Several months ago I was just hanging out with a long time delivery skipper and I’m not sure how we got on the subject but he shared with me one of his more memorable sailing experiences while doing a transatlantic delivery. I forget the exact location but as I recall he was somewhere near the Azores when he and the rest of the crew heard some rather odd noises creeping up out of the bilge area of the boat they were sailing. After lifting the floor boards and observing that rather large amount of water that was seeping into the boat via the keel bolts it became quite clear that the nuts on the studs holding the cast iron keel in place on the boat had come loose, really loose. Fortunately they had enough tools on board to slowly tighten up the bolts enough to slow down the water ingress into the boat and they continued on their way.
As he described this whole chain of events, the most significant part of the experience to him was the great luck he felt they had all experienced in that they caught the keel before it literally fell off the bottom of the boat! Well, recently I found myself inspecting a boat and much to my surprise, I was able to capture the photo above showing one of the series of keel bolts on this 40 ft boat. Look carefully, there is not lock washer, there is no nylock crown on the bolt, there is no lock nut (double nut configuration). There might be some lock tight on the threads although it wasn’t visible and no one seemed to know one way or the other. All of the keel bolts on this particular craft looked just like this. This boat is vulnerable to having the same thing happen to it as my delivery skipper friend went through.
Simply, there is no excuse for this. When I was cruising I used to check the torque on my keel bolts every year. I can’t remember precisely but I think I used to torque then to somewhere between 150 and 200 ft. lbs. using a torque wrench. The bolts on that boat used split ring lock washers under the nuts.
So, as part of your winter lay up sailboat people, why not give your keel bolts a look and see if they duplicate what you see above. If they do, correct the situation and get those bolts tightened. Remember, no keel and your boat tips over…Easy fix to prevent this rather alarming problem from from coming your way.