Did you know that your oven can protect your electronics when there's lightning?

Another Use for Your Oven

As the almost-daily thunderstorms moved in over our anchorage in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, 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??

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 microwave, if you have one).

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

Did you know that your oven can protect your electronics when there's lightning?Dave and I come from the Midwest and thought we’d seen some pretty wicked thunderstorms living there.  Then we experienced some chubascos in the Sea of Cortez and then the fierce nightly thunderstorms in El Salvador’s rainy season.  And while we never had a direct lightning strike, other boats in our anchorage weren’t 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 when we went to bed when we were in “lightning country” — 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, you’ll never be saying “if only . . . “

Did you know that your oven can protect your electronics when there's lightning? Don't risk EVERYTHING being zapped in an instant!

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38 Comments
  • Joyce Campbell
    Posted at 26 March 2012 Reply

    again thank you from now on I will use the oven more then just for cooking again thank you

  • Debbie Weiss Luitweiler on Facebook
    Posted at 26 March 2012 Reply

    Have used the oven for that on many occasions during our frequent Florida storms.

  • Candy Ann Williams on Facebook
    Posted at 26 March 2012 Reply

    Thanks for sharing…I will remember this when we get to Fla. and all of their storms.

  • Dawn
    Posted at 27 March 2012 Reply

    That’s some great advice especially since we are heading up into the Sea of Cortez this summer!!

  • John Huft on Facebook
    Posted at 11 September 2012 Reply

    Check before you preheat for those brownies! 😉

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 11 September 2012 Reply

    Not a problem if your automatic lighter doesn’t work . . . you HAVE to open the oven to light it!

  • Chris&Janet
    Posted at 19 August 2013 Reply

    You might also want to put anything that contains an RFID chip in there as well. The electromagnetic pulse that comes with lightning can destroy the chip’s functionality without leaving any signs. Two things come immediately to mind. Passports and some credit cards.

  • Sebago Seymour
    Posted at 31 January 2014 Reply

    We learned that after we got hit by lightning this past Thanksgiving in Boot Key Harbor. Love your book! http://svmiamante.wordpress.com

  • The Boat Galley
    Posted at 31 January 2014 Reply

    Oh no! So sorry to hear that! Hope you didn’t have too much damage.

  • Sebago Seymour
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    Thousands but no one was hurt.

  • Melissa Watkins Alexander
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    My husband and I are Computer People. Bare minimum, we’re planning to build a Faraday cage in one of the extra cabins so we can store computers there all the time we’re not actively using them. He’ll likely explore ways to create a Faraday cage around all the electronics (though it may not be possible, if only because of antennaes).

  • Jan Alexander
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    FWIW, I recently met someone whose boat took a direct lightning hit. Computers and cell phones were not in oven or protected in any way and they were all fine.

  • The Boat Galley
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    Sometimes they are, and sometimes it takes a while for all the problems to show up. I worked in an office that took a lightning strike. Some things seemed fine and six months later had problems that were diagnosed as being caused by the lightning.

  • Sebago Seymour
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    Anything with a wire was effected.

  • Deanne
    Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

    My understanding is if your oven has a glass door (like ours) then it is not a Farraday cage and would not protect your electronics. However, microwaves have a metal screen in the door that should do the trick. You can also buy Farraday cage bags (or keep the ones electronics usually come packaged in), but wrapping stuff in aluminum foil works too.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

      Hmm, I hadn’t heard that. I’m going to bet that most oven doors do have a glass window and know of several that have apparently protected the electronics inside (things that weren’t in the oven were damaged), so it may give some protection, depending on how the lightning travels.

      Thanks for adding that!

      • Deanne
        Posted at 01 February 2014 Reply

        Love the boat galley website and cookbook, by the way. We have cruised Mexico for the past year and are getting ready to do the puddle jump, and if I could only keep one cookbook it would be yours. Thanks!

  • S/V Dos Libras
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    Our oven has a glass window… do you think it’ll still work with a break in the metal box?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

      My understanding is that it will not, unless there’s a metal mesh in the glass (like what’s in a microwave window).

      • Melissa
        Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

        I’m not certain that the window would cause a real issue. Cars are effective faraday cages even with windows, as long as the frame is mostly made of metal and not fiber glass. I also remember visiting a science museum at least 15 years ago where they had a faraday cage set up that you could sit in. It looked like a bird cage, but there were no windows or mesh in the open areas (that I can recall at least!). The people working there informed us that as long as you did not touch the outside of the metal when lightening strikes a car, you won’t get hurt. Maybe the window in the oven door isn’t ideal, but I don’t think it would completely compromise the use of the oven as a faraday cage.

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    Sounds good in theory, but the connection by the door may not be good enough to make a good ferridite shield. But it can’t hurt to try.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

      All I can say is that boats that were struck by lightning and had small items in the oven — those items weren’t damaged when many (but not all) other electronics on board were. I tend to think the oven offered protection, but nothing can be guaranteed.

  • Mark Zalenski
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    A small metal trash can also makes a good Faraday cage, which is the proper name for an emf shielding enclosure.

    • Mark Zalenski
      Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

      …with a lid of course

    • Marc Dacey
      Posted at 24 July 2015 Reply

      You can make a Faraday cage out of cardboard and foil. The key is that the foil must be continuously connected. Unfortunately, a lot of good advice on this is found on paranoid “prepper” sites from people who have the cold sweats over the reptiles in government taking their guns. Oh, well: http://www.survivalright.com/faraday-cage.html

  • Anne Price
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    microwave is even better its a faraday cage.. even a dead one works that way..

  • Marc Dacey
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    Why, yes, I do. It’s only on FB that my steel boat, however, is not considered in its entirety a Faraday cage, but is a horrible lightning attractor and death trap.

  • Shannon Kane Cullip
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    Good to know… Leonard.

  • Beth Burlingame
    Posted at 23 July 2015 Reply

    Anybody been through a lightning strike with fried electronics and had the stuff in the oven come
    through ok? I understand this should work in theory, but I am skeptical of whether it will work in the real world.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 July 2015 Reply

      Not personally, but two boats anchored near us in El Salvador.

    • Beth Burlingame
      Posted at 24 July 2015 Reply

      Thanks! I almost never use my oven, so it is a good place. I’m considering putting a small safe on the boat and with its metal construction, it should also work as a faraday cage.

    • Gerry Morton-Haworth
      Posted at 27 July 2015 Reply

      Yes! We have been struck twice and both times the stuff in the oven survived. First time just lost autopilot and lights, second time everything went, except the stuff in the oven….

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 20 June 2016 Reply

    We had our inverter charger fried by a close strike to the tune of $2,000.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 20 June 2016 Reply

      Yeach. Unfortunately we can’t put the “big stuff” in the oven . . .

  • Jim Allen
    Posted at 21 June 2016 Reply

    Would it help to disconnect your navigation electronics from the mast and nema backbone??

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