William Souter Talks Keel Maintenance

What is the last thing you look at as the boat is being lifted out of the cradle and into the water? It is the same thing that you looked at as the boat was being set into the cradle six months earlier, the keel, and that is about as much thought that we usually give it. After all for most people these are the only times that we can actually see it, I hope, without swimming.

I would like to both confess to a similar condition in my youth and tell that with a little understanding you can gain the same level of knowledge about the keel as you have for other parts of the boat such as the sails and rigging. You may not be able to do the work; I do not wish to make everyone a keel maker or a boat builder, just to offer them insight, so that you will have a better understanding of what you see know when things look right and wrong.

As a young boy I would look at this shark-fin looking thing on the bottom of the boat every year, scrape some loose paint off it and paint it again. My Dad said paint the bottom, and polish the hull, so I painted the bottom and polished the hull. What else was necessary? The keel didn’t seem to change from year to year. After all it was always there, it always looked the same, it seemed fine to me.

Years later, while working at the same marina I saw the same thing every spring, well meaning, capable people trying to finish that last bit of painting before the boat was lowered in to the water, “could you just wait a minute while I finish the bottom of the keel?” seemingly ignoring or not understanding that a the very apparent open hull keel joint is not good or normal.

In this article I would like to explore the two major types or materials used in production boats, namely lead and iron. A brief outline of the production of both keels will be offered, as a starting point. From there the three major maintenance issues will be explored, keel surface concerns, keel bolt deterioration and casting deterioration. Please be aware that this article is not meant as comprehensive technical manual, only as an offering of my personal experience. I strongly encourage any one with concerns about their keel to seek out the advice of a skilled and qualified person…..

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