Lightning Protection – Tired Topsides – Yacht Design


Lightning Protection

Do you have any knowledge of a commercially manufactured lightning arrestor system for a sailboat? If not, do you have any recommendations for the construction of such a system?

Aquadynamics, Inc, Box 1049, Woonsocket, RI 02895, (401) 762-2090, makes the Dynarod lightning rod and Dynaplate ground plate for the construction of a lightning protection system.

Installing a lightning protection system is not a particularly simple task, however. ABYC standard E-4 gives four pages of instructions on the installation of lightning protection. Even with the Dynarod kit, you have to provide all the connections to create a short, direct path to ground. You must also, by the ABYC standard, tie all major metal masses in the boat – engine, tanks, stoves, for example – to the lightning protection system.

If you have an external lead or iron keel, you can ground to that rather than installing a Dynaplate. Dynarod can be purchased separately. The kit comes with good instructions, including a copy of the ABYC standard.

Tonic for Tired Topsides

The white gelcoat on my 1971 Catalina 22 has become quite dull. On two occasions I have applied fiberglass rubbing compound and then a coat of good wax. Unfortunately the shine deteriorates within a couple of weeks. It appears that since the gelcoat has lost its original luster it soils very easily and becomes difficult to clean. I am considering two alternatives: one, re-gelcoat the entire boat and two, repaint with polyurethane.

Re-gelcoating your boat is not practical, and painting with a two-part polyurethane is likely to be too expensive to be economically feasible for a boat the size of a Catalina 22.

Unless your topsides are badly crazed, or unless the gelcoat is so worn away that you’re down to the layer of fiberglass mat under the gelcoat, you’re better off to put some elbow grease into the existing gelcoat finish.

Gelcoat is porous, and becomes more so over time; this porosity makes it more difficult both to clean the finish and to give it a reasonable, long-lasting shine. You’re lucky you’ve got white gelcoat. Because white is so reflective, slight color and gloss variations are not readily detectable at any distance.

There’s a good chance that neither the rubbing compound you’re using nor the wax are really adequate for the job, particularly since the boat is pretty old and the gelcoat is pretty worn. It’s not reasonable to expect any method short of major reworking of the topsides – getting a professional urethane paint job – to make the boat like new. That would, conservatively, cost about $1000. A 1971 Catalina 22 has a book value of about $4500. Spending 22% of the value of the boat on improving the topsides simply makes no sense.

The first thing you’ve got to do is thoroughly clean the topsides. Use the least abrasive cleaner that removes all ground-in dirt. Take care not to rub through the gelcoat to the laminate underneath it. Start with Meguiar’s rubbing compound. If that doesn’t do it, go to DuPont polishing compound, an automotive product that is slightly coarser. If that doesn’t get off all the dirt, go to DuPont white rubbing compound, which is coarser still. As a last resort, use very fine wet sandpaper – about 1000 grit.

Once the gelcoat is really clean – and if you haven’t gotten it really clean, you’re wasting your time -you can seal the finish. Rather than using wax, try one of the polyglycoat finishes, such as Star Brite Poly System One or Seapower Super Poly Sealant. A polymer finish should give a better surface seal.

Don’t expect miracles, however. You’ll still probably have to recoat several times during the year. Do it before the finish gets so dirty it won’t wash clean with detergent and water.

You could paint it yourself with brush-on urethane, but most amateur polyurethane jobs we’ve seen have done nothing to increase the value of the boat. A poor paint job is worse than worn gelcoat.

Yacht Design

Can you recommend a good correspondence school of yacht design?

There are two major mail order yacht design programs: the Yacht Design Institute, and the Westlawn School of Yacht Design. Both offer fairly intensive training programs that realistically take about four years of steady part time study to complete, and both programs provide a good, solid foundation for becoming a professional yacht designer.

Since each course costs $1125 and demands a lot of time, neither is designed for the casual student who wants to learn just enough to understand the basics.

The Yacht Design Institute does have a new program which requires a lesser degree of dedication, and a smaller investment. For $225, you can get an abbreviated course that gives an overview of small craft design. Unless you’re interested in becoming a practicing yacht designer, the short YDI course would probably be the answer.

For more information, contact the Yacht Design Institute, Box 733, Blue Hill, ME 04614, (207) 374-5551. The Westlawn School of Yacht Design is affiliated with the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the major national marine trade organization. Its address is 733 Summer Street, Box 779, Stamford, CT 06904, (203) 359-0500. 

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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