Thursday, March 1, 2018


Yes quite an alarming title but the subject has become serious to the point of World Sailing (ex- ISAF), the world governing body for the sport of sailing, to become seriously concerned and being on the verge of taking preventive actions.

The facts: surely everybody remembers the keel that some years ago fell off a Bavaria Match 42  and recently all know that an almost new 90ft Oyster lost the keel. Some know about two First 40.7 but less know about a Bavaria 390, a Jeanneau 37, a Vand den Stadt 45, a Sweden yacht 42, a Fast 42 a Maxi 110, a Max Fun 35 or more recently a Comet 45 and some days ago a Davidson 50.

Nor many know that since the mid 80’s more than 75 boats have lost the keel with the loss of  28 lives.

Probably the numbers of keels lost or boats abandoned offshore with problems on the keel are way bigger and much bigger the number of boats that were found with keel problems before actually a disaster would occur. These are only the numbers regarding the cases that were found by a a work group formed by World Sailing to study the problem and most of them were high profile cases. 

Some of the keels were lost due to the contact with the ground or submerged objects, some due to poor design or poor building like the cases of the Match Bavaria 42, the modified Oyster 825 or the Max Fun 35. Others due to the weakening of the structure as a result of bad maintenance, groundings whose damage passed unnoticed or were improperly repaired while others, like the recent case with the Comet 45, remain a mystery.

Although the Comet 45 has been recovered I don’t know of any investigation going on by the boat builder. Fortunately the boat was British and used in charter and MAIB has opened an investigation to the accident some days ago.

The number of keels lost is increasing and will increase much more in the next years if nothing is made, simply because boats with bolt on keels (almost all today) will become older and the lack of maintenance and the number of damages due to keel grounding will become bigger with time, as well as material fatigue with the results that are to be expected. 

Fact is that most think that a keel does not need maintenance unless obvious signs of degradation start to appear but that's a keel repair, not keel maintenance. Maintenance should be preventive and should obey to a determined schedule, as it is made for rigs or for saildrive seals.

Even in countries where the legislation demands a mandatory regular yacht inspection the problem is not addressed simply because there are no clear industry guidelines in what regards proper maintenance and material fatigue for keel and keel structures. If it looks good and there is no obvious signs of corrosion or if there are not clear signs of problems on the outside of the keel, then it is OK.

Better than nothing but clearly insufficient and that leads us to the core of the problem: even if there is in the EU legislation that protects and gives warranties to consumers regarding the design of recreational and personal water crafts, the RCD, there is none in what regards inspections or accident investigation. 

There is a directive and an agency (EMSA) regarding accident investigation but only in what concerns maritime transport, none regarding recreational and personal crafts. Most countries don’t investigate recreational craft accidents in any way, much less in a detailed way.

And if recreational craft accidents are not seriously investigated there is no way of collecting relevant information that will allow the detection of building or design problems and other shortcomings like de ones that are related with the lack of proper maintenance.

That feedback is necessary to update the RCD in a way that contributes to erradicate those shortcomings in what regards boat design and improve boat security. It will also provide information regarding keel maintenance and adequate schedules.

There is a need for an EU agency similar to EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency) for recreational and private crafts, or a branch of it that occupies itself exclusively with that subject and we need European standards and procedures in what regards yacht accident investigation and yacht inspections.

In the absence of such an agency in Europe (and in the rest of the world) it is World Sailing that, seriously concerned with the increase of dangerous accidents with keel losses, on an interview to the magazine, states their intention for creating a mandatory keel system inspection and to increase building inspections to determine that the design specifications are fulfilled in reality and not only on paper.

In fact it was verified that at least in one case the designer specifications were not entirely followed and, being the actual verification of conformity regarding RCD requirements basically a paper one, it is necessary to improve that verification and for what I suspect, not only in what regards keels but also in what concerns boat stability.

But World Sailing has only jurisdiction regarding the sail boats that race on events that follow their rules, not regarding the vast majority of crafts including cruising sailboats. Their good example is better than nothing but it should be followed in what regards all offshore boats and not only the ones that will race on World Sailing events.

We need an agency with the power to provide those measures not only for boats used for racing but for all offshore yachts if we want safer and better built and maintained sailboats.


  1. I have never sailed more than a couple of hours at a time. However to me its very clear that aluminum hulls are the only way to go. No bolts, and even in the case of lifting keels, the specs say it cant get knocked off.

    1. I think that makes no sense. it is a choice as any other with advantages and disadvantages but in what regards to lose keels even steel boats have lost them.

      Not many years ago a steel Vand Den Stadt 45 capsized after losing the keel. Unfortunately the crew perished on the accident. Welded keels also fail, specially if not well repaired after a grounding.

      In 2008, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) set up a working party on keel losses, and they found 72 cases since 1984 of boats losing their keels.

      There were no defined causes in 44.5% of cases, but only three were attributed to keel bolt failure. Other causes included welded fin failures (11), grounding collision (8), internal structure (8) and canting keel system (2)

    2. your right there is no perfect solution

  2. So much relies on the integrity of the builder. With cost and time pressure the temptation to use under-qualified staff and take shortcuts is high.

    1. Off course, some boat structures and keels are much better than others but the RCD has been increasing keel demands and standards to make them more solid and I believe that what is demanded is already a reasonable standard even if I believe they should keep improving the standards.

      But if they are not inspected periodically all kind of shit can happen.

      I asked to a guy that has a fast cruiser racer, with about 12 years, that is used mostly for racing what was his schedule. He drops the keel for inspection each 5 years and had already substituted some of the bolts not because they looked bad but by precaution. This is common practice on offshore racing boats .

      Ok, the loads on racing boats or boats used extensively for racing are much bigger than on cruising boats so the schedule should be different: full inspections each 10 years with the keel dropped seems reasonable?

      It seems reasonable to me. Do you know of many boats with 11 years that had the keel dropped for inspection, if there is no signs that something is wrong? Do you know many with 15 years that had done that?

      I am pretty sure that many boats with more than 20 years never had the keel dropped and inspected.

      I believe we will see an increase of keels falling from boats simply because boats are not being correctly inspected or maintained, not even when grounded and on that case many are not being correctly repaired.

      Older boats with bigger keels or full keel needed less inspections? Sure.

      Are new boats badly built: No, they are much better sailboats (they sail better), they are less expensive to build, demanding more inspections.

      It is a 10 year period full inspection to the keel, with the keel dropped, an exaggeration?

      I don't think so, most don't have the same sailboat for more than 10 years and even if one keeps it for 30 years the boat would only have to have the keel dropped twice in his lifetime and I don't believe new boats will justify maintenance after substantially more than 30 years.

  3. Are they better sailboats, the new ones? I do not think so, - maybe they are faster around the bouys, but at sea they are not. One example I know is that when I sailed from Svalbard (Bear Island) to the norwegian mainland in 1996, I heard on the radio that a chartered cruiser racer with its professional skipper and a crew of 4 heli-rescue people aboard, glassfibre hull with short keel and spade rudder, was to leave from the N-part, while I was departing Sørbukta in the S-part in my Joshua steel ketch, the "Aurore". I called them on radio and told them that they probably would reach the mainland before us, with our 14 tons longkeeler, which they agreed on.
    However, when we met later in Tromsø, we found out that we (two persons) were 1 hour faster to the mainland than they were, having had our Aries selfsteering gear to steer the entire way S AND having the Dickinson stove burning all the time through the galeridden september sea.
    They had problems with steering in the confused wavepatterns and had a very cold trip without any heating. Their boat was a 43 ft. yacht contra Aurore's 40 ft.
    I have often observed similar things in my + 50000 nm with Aurore through the entire Atlantic and most of the Pacific oceans.
    So for ocean voyaging I definitively say LONG KEEL, well ballasted and metal hull and keel.
    Stig Larsen, Denmark

  4. A cruiser racer with a short keel is something that does not exist but I guess you wanted to say a fin keel?

    I don't know what happened but I have followed the ARC for many years and sometimes some old boats, mainly American make it, and they sail always well on the tail of the passage, among much smaller boats.

    I don't know how many miles I have done, maybe 30 000 and I had time to compare the performance of my boat(s) with the ones of heavy cruisers and I know something is wrong in what regards your story.

    Sailors that have heavy boats tend to call cruiser racers to all modern boats with a fin keel and that has obviously no sense. I bet that is what happens here. Can you tell the brand and model of that 43ft "cruiser racer" you are talking about?

  5. Hell Paulo, you are probably right about the fin keel and I don't remember the brand of the mentioned "cruiser racer" from the trip. but I know that Aurore averaged around 1000 nm a week during my later trip around the Pacific in the tradewinds (Panama-Guatemala-Mexico-Hawaii-Marshall Islands-Vanuatu-New Zealand-Chile) and from there S through Patagonia and up through the Atlantic to Denmark (1999-2003 totally). On the way to Panama in 1999 we got the infamous hurricane Lenny, where several "modern" sailing yachts were lost. We only lost one small staysail. It exploded. That is why I prefer heavy metal longkeelers for serious cruising. But I am of course oldfashioned with my 69 years of age. However, I have delivered many "fin keelers" across the North Sea and up to northern Norway and still prefer a proper craft at sea.
    Stig Larsen, Denmark

    1. The Joshua that oddly is now a one design racing class is a displacement boat and has a LWL of about 9.5m and a hull speed of 7.5kt. 1000nm in a week gives 142.8nm a day and an average speed of 5.95kt.

      A great performance for that type of boat but I remember that a couple, some years ago, on a small performance cruiser, Capado (31.2 ft) while cruising and circumnavigating averaged over 7kt on the Atlantic crossing.

      Of course, completely different boat, a semi displacement hull that can go with easiness over hull speed but that just says to you that you cannot compare the performance of old designed full keelers with the one of modern designs.

      If that was the case it would not make sense to forbid on the Golden Globe Race, where the Joshua is a one-design class, any remotely modern design to compete and all cruiser designs would be accepted, since the Joshua would be a match to them. ;-)