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Old 19-04-2014, 18:55   #1
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Encapsulated iron keels

This just seems like a bad idea to me. I've got no issue with external irons keels where they can be inspected and maintained. Covering iron with fiberglass at a place where impact (and therefore moisture intrusion) is virtually certain to occur, seems like it will end in a maintenance disaster. What are owners' experiences? If I'm looking to buy a 30 year old boat, should I steer clear of encapsulated iron keels?
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Old 19-04-2014, 19:16   #2
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

I have a 30 yo boat with an encapsulated iron keel. Someone with more knowledge than I may well chime in, but of all the things to watch out for on a boat of that age, the material of an encapsulated keel seems very low on the priority list.

IMHO, encapsulated keels tend to be much more maintenance-free than external ballast.

But of course, so much depends on which production line you are talking about, and which boat from that line you are actually looking at.
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Old 19-04-2014, 21:18   #3
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

G'day, Mate. 30 year old Mason 53 with an encapsulated iron keel. It has never been an issue in the 16 years that I have owned the yacht. If the quality of the build of vessels on your list are above the norm, I would expect you would end up sleeping very well at night.

If you're interest in owning a well kept Mason 53, send me a private message and we can discuss. All the best. Cheers.
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Old 19-04-2014, 21:32   #4
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

Wandering around a slipway yesterday, I saw a guy digging out the iron scrap that had been encapsulated in his grp hull's keel. He was using a sort of miniature jackhammer to do it. Quite a noisy process, and slow, too. He showed us rusty bits. His plan is to remoe it all, use lead ballast, and re-do the grp. He had been getting salt water intrusion into the boat. The boat is 40 yrs. old. I don't know if there was a hard grounding in its past or a design flaw. He's expecting her to be good for another 40 yrs., he said.

So, to the OP, I'd say if the possibility of that job is a dreadful one to you, stay away from 'em, but if you're a good DIY and have a place you can afford to be out of the water for a while without it costing an arm and a leg--go for it.

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Old 20-04-2014, 14:25   #5
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

My main issue with iron keels is the fact that they are lighter than lead keels of the same size.
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Old 20-04-2014, 15:32   #6
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

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Originally Posted by deluxe68 View Post
My main issue with iron keels is the fact that they are lighter than lead keels of the same size.

Since keel size and weight is a function of the design that in itself is not an issue.

Dave
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Old 20-04-2014, 16:10   #7
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

There are a few boats around that only have partial lead keels with the balance of the weight being cast iron. One of note is the Albin Vega and that is a boat where keel corrosion is rarely if ever seen to be a problem. From my own observations, cast iron is much less prone to severe corrosion than steel.
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Old 20-04-2014, 16:16   #8
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

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Originally Posted by sardinebreath View Post
This just seems like a bad idea to me. I've got no issue with external irons keels where they can be inspected and maintained. Covering iron with fiberglass at a place where impact (and therefore moisture intrusion) is virtually certain to occur, seems like it will end in a maintenance disaster. What are owners' experiences? If I'm looking to buy a 30 year old boat, should I steer clear of encapsulated iron keels?
My boat has an encapsulated keel and in maintenance terms it's a great improvement on external ballasting. They made over 80 of them and as far as I know they're all still going strong and many of them have circumnavigated.

The boat? It's an Oyster 435. 'Nuff said.
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Old 20-04-2014, 16:17   #9
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

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My main issue with iron keels is the fact that they are lighter than lead keels of the same size.
I agree that lead is a preferable ballast material for a number of reasons. My question was solely about the likelihood of water intrusion in an encapsulated keel. Clearly if you do get water intrusion and you have iron ballast, you are going to be seriously screwed. And it seems to me that water intrusion at some point is pretty likely based on the likelihood keel impacts.
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Old 20-04-2014, 16:55   #10
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

I have a Little Harbor 38 with encapsulated keel. Built in 1982 still no problems. I believe the used iron that year because lead was so expensive. My only complaint, I lost 3 inches or so of bilge depth.
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Old 20-04-2014, 17:53   #11
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

The first 250 or so Westsail 32's had composite lead and boiler punching ballast. The newest of those boats is nearing 40 now and haven't heard of any problems. I'd prefer all lead but encapsulated iron seems to work possibly because of a lack of oxygen. FWIW, they've dug up iron weapons that have been in the ground for two millennia. They weren't bright and shiny but still recognizable.
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Old 20-04-2014, 20:42   #12
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

I went through agonizing about this last year when I was considering which boat to buy. I'd always had external lead on prior boats and didn't realize just how many boat were made with either external or encapsulated lead or iron. Many of these are considered to be very high quality boats with good reputations. My first reaction was just like the OP, what a stupid thing to do, putting something that reacts (rusts) with salt water and surrounding it with salt water. But after talking to many people who had worked on these boats, I overcame my initial fears and ended up buying our Tayana 47 with an encapsulated iron keel.

First, I couldn't find a single boatyard where anyone could remember dealing with a solid encapsulated keel that had been damaged by salt water intrusion. If it were really a big problem, it seems like there would be lots of boats sitting in yards with keels cracked open and rust stains oozing out of the crack, but you just don't see that and there are a whole lot of boats with encapsulated iron keels around. I have heard of the kind of ballast where smaller pieces of iron are embedded in some medium being more problematic but it seems even that is quite rare. Most high quality boats with encapsulated iron have one big chunk of iron lowered into into a hollow keel shape and then resin poured around the iron to fill any voids. Also, the solid fiberglass that surrounds the iron, especially on the bottom, is thicker than anywhere else in the hull. So, in order for water to come in contact with that solid hunk of iron, the water would have to make it all the way through thick layers of fiberglass and then through the resin that was poured in to fill the voids. If it does, then the supply of oxygen that would be required for damaging extensive corrosion to take place would be severely limited due the fact that the iron has resin adhered to its entire surface.

So, I came to the conclusion that I was worrying about something that seems to just not hardly ever happen unless I hit a rock or coral head pretty hard. In that case, I would want to have the boat hauled for inspection no matter what the keel was made of. With an encapsulated iron or even lead keel, I would want it dried out, any exposed iron recoated with epoxy, and the fiberglass repaired. With a bolted on lead keel, I'd either just fair the dent in the lead, or drop the keel so the bolts could be inspected, depending on how hard I had hit. I would have more urgency to get hauled out sooner with encapsulated ballast than external ballast though.

I think my first choice of ballast would be encapsulated lead because fiberglass is a lot easier to keep paint stuck to than lead, and it eliminates any chance of a catastrophic loss of keel resulting from corroded keel bolts that can't be seen unless keel is lowered and inspected. Next would be a bolted on lead keel. Third, but by a very, very small margin would be a solid iron encapsulated keel built by a reputable yard with a good track record. Fourth would be smaller chunks of iron or scrap iron or steel embedded in epoxy or some other medium because there is so much more surface area of iron involved, thus possibly increasing the risk of corrosion problems, though some reputable boats are built this way and have few problems. For me, my last choice would be a solid iron keel that is not encapsulated because it represents just one more task to knock the rust off and repaint during each haulout. But even external iron has been used successfully for a very long time and if the worst happens, it can be removed/replaced.

The problem with ruling out any boat with either encapsulated or external iron keels is that SO many good boats were made this way that your job of finding what you want is going to be made much harder. If the iron in encapsulated keels is a problem for a particular model boat, by going on their owners group forum or website, you'll see plenty of evidence of it. But, when I was looking, I did that and used the search functions of their sites and you find boat owners discussing how to fix just about everything aboard, but very rarely do you find even any mention of repairing or replacing encapsulated iron keels. Either there's a HUGE and successful conspiracy of silence by thousands of encapsulated iron keel owners, or the problems I'd envisioned of unstoppable corrosion causing the iron ballast to corrode and expand to the point of cracking the fiberglass shell is just not happening.

Good luck with your search and have fun!
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Old 21-04-2014, 01:29   #13
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

G'day mates. Per the previous post "Third, but by a very, very small margin would be a solid iron encapsulated keel built by a reputable yard with a good track record." +1 TaShing would be one such yard. Cheers
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Old 21-04-2014, 23:10   #14
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

the keel is covered in 4" resin do you have holes leaking in your boat haul? It would take 500 years to rust apart really just really?
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Old 22-04-2014, 01:47   #15
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Re: Encapsulated iron keels

Agreed it's not much of an issue. 30 year old stainless will be shot, but the iron keel will be fine.

My understanding is the iron gets lowered into a resin slurry in the keel that will totally displace any air gaps. As long as it's sealed it can't rust. And an impact serious enough to hurt it would probably break off an external keel anyway.

Now if you think it's pure virgin iron that's a different question. The Taiwanese just melted anything they could find. Machinery cars sprockets bicycles whatever. Sometimes they're still sticking out. Hence the slurry.
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