Caring for Encapsulated Ballast Keels

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If your boat has an encapsulated iron keel, don’t get lulled into believing that you are completely free of keel worries. Although you are generally better off than sailors with exposed iron keels, you still have to carry out routine maintenance and inspection, and be aware of the warning signs of water intrusion, which could lead to bigger problems.

Weve written a lot about keels recently, and over the years, weve offered tips on repairs to common problems like the C&C smile, when a lead keel pulls away from the keel stub, or how to deal with voids in lead keels. Ive also written here about the effectiveness of rust converters such as Ospho when reviving an iron keel. And more recently we’ve looked at the spate of keel-ectomies among older cruising boats boats with high-aspect-ratio fin keel designs.

A mystery rust streak near the keel we noticed during a recent haulout of Lost Boys, an Endeavour 42 that has served has a platform for a number of Practical Sailor tests, got me thinking about encapsulated keels again. A lot of people like the idea of having lead (preferably) or other ballast material encapsulated. Island Packet is probably the most familiar builder today that uses an encapsulated-ballast keel. One big advantage of having an encapsulated keel is that so long as the fiberglass and waterproof coatings remain intact, they dont require any special seasonal maintenance.

However, fiberglass is permeable, and on some older boats, water tends to find its way into the ballast. If the ballast is iron, the results can be ugly as the metal oxidizes and expands. Having a two-part epoxy barrier coat like the Interlux Interprotect system goes a long way toward preventing this kind of problem.

The chief maintenance concern with an encapsulated keel, though, is damage from a grounding. Sometimes this damage is so minor you might not even notice it, or might mistake it for chipped paint.

Fortunately, its not too hard to fix this sort of damage. For those who own or are thinking of buying a boat with an encapsulated keel, below Im re-running an excerpt from the archives about spotting and repairing minor damage to encapsulated keels.

Skin-deep Beauty

If youre gloating because you think your encapsulated keel frees you from any worries, forget it. Encapsulated ballast frequently requires more complicated care than an external ballast keel.

The danger is damage to the fiberglass shell surrounding the keel.

Even if you havent run aground this year, theres a good chance that somewhere along the way, you have acquired at least some superficial gouges in the lower part of the keel shell. These should be treated before they become problems. Even superficial damage to the gelcoat can allow water penetration into thelaminate.

Treatment of superficial gouges in gelcoat or the first layers of the laminate is straightforward. First, wash the damaged area thoroughly with high-pressure fresh water. Dry the gouged area with a handheld hair dryer. Roughen the edges of the gouge with very course sandpaper-50 grit or 36 grit.

Wash the area again thoroughly with acetone. Use a small, stiff-bristle brush to clean the gouge completely. Dry again with the hair dryer, after most of the acetone has flashed off. Dont breathe the stuff.

With the area thoroughly clean and dry, brush on a clear coat of epoxy resin, followed by epoxy resin thickened with microspheres or micro-balloons. In January 2016 we compared two-part paste fairing compounds from Jamestown Distributors, West Systems, Interlux, Systems 3, and MAS, and in the August 2017 issue we test several mix-it-yourself options using micro-balloons and epoxy resins. You can form and tape waxed paper (backed with cardboard or thin veneer if needed) over the epoxy patch to keep the epoxy from sagging out.

When its dry, sand smooth and touch up any voids or hollows with more filled epoxy.

When everything is filled, prime the patch and the surrounding area with a two-part epoxy primer. Most marine coatings manufacturers offer two-part primers, such as Interlux Interprotect 2000E or Pettit Protect 4700. Apply several coats-most makers recommend at least four. The barrier coat is important, because the gelcoat that you have sanded is now fairly porous, and is more likely to develop blisters than polished gelcoat.

Once the primer is cured, you are ready to paint. Some primers can be hot-coated while curing, but most manufacturers recommend allowing the epoxy to cure and sanding lightly before painting.

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