Monday, July 23, 2012

Boat Galley: Electronics in a Storm

This week, the Boat Galley looks at an unconventional use for your boat's oven...

Boat electronics in a storm
Photo: Carolyn Shearlock,
Tips From The Boat Galley 
Carolyn Shearlock
Carolyn Shearlock, author of The Boat Galley, appears weekly on the Daily Boater with tips for getting the most out of your boat's kitchen.

As the almost-daily thunderstorms moved in over our anchorage, we prepped the boat, securing the dinghy motor to the rail and hoisting the dinghy, closing the hatches and ports, taking down the laundry, wind scoop and US flag, checking the anchor and snubbers... and throwing all the electronics that would fit into the oven and microwave. Huh??

Today’s Topic: Another Use for Your Oven...

Another Use for Your Oven

The impetus for this article was an essay on the last page of the April 2012 SAIL magazine, titled "When You See the Southern Cross." Towards the end of the essay, there's just a couple of sentences devoted to sustaining a direct lightning strike, "losing practically every electrical instrument onboard" and the "effort it took to return our crippled craft to base..."

Imagine being in a secluded anchorage and losing every piece of electronic gear. YIKES! But I do have some good news, and it involves your oven and/or microwave, if you have one.

But still, what does that have to do with cooking? Not much. But the subtitle of my web site is "getting the most out of your boat kitchen"... and to me, that includes unconventional uses!

Boat electronics in lightning
Photo: Carolyn Shearlock,
While we never had a direct lightning strike, other boats near us haven’t been so lucky. The night that the photo at right was taken, a boat within 100 yards of us was hit.

Various cruisers devised all sorts of grounding systems but frankly, none seemed to protect the boats that were hit. All lost some to all of their electronics (luckily, none had holes blown in the hull).

The good news was that time after time, anything they'd put in their oven or microwave was okay. I'll keep the explanation simple, primarily because I'm not enough of a physicist to fully understand it. Basically the oven/microwave acts as a Farraday cage - or a full metal box - and when lightning hits it, just flows over the outside without disturbing anything inside.

So, any time we'd see a storm approaching, or even go to bed or leave the boat - we'd put the following in the oven and microwave:
  • Handheld GPS (we had two)
  • Handheld VHF
  • Cell phone
  • Laptop and card readers and cables to connect to handheld GPS
  • Digital camera
  • Chargers, spare batteries and data cards for all the above
If we had a handheld depth sounder, we would have added it, too.

If you do get a direct strike, you won't have all your normal goodies to get home. And unfortunately, this won't protect the really expensive stuff. But you'll have enough to safely navigate and communicate.

Just be careful that you never light the oven with all your electronic goodies in there. For us, that wasn't a problem as the igniter didn't work and I had to open the oven and manually light it. But if you can light yours with just a button, you might want to put a piece of tape over the button with "Electronics!" written on it so that no one inadvertently melts them.

Let's hope you never have a direct lightning strike - but if you do, ensure that your basic electronics are adequately protected. Like anything else with boating, if you get in the habit of doing it every time there's lightning and whenever you leave the boat, you'll never be saying "if only..."

About the Author

Carolyn Shearlock is author of The Boat Galley, with over 300 FREE articles to get the most out of your boat kitchen with galley tips, insights & equipment recommendations. A few recipes, too - plus an active Facebook community to ask questions and share tips with other readers!


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