Keel Problems

Page updated: 16 January 2016

As noted in the Boat Description page, the keel plate on the SeaHawk is "L-shaped" and supported at the two extremities. At the forward end a substantial bolt acts as a pivot. At the aft end it is supported on a steel strop. This page covers a range of issues connected with the keel.

Go to TopKeel Bolt

No one has reported any form of failure of the keel bolt. However, one owner chose to replace the bolt while he had the keel out of its housing. His boat is Core'ngrato.

Another owner has supplied a photo of the wear found on his keel bolt as part of a discussion on Sticking Keels on the forum.

Go to Top Strop Issues

There has been one report on the old mail list (Now replaced by The Forum) of a serious strop failure. The owner said:

If you've still got the original strop holding up your lifting keel you'd better check it for any signs of rust and pull it very gently. Ours looked fine, but a few years ago it suddenly broke and the keel went right round and made a hole in the hull! We had to work quite hard to stop the boat sinking before we got it to a boat yard.

However, such a disaster is clearly not guaranteed as owner, Bill Tinsley, reported that his Wire Keel Handle had a problem:

When dropped by a dull crew member the triangular handle promptly folded up and disappeared down the slot. It took a lot of fishing with welding rods to retrieve it. We now have a proper "handle" in stainless steel similar to the SeaHawk aluminium job. Drawing available if anyone needs it.

In another case, where a severe leak was found, it was assumed to have had a poor repair to its keel housing following the freeing a jammed keel. However, following the report of the cable break, it is also possible the damage was caused by the keel dropping and swinging further than the design allows. Wanting to avert this problem one owner said:

All I need for this season is someone to tell me how I can change the keel cable, as I can't seem to extract the screw bolts to remove the old one without causing some damage. Any ideas?

Someone replied:

I had the same problem and simply decided that it would hold for another 20 years. I just fed cable through fitted a stainless hard eye and crimped the cable. It'll mean borrowing a riggers crimping tool which a friendly local marina would I'm sure oblige.

A recommendation from Clive Marsh to overcome the issue of a sticking keel is to replace the wire strop with thin galvanised steel so the plate can be pushed down as well as pulled up. As he put it, "In other words don't just rely on gravity". Clive has owned two SeaHawks which he sailed out of Rye on the Kent coast, and whose review of the SeaHawk was published in Practical Boat Owner.

Go to Top Jamming Keels

As implied by Clive's recommendation above, a number of owners that cruise coastal waters report barnacles and other fouling on the keel that prevents it from being raised and lowered. Usually a bit of brute strength can shift the keel and when ashore it is relatively easy to clean up the fouled keel. The owners of Sea Holly and Core'ngrato have provided photographs and background to work on their keel plates. Another said:

The keel was sticking a little so I jacked it up on the trailer using packings under the flats on the end of the ballast keel and under the bilge keel stubs. It worked well and after sliding out the trailer keel support board I had full access to the keel.

Of far greater concern than these marine maintenance problems are the stories of two early craft with exposed ballast, one a coastal boat and the other kept on the Norfolk Broads. Their owners both reported that their drop keels became stuck when in the water but were free when the boat was lifted out.

Hull Ballast in an Early Boat

The current theory is that, over time, water in the bilges rots the wooden shuttering holding the ballast in place. All may seem well ashore but once afloat, with the hull is no longer as rigid as it was, it can flex slightly, moving the ballast so it pinches the keel casing, causing the keel plate to jam. One of the owners reported:

Having ground the plate, primed and SP105'd the keel she worked fine until we put her on the water. I then suggested that the concrete holding the iron ballast in place around the keel housing might indeed be pinching the casing. A good deal of sweat and tears with a mini Kango, several buckets and a set of household scales, we put in a piece of wood around the housing leaving a gap for movement, replaced the ballast together with some grit and lightly screeded over in a strong mix to hold all in place - we then reinstated the flooring covering the gap we had created - as far as we know there haven't been any problems since and the new owner hasn't posted anything about this as far as we know.

Good luck with the grunt work if you try this one!

On inspection the Broads-based boat was found to have plywood shuttering round the concrete that had rotted to a point that it had the strength of a wet cereal packet, suggesting the theory may be right.

This is not the sort of work that is commercially economic. If thinking of buying a boat with exposed concrete ballast make sure that you check the keel both ashore and afloat. If you are not prepared to carry out the work to correct the situation yourself, you may find yourself with repair costs greater than the value of the boat.

Go to TopHull Repair

Another reported keel problem perhaps might more properly be considered a hull repair. Little Auk had broke its moorings and was holed on a rocky beach.

Go to Top