Paul Tinley recounts a truly shocking lightning experience aboard his Beneteau 393 Blue Mistress and the subsequent insurance claim

When it comes to a major event such as a lightning strike on your boat, it all boils down to how good your insurance broker and insurer are, writes Paul Tinley.

In August 2019, whilst our Beneteau 393, Blue Mistress, was moored at her home berth, at St Helier Marina in Jersey, she sustained a direct lightning strike.

Luckily, we were not on board, due to a very timely invite to our daughter-in-law’s birthday celebrations.

It took a while to realise that something major had happened.

When we arrived at our boat and opened up, we were greeted by a very strong smell that I can liken to burning Bakelite.

Melted red battery cables after a lightning strike on a yacht

The melted battery cables. Credit: Paul Tinley

Initially we did not think too much of it, opened the boat and re-flushed the heads, as you do.

Our shore power had been tripped, as well as the boat’s main fuses and when we tried to start the motor, all the engine alarms sounded.

Calling on a local boat electrician, it took little time to discover that the ignition controller had blown.

Further examination showed us where the burning smell was coming from.

A yacht without a mast on blocks

Repair work commence, Credit: Paul Tinley

The bow thruster controller had been destroyed, cable melted, and the battery locker was severely scorched.

Looking to the top of the mast, the radar reflector was hanging off and the VHF aerial had totally disappeared.

The lightning had hit and destroyed our VHF aerial and on its journey to ground had also destroyed almost all of the boat electronics, mast wiring, navigation instruments, scanner, starter motor, alternator, batteries, diesel heater et al.

The lightning went to ground via the boat’s skin fittings and bow thruster, destroying them on its journey.

The more we looked, the higher our pulse rate as we realised that we were in for a major repair bill and that our sailing season was at an abrupt end.

A yacht mast

The mast ready to rewire. Credit: Paul Tinley

Our first call was to our insurance brokers, Hepburns in Jersey.

Our contact, Heidi, did her best to allay our fears and we were sent a claim form within hours.

After completing the form, our insurers, Nautical Insurance Services, were quick to confirm that we had a valid claim.

They instructed a local surveyor to carry out a full boat survey, and requested that Blue Mistress be lifted out and the mast un-stepped.

Melted relays on a yacht following a lightning strike

The strike also melted the relays. Credit: Paul Tinley

Our minds were put at rest when they confirmed that although we had to authorise the work, the costs would be covered.

Well, that was back in August 2019, and we are pleased to report that Blue Mistress has been fully restored to her former beauty.

Our insurer, together with their appointed surveyor, Lee Battrick, left nothing to chance.

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Every single boat part affected by the lightning strike has been either repaired or replaced, and the list is staggering.

Nautical Insurance Services covered all our costs, informing us that as the event happened at our boat’s berth in St Helier Marina, there would be no excess.

As I said before, when you encounter a major event as we did, it all boils down to how good your broker and insurer are.

A skipper on the helm of a yacht

Paul Tinley has been involved with boating and sailing for around 40 years. He participated, as a crew member, on the first Jersey entry, Jersey Clipper, in the 2000 Times Clipper Round the World Race, where his team was narrowly beaten into second place by Bristol Clipper. In 2013, Paul crewed with friends on a local yacht on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). Now retired and in their seventies, Paul and his wife Dawn spend their summers cruising local Channel Islands waters through to Biscay and the Brittany coast. When at home, they take part in local yacht club bay races. Credit: Paul Tinley

We all hear a lot of negatives when it comes to insurance in its various guises.

We would like to put on record our thanks for the excellent service that we have received from Nautical Insurance Services via our broker Hepburns of Jersey.

You truly have done your industry proud.

As a postscript, I must admit to a degree of trepidation as I opened our annual boat insurance renewal quote.

Yet, a final accolade for Nautical Insurance Services, our premium was unaffected by what can only be described as an enormous claim – it exceeded £35,000.

Thank you, Nautical Insurance Services, and Hepburns Jersey, the cheque is in the post.

Lessons learned from a lightning strike

We were lucky not to be aboard at the time of the lightning strike.

A Beneteau 393 under sail

Paul Tinley’s Beneteau 393, Blue Mistress, back under sail. Credit: Paul Tinley

After experiencing the damage sustained to Blue Mistress, we now have a healthy respect for thunder storms and will do all we can to avoid being at sea during one.

Quickly seek safety

In the past, we have watched thunder storms on the horizon, now we would seek out safe water or better still, home.

This would include areas where we could drop anchor.

Although we could have still sailed, our motor was disabled.

Isolate comms

As well as the more obvious tasks, such as turning off electronic devices, we would make sure to isolate as many means of communication as possible, including handheld radios and EPIRBs.

Our EPIRB, strapped to the mast support in the saloon, was rendered useless.

Our emergency antenna would have been of no use as the main VHF was destroyed.

Be aware of what’s under your bunk

Major damage was caused to our bow thruster controller, batteries and battery wiring as this seems to have been one of the preferred routes to ground.

These are all situated in a locker under our forward cabin bunk.

If we had been aboard at the time of the event, our feet would have been less than 10cms from them. (Jersey Met timed the lightning strike at 0230)

Close your seacocks

Believe it or not, some of our plastic pipes were partly melted. After the event you may not be able to, due to the damage sustained.

Don your wellies

I think I would be wearing my rubber boots and gloves if I was left on the helm!