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Ocean sailor Feature

THE GREAT KEEL DEBATE: LATEST

By Dick Beaumont, Chairman of Kraken Yachts

My thanks to Ocean Sailor reader, John Buckley, of Harbour Marine Services, for bringing the following to my attention:

‘Statement from the Chief Inspector of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch

This report builds on the Safety Bulletin the MAIB issued last year, and there are some important safety lessons for all yacht owners and operators to consider during the winter maintenance period.

The failure of Tyger of London’s keel is a timely reminder that a yacht’s keel is a safety critical item, and it should be surveyed and inspected regularly with this in mind. If owners have any doubt about the design or condition of the keel or its securing arrangements, they should seek specialist advice without delay.’

Such a statement coming from the government appointed body to investigate shipwrecks and their cause, beggars belief. What makes me mad is that the Chief Inspector has not identified that yachts designed with bolt-on keels are susceptible to these keel failures, but not all yachts are built this way. The ‘important safety lessons’ ignore the real issue, namely that the bolt-on keel method of yacht construction confers a built-in risk to sailors who venture far offshore.

The point is that a yacht’s keel should not be a safety critical item at all.

What the Chief Inspector should have said is that yachts with bolt-on keels are not suitable for sailing out of the reach of rescue services, but instead he told owners to check that their keels were not detaching during winter maintenance, as if this is normal practice!

He should have made the distinction between bolt-on keel yachts and yachts which have keels that are an integral part of the boat. It’s a bit like saying the foundations of a house are a ‘safety critical item’ and therefore should be checked for subsidence after winter rains. Yet it’s only the foundations of those houses built on sand which need to be checked after winter rains.

When will international bodies lobby for changes to regulations like the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) insisting they recognise that yachts with bolt-on keels are not suitable to sail across oceans? If the keel becomes detached from the hull of a sailing yacht when she’s out of reach of rescue service range the probability of loss of life is grave, as the sailors aboard the bolt-on keeled Cheeki Rafiki and sadly many other yachts have tragically found out.

How can the Chief Inspector have failed to identify that yachts with bolt on keels should not be awarded an RCD ~Cat A Ocean status when he has clearly shown he has identified this construction method as a serious risk to safety, especially when the yacht is taken offshore?

If the yachts which lost keels, ( a not infrequent catastrophe, see ‘Are we facing a keel and rudder ‘Time Bomb’, Ocean Sailor February edition ), were commercial vessels with hundreds of people on board there would be an uproar. What would follow, and rightly so, would be that such a construction method would be condemned as not fit for purpose. 

At the present time, thousands of new yachts with bolt-on keels are launched every year with RCD Category A-Ocean certification. These yachts are fine for inshore sailing, but where is the justification for grading them as fit to cross oceans?

It’s about time this ludicrous RCD A Ocean rating is corrected before more unsuspecting sailors are mislead into the conclusion that an ocean rating means it’s actually suitable for ocean sailing.

www.gov.uk/maib-reports/keel-failure-and-capsize-of-charter-yacht-tyger-of-london

Sign our petition below to help us change this crazy situation:

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