Keel safety self-help: you may not be an expert, but you can keep track of changes to your keel

Following Matthew Sheahan’s feature on the shocking facts of keel failure, he looks at what you can do to make sure your boat is safe. It might sound corny, but understanding your boat is much the same as understanding your body. Unless you are a medical expert, few have the technical knowledge to carry out a personal diagnosis on keel safety, but we usually know when things don’t feel right. A boat is no different and, while industry experts would caution against owners attempting to be surveyors, they do reinforce the idea that owners are best placed to notice any changes. At the very least you should start by raising the floorboards regularly and taking a look at the keel bolts and the surrounding structure. Any water in the bilge should be taken seriously and dried out. If the water keeps seeping back, professional investigation is required.   Inner liners have become commonplace in production boatbuilding and, while technically such systems are not fundamentally flawed, their structural integrity can be difficult to assess. “The incorrect or damaged bonding of an inner liner is surprisingly common in modern production boats,” says surveyor Julian Smith. “These liners are bonded into the hull at specific places, but because they are hidden we don’t always know where the bonding is supposed to be. However, there are areas that give us a good indication of whether there is an issue. Cracks that radiate out from keel bolt are an obvious indicator, but there can also be cracks around other areas of the liner where we can see the filler.” A common method of testing if the bonds are in good order is to tap along the lines of contact with the hull. A hollow sound can indicate an area with no bond. “Tapping around the points at which the inner liner should be bonded to the hull can be one way of identifying hollow areas,” points out Mike Taylor of non-destructive testing experts Minton Composites. “The trouble is that tap testing doesn’t give a conclusive result. But there are other ways of assessing these structures, including ultrasound, shearography and bond testing. The problem is that at £1,500-2,000 per day, these techniques can prove costly.”   Rust around the keel mounting area or a discrepancy in the appearance of your keel bolts can be issues too. “A rusty nut on its own may not mean that there is a problem,” says surveyor John Freeman. “Cleaning it and coating it with petroleum jelly and then keeping an eye on whether rust develops will give an indication of whether there is a problem. But a rusty washer could suggest a more serious issue underneath and would need to be investigated further.”   Fractures in longitudinal and transverse members in way of the keel should be looked for, along with signs of stress cracks in surface coatings. The shiny internal mouldings aboard modern production boats show up such flaws well and these could indicate that all might not be … Continue reading Keel safety self-help: you may not be an expert, but you can keep track of changes to your keel