We investigate the causes of keel failures and find some worrying reports of near-misses
From cruisers with keels that rock from side to side, to cracks, gaps and alarming rust streaks, the stories that some industry professionals can tell make uncomfortable listening. Among the more shocking accounts I heard was one from a surveyor who was called to inspect a boat that had experienced a grounding. When he arrived on the scene and the boat had been lifted it was clear that it had hit the bottom harder than had been suggested by the previous charterers – so hard, in fact, that the keel was “hanging on by a thread”.
When the surveyor informed the charter operators of the damage, he was staggered to hear that the boat would be going back out on charter offshore the following day as the company did not want to suffer any loss of income and that there was no time to effect repairs.
Equally shocking is the story of a charter boat that lost her keel after hitting rocks in the Isles of Scilly, but went on to complete three charters and more than 100 miles of cruising before anyone noticed that the 37-footer had no keel.
And then there are cases of keel problems linked to botched structural repairs. In two cases that came to light during our investigation, keel bolts were passed through holes in the hull that were considerably bigger than the bolts themselves. In one case the keel failed as a result, although it did not fully part company with the boat. In the other, the issue was not identified until the keel was dropped from the hull to carry out a full study. In the latter case, the boat was a popular modern production cruiser-racer and was less than five years old.
Next: An insurance insider’s guide on how to keep your keel safe