We investigate the causes of keel failures and find some worrying reports of near-misses

Going aground hard

Keel problems aboard some of the best-known models in the world are more common than you might think, and the reasons behind such failures are varied. All too frequently assumptions will be made that the keel bolts themselves have failed, but the reality is that there are other ways in which a keel can become separated from the hull.

One of the most common is simply going aground so hard that the boat stays there until it breaks up. There are several recent cases of well-known and popular production boats being driven aground in rough weather and the repeated pounding or attempts at dragging them off have resulted in the keel being torn off the boat. Yet a picture of a keel-less boat with some uninformed comment can paint a misleading picture.

Kneejerk reactions and online comment can ruin any chance of an open discussion about possible causes and frequently only serve to drive the issue underground as those in the firing line, such as builders and designers, engage in damage limitation. The upshot is that the sport learns nothing.

What is worrying some in the industry is the number of near-misses and structural issues that go unreported. Some look to the racing side of sailing and ask whether the move towards high-performance keels is building a potential timebomb of failures, while others raise concerns about the apparent ambivalence or ignorance of sailors towards the potential structural implications of a grounding.

And then there is the suggestion that some cash-strapped charter operators cannot afford to maintain boats to the level that might be expected of a commercial operation.

Next: Shocking accounts from industry professionals

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