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Old 09-14-2000
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Tom Wood is on a distinguished road
Keel Shield

Most products that purport to do a number of things perform all their assigned tasks with indifference at best. Exceptions to this rule rapidly become legends, like the Swiss Army knife and the Leatherman tool. But rarer still, is the marine product that only bills itself as having one purpose when in fact it has many possible uses on board.

Such is the case with Keel Shield. As its name implies, Keel Shield is marketed primarily as a (grimace) powerboat product, most pointedly as a (shudder) PWC item. It is designed to be applied to the centerline V of these craft to protect this area of the boat when beaching and trailering. I first came in contact with Keel Shield several years ago when a SailNet customer inquired about having one added to the bottom of his new RIB.

And here’s the rub. For hard dinghies and RIBS, the Keel Shield is a smart buying decision. Many of these boats are simply too heavy for the average cruisers to beach without dragging them over the rocks and shells. Keel Shield not only prevents damage to the bottom of the boat, but its slippery surface may also aid the boat to slide over rough surfaces.

Basically, Keel Shield is a strip of high-density plastic roughly five inches wide and one-quarter inch thick, with ribs running the length of the piece making it look something like a heavy ribbon of wide-wale corduroy. Sold in lengths by the foot, a six or seven-foot strip of Keel Shield seems to suit most fiberglass-bottomed inflatables. While it is available in lots of colors, unless you are applying it to your fluorescent-orange or screaming-yellow PWC, white seems to be the color of choice. The Keel Shield kit comes complete with everything needed to install the guard with the exception of some masking tape, rags, and solvent.

A special and very aggressive 3M adhesive is already applied to the underside of the Keel Shield, protected from sticking to anything by a peel-away backing. While the stuff can be cut, it requires strong hands, a sharp knife, and some patience. It will bend around sharp corners and compound curves fairly easily, but a little help from a heat gun might be necessary in some instances.

Mark off the area where the strip will live and then use the abrasive pad supplied with the kit to rough up the area. Remove any dust or wax with a solvent (alcohol is recommended, but acetone or MEK work fine), and then rub an ampoule of activator with a foam applicator around the surface. After the activator cures for a few minutes, pull a bit of the backing away from the adhesive on the bottom of the strip, pressing it into place while pulling more backing away. This is the only tricky part—the adhesive and the prepped surface become like contact cement, and wherever they touch, there they stay—permanently. With a little practice, I found that I could install a Keel Shield on a RIB in about an hour, and have yet to see a bonding failure, even underwater at high speeds.

Now for the rest of the story. Like many cruisers, we have always had a problem on the anchor platform of our boats where the chain rattles out from the windlass. Not only is the chain noisy, reverberating throughout the hull, but it chips the paint and woodwork of the entire length of the bowspirit. On one of our boats we installed stainless steel rub strips which did alleviate the abrasion damage, but increased the noise level to unbearable levels. On the next boat, we used sacrificial teak strips. These cut down on the noise a bit, but always looked like the devil, took a lot of maintenance work, and needed frequent replacement.

By now, I’m sure you can see the light bulb going off over my head during our recent shakedown cruise on Sojourner. A six-foot length of white Keel Shield, cut in two pieces with one half laid down under each rode, now graces our anchor platform. So far, it has done everything that I wanted—cut the noise of chain running on fiberglass, protected the painted finish in the area, and maintained a good appearance itself.

So now I’m out, wandering around the boat looking for more places where Keel Shield might come to my rescue. Like the areas where the docklines and dinghy painter always chafe at the transom corners, the deck areas where jerry cans and life raft always leave nasty marks, and the patch under the skeg of the outboard where it always bangs the hull when being lifted on or off the boat. Come to think of it, we could use another six-foot piece of Keel Shield without looking too far.

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