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Gas tanks and lightning

Aug 28, 2012

To the editor: I have a short but important comment to the recent article by Richard de Grasse on converting to a propane stove (Installing a propane gas stove, July/August 2012). The author considers a good idea to place the propane tanks near the backstay. In my opinion this not a good idea!

My family has a cottage on a country lake. There are two islands where a lightning bolt found its way to the propane tank. Both islands were obliterated with 60-foot pines and oaks on the ground spread like matches from the epicenter. Luckily, nobody was on the island when this happened.

My boat has been struck without damage (I am an electrical engineer and have special grounding equipment that I employ when a storm is coming), but I would not place propane tanks into a potential lightning path.

—Jiri Soukup studied math and electrical engineering in Prague and is one of the pioneers who developed the computerized design of large silicon circuits. He co-founded Cadence Design Systems in Silicon Valley. He is also a sea captain, beekeeper, licensed trapper and recently wrote a novel and is looking for a publisher. He sails Ocean Schimmel, a 352 Beneteau Oceanis, based out of Fort Myers, Fla.

Dick de Grasse responds: I’m an electrical engineer as well and have been cruising for more than 50 years mostly at sea. We’ve never been struck by lightning, but have witnessed strikes on nearby boats usually with very tall, grounded rigs. Never has lightning done any damage to adjacent equipment in and around the point where the grounded backstay comes through the deck. Anything is possible with lightning strikes, of course, but striking an ungrounded propane tank a half-foot away from the backstay is not very likely.

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