Recently I surveyed a 1988 Beneteau 345 sailboat for a buyer. The boat had the minor issues one might expect from a twenty-three year old boat, but it also has nice lines, a great layout, and tons of room onboard. And at the asking price it was a lot of boat for the money.

This 1988 Beneteau 345 sailboat was in great shape, but the keelbolts were rusty.

As is common on Beneteau sailboats of that era, the iron keel showed a bit of rust on its surfaces and at the keel/hull joint at the top. The keel is bolted right up against the canoe body of the hull, and the joint always moves a bit there, with rust resulting. This is a nuisance, but harmless—unless water in the joint has reached the keel bolts and corroded them. On the inside, the tops of the keel bolts raised another red flag - they were rusted almost beyond recognition. This left the buyer and me speculating about the extent of the corrosion hidden elsewhere on the bolts.

The keelbolt heads were very rusty, prompting the question: "Is the keel going to fall off?"

“Is the keel going to fall off?”

“Probably not, but . . .” and the conversation goes on from there.

The sight of rusted keel bolts doesn’t leave anyone with a good feeling, and it also significantly reduces the boat’s value. The issue has to be written up in the survey report, and in this case, the boat was put on “port risk” (meaning it cannot leave the dock) by the buyer’s insurance company until the keel bolts were replaced.

Don Coxe, the buyer, completed the replacement project himself last winter using a document available from Beneteau USA. New galvanized bolts purchased from Beneteau were threaded into the iron keel from the top. (Lead keels use stainless steel studs cast into the lead.) The challenge is to wind the old bolts out, but for the truly confident, Beneteau says that this can even be done one bolt at a time while the boat is in the water.

Once the heads were re-ground to accept a wrench, they all came out without breaking.

“The toughest part,” says Don, “was dressing the tops of the bolts with a grinder so that I could get a wrench on them.” After that, it was hard to get good leverage on the bolts in the tight space, but they all came out without breaking.

There was some corrosion of the bolts below their heads, but in general, the tops of the bolts in the bilge were worse than what was hidden from view. Two bolts were badly corroded, eight were discolored but had not lost significant metal, and one was a stainless steel bolt that somebody had replaced already.

The new keelbolts are a big improvement and have probably upped the boat's resale value.

The result is a huge improvement, and I’m convinced that the value of the boat just shot up by thousands of dollars. Rather than worrying about the keel falling off, a prospective buyer would be free to focus on how much value there is in the rest of the boat.

But for now, the boat’s not for sale. Don has the peace of mind from knowing that his keel bolts are sound, and he is enjoying his new boat.

Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. For more information, visit Grimes Yacht Services.