materials are the least likely to pose a problem because they generally aren't conductors.
With respect to sail boats, lightning is drawn to masts, irrespective of the material used.
When lightning strikes, disconnect all your electronic devices: unplug antennae and probes, avoid using on-board electronics and take shelter inside your boat.
In all cases, inside your boat is where you'll be the least exposed.

Clear the way

Lightning naturally aims to strike the ground (in this case the sea) as quickly as possible. This means you should always try to keep seamless electrical continuity between the tip of your mast and the water by clearing the way to prevent lightning from taking a different path via conducting materials. As an example, because lightning's electrical charge can ripple out via metal shrouds and stays, you could surround the foot of your mast with your anchor chain, creating contact between the chain and the shrouds before dropping one end into the water to create a trajectory that will prevent the lightning from targeting other conducting materials on your boat, or your crew.

​It goes without saying that these tips apply when you are unable to get back to the shore. In the event of stormy weather, always wait the storm out before heading out to sea.
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