Q&A

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Q. What can you do to reduce the risk of a lightning strike?

Q. What can you do to reduce the risk of a lightning strike?

A. Sailboat masts certainly are vulnerable to lightning strikes because they often are the highest point on the water. But you have to remember that on a lake or on the ocean, a powerboat also is a high spot and, therefore, a prime target. Research indicates that powerboaters may actually be more at risk in the event of a lightning strike than sailors. For one thing, powerboats don’t have the ready-made lightning rod that all sailboats do.

The mast and rig on a sailboat form a “cone of protection” over sections of the deck and cockpit. And on a properly grounded

sailboat, lightning can attach to an aluminum mast, and flow through the stick and lead keel

directly to the water.

If you’re caught out in a lightning storm, consider these precautions:

• Discontinue fishing, swimming, water-skiing, scuba diving and other activities. Stay out of the water, including hands and feet.

• Stay away from the waterline, metal fittings and grounding wires.

• In an ungrounded sailboat, stay out from under the mast and boom.

• If you must be at the wheel, keep one hand in your pocket, so you don’t grab onto another metal fitting and become a conductor between the wheel and the fitting.

• In an open boat, lay or crouch down in the middle of the boat. The last thing you want to do is become a lightning rod.

• Stay off the dock and don’t duck under a dock shelter, particularly one with a metal roof. It probably isn’t grounded. If feasible, go to your car or an upland building.

• If caught out in the open on land, crouch down with your feet together and avoid high ground. Stay at least 15 feet away from other people.