Offshore Sailboat Keel Types

This encapsulated keel has suffered a grounding, but the good news is that it looks like the ballast is probably lead. If so, the repair will be reasonably easy, but if it's iron, the chances of major problems after this grounding are high.

Keel integrity on older offshore sailboats is a subject filled with ambiguity. That said, we need to really think about this when selecting a new boat since keel dropping off is not something we can realistically ameliorate, or probably even survive.

On the bright side, if we avoid certain construction methods, as far as I can see the chances of the keel dropping off, at least without warning seem to be pretty small; although, of course, like most things around offshore sailing we have no reliable statistics to prove that assertion.

So what to do? Let's start off with what I'm reasonably sure about, and then move on to the higher ambiguity stuff.

  1. The Right Way to Buy a Boat…And The Wrong Way
  2. Is It a Need or a Want?
  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
  7. Five Ways That Bad Boats Happen
  8. The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell
  9. Learn From The Designers
  10. You May Need a Bigger Boat Than You Think
  11. Sail Area: Overlap, Multihulls, And Racing Rules
  12. 8 Tips For a Great Cruising Boat Interior Arrangement
  13. Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms
  14. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
  15. Cockpits—Part 2, Visibility and Ergonomics
  16. Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning
  17. Choosing a Cruising Boat—Shelter
  18. Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation
  19. Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New Voyaging Boat
  20. Cyclical Loading: Why Offshore Sailing Is So Hard On A Boat
  21. Cycle Loading—8 Tips for Boat and Gear Purchases
  22. Characteristics of Boat Building Materials
  23. Impact Resistance—How Hull Materials Respond to Impacts
  24. Impact Resistance—Two Collision Scenarios
  25. Hull Materials, Which Is Best?
  26. The Five Things We Need to Check When Buying a Boat
  27. Six Warnings About Buying Fibreglass Boats
  28. Buying a Fibreglass Boat—Hiring a Surveyor and Managing the Survey
  29. What We Need to Know About Moisture Meters and Wet Fibreglass Laminate
  30. Offshore Sailboat Keel Types
  31. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat
  32. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 2, The Boat We Bought
  33. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out
  34. Q&A, What’s the Maximum Sailboat Size For a Couple?
  35. At What Age should You Stop Sailing And Buy a Motorboat?
  36. A Motorsailer For Offshore Voyaging?
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Drew Frye

In the wake of the Rafiki accident I go involved in strength testing laminates, safety factors, and fatigue. Without going deep into the engineering and the lab tests, it was never a matter “if” certain lightly constructed fin keel bolt arraignments would fail, but when. And sure enough, even Halburg Rassey had a high profile keel loss. Most telling was that the hull tore out without breaking the main bolts (single fore and aft bolts subsequently broke due to flexing, after the main bolts pulled through). It should have been designed so that the bolts would always fail before the laminate, in part because the strength of bolts is more predictable and better understood. The boat was just not designed for hard use.

It’s not so much that a bolt-on keel can’t be done, but you need the right safety factors. For certain once-in-a-lifetime impacts (worst case fall on climbing gear) a 2 or 3:1 safety factor is accepted. The rest of the time the load is very low. For many applications (mast, ground tackle) a 5:1 safety factory is acceptable. Both of these have one VERY important caveat. The safety factor is based on a 6 sigma minimum breaking strength, established by break testing many samples. This insures the safety factor is a real number, and in the case of rigging and ground tackle, that even exceptional stresses are below the fatigue limit.

For any system that is “crucial to flight” in aircraft parlance, or in this case not sinking, and can only be evaluated mathematically, a larger safety factor of 10-20:1 is called for, and they didn’t do that. With just a small variation in layup and repetitive stress (and perhaps a grounding, but I’m not convinced that was the whole or even a significant contributor since the direction is different) failure was inevitable for a boat that was used hard. Most boats are not used hard so failures are rare. You can get away with under design on a day-sailed boat.

But when you buy a bolt-on keel boat, how can you know, short of core samples and engineering analysis? You can’t.

Other keel types have higher safety factors, implicit in their design. I like racy boats, but many just aren’t in the spirit of AAC. What I enjoy for day sailing and what I would take adventure cruising are different. Horses for courses.

Drew Frye

Agreed, and I should have been more clear. What I meant to be clear about is that certain conditions demand greater safety factors:
* Potential for exceptional forces.
* Allowance for manufacturing variability (variation in layup and grid bonding in this case).
* Critical to life (not sinking is the main thing, just as a wing falling off an airplane is bad).

A lower safety factor is acceptable if the engineering is very well understood and manufacturing is very well controlled, or the consequences are less severe.

Steve HODGES

Perhaps relevant to this keel article, or the next? In 2016, Talagoa, a 48 ft steel Van De Stadt lost her keel off the coast of Columbia, and a very experienced Dutch cruising couple, Waldy and Ria Finke, lost their lives.

https://www.bwsailing.com/cc/2016/04/dutch-couple-lost-at-sea/

Waldy and Ria were friends of mine – I met them shortly after they were dismasted off the Northern California coast as they were headed South from Alaska, and I spent time on Talagoa during her refit in Alameda, and again when they stopped in Santa Barbara as they continued South for the canal and home. At the time I thought the term ‘stout’ was an understatement regarding Talagoa; she was a very impressive and well-maintained yacht.

Assuming the keel failure was the cause of this tragedy – I never was able to find an accident report – I wonder how such a catastrophic failure could have occurred on this seemingly solidly built steel vessel.

Philip Wilkie
Henry Crawford

Hi John,
I have a copy of the study drawings for the 40′ van de Stadt, it is essentially a smaller version of the Samoa. The drawings show that the boat has encapsulated ballast in a steel fin, which is welded on. Van de Stadt indicates that the boat can be built without the fin attached- to improve access for fit out- with the keel being welded on before launch. The drawings show the structural floors in the keel being welded to the side of the structural floors in the hull, with the keel floor coming to the top of the hull floor. I don’t know how well this works as the boat I was looking at was built with hull and keel floors as one piece.

Steve HODGES

Hi John and Henry,

FWIW: from my discussions with Talagoa’s owner, her keel was bolt on, all steel. As I recall, it was that way to facilitate transport: the keel could be removed for shipping.

Steve

Steve D

Keel smiles and weeping stub joints are exceptionally common in my work, and always worthy of concern. Add to that rust stains, and it’s a recipe for sleepless nights until the keel is dropped an inspected. I caution my boat yard clients, be very careful when undertaking keel repairs that are the result of a grounding, a number of keels have been lost after such repairs, C.R. being just one of them, another was Texas A&M’s racing vessel https://www.soundingsonline.com/news/keel-failure-blamed-on-prior-groundings

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
I have always felt that “going aground” had a soft mush connotation that did not fully encompass the range of impact that “going aground” sometimes refers to. Perhaps, going “a-rock”, has the accurate harsh connotation for certain seabed encounters, but, I think, will not enter general usage.
Random thought, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

P D Squire

How would you rank the French centreboard lifting keels like Ovini? Overly complex? too many moving parts? or a good solution?

And while we’re in France: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cT3SU3Ya95s/UESQtiwyopI/AAAAAAAAAXE/CfDrssIq5yw/s1600/quille.jpg ?

Stein Varjord

Hi PD,
John didn’t mention this keel type as a topic for future articles, but maybe it will be? Anyway, my opinion is that it’s a very good solution, but that some other lifting keel designs are very poor solutions.

Alubat Ovni, Boreal and many other boats have zero risk of suddenly loosing stability from loosing most of the ballast. Most of the ballast is in the hull, not in the keel. Loosing the keel is possible, but will only influence upwind performance, not stability. A grounding will normally not damage the keel blade, as it’s hinged and will just fold if hit. Many expedition style boats have this solution.

Several of these boats already have a limited upwind performance, due to a too small fin area and not optimal wing shape. For cruising, their performance is good enough. It’s absolutely possible to design this for quite high performance too. I can’t point out which builder is the best, as I just don’t know the market well enough.

There are other lifting keel designs out there that I would certainly not go long distance cruising with. Vertically lifting high aspect fins with a bulb carrying all the ballast is one. This is rare on boats big enough for ocean cruising, but exists. In general, any mechanism is vulnerable. In a boat with most of the ballast in the actual lifting keel, the mechanism will be exposed to high loads frequently, and the consequence of a failure is loosing most of the stability….

P D Squire

The more we get into this the more it seems to come down to the original engineering & subsequent maintenance. Encapsulated is good – unless there’s a large unfilled area or the ballast can expand if wet. Bolt on is good – unless the bolts are wrong or secured to an insecure structure. ,… I guess the one thing we can say is it’s probably best in a lifting keel boat for the ballast to not be part of what is being lifted. Even then very good failsafe, load-distributing structural engineering could give confidence. This discussion is valuable because it brings to light what to look out for in each option and destroys any notion of a silver bullet construction method that means it doesn’t need to be checked so thoroughly. Thanks.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
Not to say that loosing the keel isn’t a very dangerous problem, but it’s fully possible to sail a boat without its keel.

During the last Route de Rhum double handed transatlantic race, Alex Thompsons 60 foot extreme racer Hugo Boss hit a floating object. The impact damaged the canting keel mechanism severely. It was just dangling from the hydraulic ram. They decided they had to let it go to prevent hull damage from its motion. The two (extremely skilled) sailors sailed this ultralight carbon boat with its huge rig for several days to Cape Verde islands.

Another example: I was hired skipper on a charter in the Med, Corfu, Ionian sea. The charter company told me that one of their neighbour competitors in that harbour had rented out a bareboat 49 foot Janneau for a week. After a few hours, the renters called in to ask if it was meant to sail that poorly upwind. The answer was that its sails were not for speed and the bottom was not very clean, so yes, poor upwind.

The people came back a week later, happy from a beautiful cruise. The company inspected the boat and found all to be fine. A diver inspecting the neighbour boat, belonging to the company that hired me, noticed that the keel was totally missing. They had sailed it for a week without a keel. Probably it had been rented out several times without a keel. The area has mostly very light winds in the summer, and most renters go by motor more than sails. I’ve been told that similar things have happened several times with charter boats, but is kept secret. Crazy…

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
Yes indeed. I forgot that. JP Dick sailed over 2600 miles without a keel and ended in fourth place. Incredible feat and a good indication that the Open 60 is a safer boat than one might think. He kept sailing 10 to 14 knots, using the water ballast tanks!

Hi Maxime,
I think there are many stories like that. Some probably not true, but some certainly true, like this one. The company I worked for used it to show how poorly some of their competitors were doing their business. No dive inspections, as they themselves always did before the return papers were signed. I also spoke with the diver who noticed the missing keel. He was a bit angry about the whole thing, as he used to work for them, but then they decided to save that money.

He said he had seen two more charter boats coming in without the keel, but in the other cases it had been just lost and the renters knew about it. He said that at least 10% of the times a bareboat charter boat is returned, it has hit the bottom hard enough for them to take the boat on land for repairs. All their boats have keel repairs at least once every season. There are a lot of poorly marked stones around the archipelago. The issue is that the majority of renters have very limited competence and also do not care too much.

Charter boats get way worse treatment than private boats. Conclusion:
Never buy an ex charter boat, unless you want to do a complete rebuild!

Matt

My concern with used fleet charter boats would be that these things are built to a price point, with luxury and style placed well above longevity. They’re expected to last a certain number of years, get their depreciation written off as favourably as possible under local tax laws, then be essentially scrap at the end. Charter boat lost its keel? eh, let the insurance adjuster write it off, and list the hulk on Yachtworld using interior photos of a sistership.

Quality construction takes time and costs money. To achieve it within a target price, then, you must sacrifice something else. There are really only three points where you can do that: the interior finishes, the electronics suite, and the extra mechanical & electrical systems that make the boat luxurious. Unfortunately, those are the things that make people pick one charter over another, and that draw the most free-spending buyers in at the boat show.

Maxime Gérardin

I heard the same story, some 15 years ago, of a charter boat that was found missing its keel, when inspected in Falmouth. Allegedly, the keel was then found somewhere in the Scillies… Don’t know to what extent the story is true!

Alastair Currie

It’s a true story, the keel in the Scilly Isles, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 37 built in 2001 and was reported and documented in at least the UK yachting press. The boat had been returned and placed back on charter a number of times before anyone noticed the keel was missing. After investigation, the keel was found sitting upright in the rocks and was recovered. There are so many points that could be discussed but where do you start! Clearly, it demonstrates that damage can be caused to this keel type and then later, the keel fails with no water ingress.

https://www.yachtingmonthly.com/specials/sailing-100-miles-without-a-keel-30486

Richard Elder

Hi John and Alastair
John, as you know I can’t resit a good yarn.

Keelhauled
So I got a call that a boat was coming to our yard that needed to be hauled immediately. We were standing by and hauled the 120′ Christensen motor yacht the minute she was in the slings. It had run aground on a charted rock off of Petersburg Alaska, and the crew had driven it non-stop down from Petersburg to our yard in Vancouver BC. The crew did report that it was difficult to use the lower heads because water kept surging up on your bum.

My phone soon started to ring from the owner— a Naval Architect who owned a business in San Diego doing cost-plus-plus business for the Navy. He was on the next flight to Canada to “tell me how to repair the vessel” and have her in Alaska in two weeks ready for his next scheduled charter. Cursory examination showed that the boat was built with a stub keel about 3′ deep and 70′ long that also served as the black water tank. It had been ripped apart for most of it’s length— hence the wet bums in the heads. The only thing that kept the yacht from sinking for 800 miles of the Inside Passage was the 5200 holding the floorboards down. Re-manufacturing the keel was the easy part— convincing a Certified Naval Architect that he was not going to have his yacht fixed in a week and convincing my boss not to sign a fixed contract were the hard parts.

As it turned out the Naval Architect had good reason for concern. His charterers were Russian Oligarchs of the type you do not say no to. (remember Polina Star?) When the charter did commence a month later the Wife—- Mrs. X — asked the captain to drive the bow up to a rock wall so she could pick flowers without getting her feet wet or spilling her wine glass. When the captain objected, the bodyguards simply waved their Uzis in the air and the maneuver commenced.

Philip Wilkie

We’re based at a large Brisbane marina with a fairly busy hard stand that usually has 10 – 15 boats being worked on, plus another few dozen parked longer term in another area. I walk through the area almost daily, and without exception there is always at least one yacht being worked on for keel damage of some sort. Or rudders, or cracks, or mast steps being repaired.

It’s been a sobering eye-opener to just how vulnerable some designs are to hull damage, and how frequently it happens. I’d imagine most owners prefer to keep these embarrassing and expensive repairs low key and out of sight if possible.

I was chatting a week back with a very experienced boat builder and he was adamant that there are ‘very few boats out there’ he would buy, regardless of price. Once you rule out all the boats that are old but need a lot of money spending on them, newish but are full of design and manufacturing flaws, or simply are not a good fit for the mission you have in mind … you’ve weeded out 95% of the marina. Or more.

Now of course it seems perfectly possible to compromise and have a lot of fun sailing a boat that falls short of ideal, but understanding the hidden risks is key to success. After all plenty of people are out there making the best of yachts that fall well short of the Boreals and Outbounds we’d all love to sail. What they all seem to have in common however are the seamanship and skills to work their boat inside it’s limits. And to that end, simplicity is a major virtue.

Another recent conversation with the owner of a brand new big name French catamaran was telling me how the electrics on his boat ‘scare the crap out of him’. He’d counted over 80 relays! As an automation engineer I find this incomprehensibly complex. Another brand new cat parked right next to me left the manufacturer 9 months ago with 155 items on the defect list! Some of them reasonably major (which is why it’s parked next to me for the past two months).

Put all of this together, plus increasing unaffordability locking out the younger generation, and I can only agree with John’s general contention that the marine industry has taken a wrong turn somewhere in the past two decades. Lot’s of wonderful new materials and components, but not so many wonderful boats.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Phillip,
You refer to there being many boats that fail to meet certain standards and suggest that they get away with it by having skippers that are wise enough to have the “seamanship and skills to work their boat inside it’s limits.”
I would suggest that perhaps some of these skippers have the seamanship to sail their boats within its limits, but that the majority do not have a clue what the limits of their boat are and that they rely on luck, whether they know it or not.
After all, in my estimation, there are few publications, surveyors, brokers, builders etc. who give an accurate appraisal of a boat’s capacities: its strengths and weaknesses in the light of its intended use. So, it takes a really diligent and patient skipper to educate himself or herself in this realm.
My thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Rob Gill

Hi Dick,
I read your comment and nodded in sage agreement as a sailor and a “boomer”. Interesting BBC documentary, featuring the development of yachting in the 60’s and the making of many of my sailing heroes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVDpIqFJXZE
For a sport that is largely still self-taught and amateur coached, is any generation really less capable? And is the boating industry less able today? I’m not sure, but if you’re short of time, do fast forward to 13:15 for a “state of the boating industry” circa 1960s – how times change, but stay the same.
Br. Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi Rob,
What fun. Looks like a great program. Skipped ahead to the part you flagged and was confirmed in my thought that as “money” got involved and dominant, quality went down. I plan to watch the whole program this evening with family.
Thanks for sharing.
My best, Dick

Alastair Currie

An observation on some encapsulated keel designs. By nature they can be quite wide and as such may have a long faired section aft of the ballast. This fairing is dead space and can be filled with a material which is glassed in or be left open to the bilges, as a useful space to extend water tanks or form a sump for strum boxes, for example. The space is also usually below the engine. On Rival yachts, there has been at least one instance where a grounding damaged the faired section, right aft, and it was impossible to access the space to stop water ingress. The damage was caused by grinding of the hull on the seabed, as opposed to the initial impact. There can be an assumption that encapsulated keels could offer greater integrity over a bolted keel but they could have other weaknesses, in addition to those discussed in the article. A few Rival owners have filled this space as an upgrade because of this risk and some carry fast set concrete to pour into the space because of the risk. If considering an encapsulated keel try and get a detailed understanding of the design. In my case, tapping the encapsulated keel easily identified the space and it shows up as an area that dries faster than the keel when lifted. I also have a glassed in engine sump tray, with two stub penetrations to lower strum boxes through, that sits right over the space making it almost impossible to access.

Drew Frye

These stories of keel loss underline my point that the hull should NOT be engineered such that the bolts can pull a chunk out of the hull. The system must fail safe.

Peter De Boer

Thanks John
Your comment ‘An external lead keel affixed with bronze bolts is my favourite keel type of all’ is a great confidence booster coming from someone as experienced as you. That is what we have.
It is attached to our 1985 Paul Whiting 40, built tripple diagnol kauri

Jeffrey Harris

John, How about naming names and calling out manufacturers specifically. It is great that you identify in picture a poor design identified as Beneteau, but call out the product no where in the text. This would apply to well executed designs as well. While AAC is not Practical Sailor, neither is it the Cruising world genre, a business model ingratiated only to it’s advertisers. It is clear that you admire the $800k Boreal, but for most of your constituency it would be helpful to identify specific, named, “attainable” products rather than the generalizations of what is good and bad. Although this comment is in the keel review section, it applies to other chapters/books such as how to buy a cruising boat. As an appreciative AAC member, I did try to find a boat checking as many of the recommended AAC boxes as possible, in this case the keels. Other than perhaps Boreal and Outbound, both well out of my range, I could find no specific guidance from AAC. The result (from both this chapter and others) was an external lead fin keel spade rudder with a carbon stock, an epoxy fiberglass hull, a carbon spar, from a company in business 60 years. While I thought I got almost all of AAC’s structural recommendations, I missed probably the most important one, clearly addressed in the Outbound 46 part 2 keel chapter “financial risk.” (Also addressed by yourself and many of the comments in other chapters of How to Buy a Cruising Boat). I bought a Tartan. Tim Jackett. Built in Ohio. Ticked almost all of the AAC structural boxes. I placed the deposit almost 2 years ago and the boat is still not done, the company having essentially gone bankrupt after accepting 80% of the purchase price (“financial risk!”) They have since been reacquired by Seattle Yachts – but that is another story. In any case, my request to you, as many of your subscribers practice in the comments section, is to name names and call out the specific companies which provide products both to your liking and otherwise.
Apologies if this is posted in the wrong thread. It is here because of the Beneteau example, but I understand it may be better suited to a different chapter.

Steve D

John:

Great answer.

I can empathize, as boat owners often ask me to recommend yards where they can have work carried out competently. A few years ago I embarked down a path of rating boat yards, which would include a certification program. As I dug deeper into it I realized the immensity of the scope, which was much of what you described. Among the biggest challenges was the ever changing nature of the business, a yard that checked all the boxes today, could change dramatically in a short time with even a small turnover in staff. While I haven’t given up on this prospect of yard certification, it would require, as you say, a staff to manage this, and preparation for the inevitable legal liability.

Marc Dacey

That is the critical piece of the puzzle. Reputation rests not on the past, but the present, and the ‘diesel genius’ or the ‘coatings wizard’ on whom a yard’s rep has been built may be retired or dead by the time you enter the Travelift…but the reputation persists. There are few ways to validate even sincere endorsements without having Holmesian research skills.

P D Squire

Ouch! 80% paid and no confirmed delivery-date.

It seems to me that the biggest difficulty naming an Attainable Adventure Cruiser with approval is that it simply doesn’t exist, at least not while “attainable” means costing less than a house, “adventure” means high latitudes, and “cruiser” means sea-kindly motion and layout. The yacht-equivalent of Suzuki’s Jimny would seem ideal. Suzuki has made 2.85 million Jimnys since 1970 and the company turns over $8-9 billion per quarter. Nothing with this level of financial backing, research, development, & refinement will ever appear on the yacht market. (If it did, the adventure destinations would all be crowded.) Since no one took up the A40, even resigning ourselves to a budget of 20 Jimnys leaves no obvious option. The genuine adventure options cost 100 Jimnys. Phillip’s boat-builder friend seems right: 95% of boats can be rejected more-or-less immediately. We’re all looking for that 1-in-a-hundred boat. If anyone finds it in less than 2 years’ searching they would seem to have done very well. John & Phyllis are over a year into their search already!* Anyone fortunate enough to be able to dispense with the “attainable” attribute and order e.g.; a new Boreal will still be waiting 2 years for delivery. I hope Seattle Yachts honours Tartan’s commitments for you and you get what sounds like a wonderful boat soon.

Thanks for sharing your painful experience, most people are too shy so the hive-learning doesn’t occur.

*https://www.morganscloud.com/2019/05/18/wow-buying-an-offshore-sailboat-is-really-hard/

Grant Calverley

A sad story with a good ending. My first larger boat was a 1988 37.5 Hunter Legend. We kissed a reef up in the Gulf Islands (another story) and were able to sail back to Pt Townsand for repairs. This is what we found. The lead keel is attached to the hull and internal pan (stiffener) with stainless steel bolts, all looking good. However, the force and leverage of the grounding on the tall and narrow “performance” fin keel had driven the rear portion of it up into the hull and stiffening pan perhaps an inch, then dropped back down so as to be almost imperceptible when out of the water and when surveyed in the bilge. After grinding and opening the bottom up at the rear of the keel for repairs we found the hull at that critical juncture was approx 1/8″ thick and totally relies on the internal, and unfixable pan for all of its stiffness. My old Coleman canoe had a thicker hull than that! Only three light layers of glass between you and the bottom of the sea. Scary! The boat ended up being totaled by the insurance company and I now have a 78′ Herreshoff Caribean 50, a full encapsulated lead 3/4 keel boat with a centerboard. Plenty of work needed, but I am starting with something solid and the price was still affordable. Good boats are out there. The fiberglass hull is over 3/4″ thick where I have measured and I feel much safer. This boat can survive a grounding.

I would caution against any production boat with a fin keel as they all seem to be built this light with the unfixable internal pans and unfixable hulls from what I can see. The physics and leverage of a grounding will just crumple the rear hull area behind the fin keel. Making a tall and narrow fin keel strong enough to survive a grounding would be almost impractical from an engineering point of view. It is not “if” you will end up running aground, it is when. I am amazed insurance companies even insure them, but 95% of the boats in the Marinas seem to be built this way.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Grant,
Luckily not all boats are made that lightly, but too many are. When I lived outside NYC, there was a rock off Mamaroneck Harbor which introduced itself to boats with some degree of regularity.
Three boats came to my attention as they were surveyed by friends: a Waiquez (sp?), a Beneteau and another that I do not remember, . All were insurance write-offs as repair exceeded their worth and these were not old nor small boats. Two showed no (or few) signs of damage on the outside apart from the leading lower edge of the keel. Inside, not only was there the damage at either end of the keel such as you report but nearby bulkheads looked fine till you saw that the tabbing was all torn from the hull. The furniture in the center of the boat was all displaced also.
I do not know how much actual difference it could make, but I have always looked with admiring pleasure at the extra work the manufacturer/naval architect of my boat (Valiant 42) went to with keel design. I have not ever seen this on any other sailboat as, I suspect, it adds expense.
The keel stub is slanted starting high at the front end and ending up a good deal lower at the aft end. The lead keel must then be similarly slanted on its top edge where it connects to the hull. I do not know the angle off of horizontal, but it is quite noticeable. This design, among other things, pretty much protects the keel bolts from shear loads. It also softens the “hinging” effect of a grounding on a fin keel and transfers grounding loads into the whole hull structure around the keel rather than concentrating them it the forward and aft end of the keel attachment area.
I am no engineer, but this always struck me as a smart design. The rest of the keel attachment structurally in the hull around the keel stub seems similarly smart and robust.
I have been fortunate to not test the effectiveness of this design.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Jonny Tilney

Before you all keelhaul me, may I say hat’s off to John and Phyllis, because although I’m not often here, every time I read MorgansCloud I am educated and enthralled by the articles and subsequent conversations. It seems a world apart from other forums and publications. But to make my point: As an owner of a boat none here would ever even conceive of owning, I am struck by one fact that gives me a crumb of comfort. Seeing the small number of keel failures (and fatalities) quoted in relation to the hours of sailing and passage making achieved over the years the actual risk is infinitesimal, at least when compared to something like the risk of driving your car on public roads. Therefore I don’t think I will change our choice of a pre-owned, pre-financial crisis model (’07) Jeanneau 42i which has not been chartered, has been immaculately looked after (second owner) and had a top rated UK surveyor do a thorough survey when we bought her three years ago (keel not detached for inspection). We’ve sailed her six thousand miles in the UK and the Med and may never go much further afield, but we intend to enjoy her to the max for as long as we can. This isn’t meant to be inflammatory and takes nothing away from the excellent article and discussion, but it helps me curb my reaction while reading to immediately sell her for something much more sturdy. I hate to think that sailing should only be the preserve of the very wealthy, or perhaps engineers. Meanwhile, I do think the standards of boatbuilders could be measured by some marine body, after all, we already have a Euro NCAP car safety rating system.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, just out of interest, what would your thoughts be on a keel like this, from a Yachtworld offer of a Hunter 42 Passage: https://imgur.com/246vxQH
I would think that there simply must have been some water getting to the keel bolts. It doesn’t look really sound to me…

Murray Arthur

Hi John,

Wondering your thoughts on Contest yachts, mainly if you know about the keels being cast iron (which of course relates to your article on cast iron being a no go zone).

I’m currently looking at this one and it ticks a lot of boxes except for the keel which I’m nervous about.

I’ve read they use a high quality iron and being a welder by trade there is most certainly cast iron and cast iron. But at the end of the day it’s still an inferior product.

I find it surprising that a yard such as contest would use CI in boats built to Lloyds specs.

Interested in your thoughts.

Murray Arthur

Thanks John, that puts me at ease a little more.

This is the boat (sorry, copy and pasting on phone in text above didn’t quite work)

https://www.trademe.co.nz/3131302086

Some more specs here, it’s a Dutch yard that builds to Lloyd’s specs so I assume the balsa is above the waterline.

Construction
Hull
Finish: white gelcoat
Painted stripe and double waterline, antifouling
GRP construction: laminated transverse and longitudinal reinforcement,
engine-foundation and laminated bulkheads
The laminate is constructed of GRP resin, chopped strand mat (CSM) and
woven roving (WR) with an extra anti-osmosis layer of resin and an
insulated end grain balsa wood sandwich
Lead/cast iron deep fin keel with bilge sump
rudder shaft & rudder replaced in 2008 – GRP rudder blade with
stainless steel rudder shaft
Deck
Finish: White gelcoat
GRP construction: deck with laminated foam profiles
The laminate is constructed of GRP resin, chopped strand mat (CSM) and
woven roving (WR) with end grain balsa wood; solid grp laminate in way of
all deck fittings.
Deck-hull construction completely filled, fixed by means of bolts and the
laminated deck-hull construction
Cockpit – Self bailing drainage with teak slats on floor and teak on seats

Murray Arthur

Thanks John, that’s great advice and very much appreciated!

I’ve emailed Contest about it and just trying to find out a Hull number so they can confirm whether the decks are indeed balsa core.

I’ll be sad if they are as I love the boat, but also very happy I didn’t unknowingly wade into a potential major issue.

Cheers
Murray