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Keel Bolt Inspection and Repair

Despite advances in imaging technology, keel bolts are still very difficult to fully inspect without a bit of surgery. Fortunately, some hints of trouble are obvious, like large gaps in the keel-stub joint, weeping rust stains near the keel-stub joint or crumbling bolt-ends in the bilge. A typical problem that many owners face is the ever-widening gap between the keel and stub, often referred to as a smile, since it usually appears at the bow of the boat and assumes the sardonic curve of a slack tightrope.

Sistering Keel Bolts

I have a keel bolt issue with my 1981 Freedom 33. To bolt the keel to the hull, Freedom set stainless J bolts into the mold and then cast the keel around it. While I was trying to torque one of the six keel bolts (5/8-inch), it sheared off. The rest seem fine. As much as 100 foot-pounds of torque, and repeated hammer blows have not had any effect on them. However, I plan to install multiple sister bolts to be safe. Here is how: Drill bolt holes within a few inches of the old ones, then fill them with fresh water. Drill a small-diameter hole horizontally, from the outside, to intersect the bolt hole. When that "pilot hole" is in the right location, the water in the new bolt hole will run out of the pilot hole.

Buying a Used Multihull

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A Quest for Keel Integrity

Over the past few years, weve noticed a worldwide uptick in keel failures. The problem has yet to reach epidemic proportions, but we are hearing more and more troubling accounts of what happens when the ballast parts company with the hull, and a crew faces capsize, flooding, and-all too often-death.

Keel Bolt Repair Options

In a few of our past reports on boat financing, Practical Sailor discussed how to pre-inspect your potential dreamboat before committing to the next step and how to bring in a surveyor. Although the articles are geared to the prospective buyer, it is just as relevant to the owner of an older boat. If the boat in question has more than 20 years behind her, one item that will likely come up on a survey is keel bolts - the heavy duty fasteners that keep your keel from going on a bottom tour while you reach for handholds on your suddenly tippy craft.

When Keel, Stub Part Ways

I have a 1980 Albin Cumulous with an iron keel. The keel has recently been cleaned, primed, and painted, and is holding up well. However, the seam between the keel and the keel stub is opening up. The keel bolts are not leaking. The last time this seam opened, I squeezed in some 3M 101 polysulfide sealant and that seemed to work. Is there a better sealant that I should be using?

Bilge Oil and Keel Worries

I have been looking at purchasing a Catalina 36 that had an engine oil leak, but first I wanted your opinion. The leaked oil accumulated in the bilge, and, in time, appears to have percolated through the base of the hull on either side of the keel, through the holes in which were mounted the sum/log impeller and the depth transducer. On the underside of the hull, there is a 4-inch dark halo that has impregnated the antifouling around each of these two fittings. I am concerned that the oil will damage the components and bedding seals. Also, the percolating oil has seeped down the keel bolts and darkened the joint where the ballast-keel meets the keel stub.

The Mystery of the Bulging Fin Keel

I was reading a Mailport letter in the December 2014 issue of Practical Sailor, and it led me to your May 27, 2014 blog regarding keel failure. We have a 1977 Islander 28 with a bolted-on fin keel that is creating a safety issue. I am confident I know what the proper repair is (remove the keel and re-secure it), but I am more wondering if youve ever seen anything like this. On the starboard side of the keel, below the keel joint, a square chunk of lead is bulging out of the keel side. Ive had a few surveyors take a look at it, and theyve never seen anything like it either. The keel bolts do not leak-at least water doesn't come in. Thoughts?

Keel maintenance – Tip #1

Often seemingly minor problems on boats are indicators of more serious problems that, if not addressed early, will lead to bigger headaches and more expensive repairs. Gelcoat cracking on the deck, which can be either a harmless cosmetic problem or a symptom of wet core or some other structural failure, is a classic example of this scenario.

Your keel seam falls into the same category. It might easily be resolved with some underwater sealant, or it could be a symptom of a far more serious problem. Without dropping and inspecting the keel, you cannot know for sure. Given that this iron keel is 28 years old, the likelihood of serious corrosion between the stub and the ballast is significant. The keel bolts themselves may also be corroded. If your keel has never been dropped and inspected before, a close inspection is long overdue, particularly if you plan to take the boat offshore or beyond coastal waters.

Even if all is well with your keel assembly, it is unlikely that you will permanently seal your keel seam without some thorough prep work at the joint. Certainly, you may be able to fill the seam with a good adhesive sealant like you did before, but it will likely open again over time and you will not solve any larger hidden problems.

Once your inspection and any repairs are taken care of, achieving a proper seal will ensure this problem doesn't crop up again. To get a good seal, both the keel stub and ballast must fit cleanly together. In other words, the mating surfaces should be uniform and flush. Typically, the joint would require a minimum of sealant, most of which squeezes out of the joint upon tightening the keel bolts. If there was a poor fit to start with, more sealant isn't the answer.

The ballast needs to be removed, the surfaces cleaned, and a high-density epoxy filler will be required to fill the voids.

Once your keel stub is relatively smooth and free of voids, you can use it to "mold" a clean mating surface in the keel. To do this, you need a sheet of heavy polyethylene plastic that will fit like a gasket between the keel stub and keel and keep the two from bonding. For extra protection, you should cover both sides of the "gasket" in a mold release wax, or similar mold release agent. You must also make sure the keel bolts are liberally coated and packed in grease. A failure to ensure a clean release here can cause some significant problems. You then fill the voids in the mating surface of the ballast keel with putty or high-density Chockfast (www.chockfast.com). The hull and its plastic gasket is then lowered back onto the epoxy-filled ballast (with the plastic in between the hull and putty-coated keel), and the excess epoxy squeezes out evenly, developing a flush fit. Any excess epoxy should be cleaned away with a putty knife or plastic spreader. Once the epoxy has cured, the hull is again lifted, and the epoxy and grease residue are thoroughly cleaned. Finally, the hull/ballast joint is bedded with a polysulfide or polyurethane adhesive meant for underwater service. The parts are mated and lightly bolted up. Dont make the final torque adjustments until the sealant has fully cured.

For more advice on how to inspect and repair your boat and boats keel, purchase This Old Boat, 2nd Edition from Practical Sailor today!

Keel Failure Redux

This summer, the once lovely Oyster 825 was hauled from the water with its keel missing and a large chunk of skin laminate peeled back. Another casualty in a disturbing trend. I wrote a lengthy post on the subject of keels last year, and technical editor Ralph Naranjo discussed the topic in his report Rethinking Hull Structure in the February 2015 issue of Practical Sailor.