April 8

Understanding Marine Electrics: Lightning Protection for Boats

Lightning strikes can cause serious damage and even endanger the lives of those on board. In this blog post, we'll discuss lightning protection systems for boats..

The Standards and the Science

It has been 20 years since the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) downgraded its lightning protection standard to an advisory bulletin. This was done because it was felt the standard was based on insufficient scientific data. In the interim there has been more research. 

The Europeans have a detailed lightning protection standard for buildings (EN 62305) based on the properties of lightning, much of which is applicable to boats. We describe the relevant provisions in detail in the BoatHowTo Advanced Marine Electrics course.

Just as important as a suitable system design is correct installation, ensuring throughout the system adequately-sized conductors and resistance-free connections that will hold up over time. Unfortunately, many installations are not done well and are then poorly maintained or not maintained at all.

Protecting Electronics

Even though it is almost impossible to fully protect electronics against lightning strikes, surge protection devices can help. With advances in technology, surge protection devices are becoming more appropriate for boats. Although there is currently more AC protection equipment available than DC protection this is changing, largely as a result of the ever-expanding onshore role of solar power.

Final Thoughts

Lightning protection is a specialist subject. A simple system should protect the boat and crew against catastrophic damage but for comprehensive protection you will need the help of an expert. To learn more about advanced lightning protection for boats, check out the module on lightning protection in the Advanced Marine Electrics course!

About the author 

Nigel Calder

Nigel is often referred to as THE guru when it comes to technical systems on boats.

He is a long-time member of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) electrical Project Technical Committee (PTC) which writes the standards for recreational boat systems in the USA, and has also been involved in European standards development.

Nigel is best known for his Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual (now in its 4th edition), and his Marine Diesel Engines (in its 3rd edition), both considered the definitive English-language works in their field.


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