Another Use for Your Oven

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2012 • all rights reserved

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

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 . . . “

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Comments

  1. Joyce Campbell says:

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

  2. Debbie Weiss Luitweiler on Facebook says:

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

  3. Candy Ann Williams on Facebook says:

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

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

  5. Check before you preheat for those brownies! 😉

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

  7. 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.

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

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

  10. Thousands but no one was hurt.

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Anything with a wire was effected.

  15. 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.

    • 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!

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

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

      • Melissa says:

        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.

  17. 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.

    • 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.

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

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

  20. 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.

  21. Good to know… Leonard.

  22. 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.

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

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

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