How to Repair Your Swing Keel Cable
Harris Hickman was kind enough to share his
experiences in repairing/replacing the swing keel cable on his 1977 C-26
"Carpe Diem". While the writeup and photos demonstrate the process for a
C-26, owners of the other Chrysler cruising boats (C-20 & C-22) can use
this process as well.
Swing Keel Cable Repair Process
The following procedure and helpful comments are presented as a fellow
sailor sharing experiences and lessons learned. The focus here is not trying
to re-invent the process but to fix the problem and Get Back To Sailing!!
- If you are in shallow water and you need to brace up the keel to get
moving before you haul out, then this first step might help you out. Drop a
line (I used a 1/2", 35' length) forward of the bow and bring it aft till it
catches the downward extended swing keel just above the bottom foot of the
keel. The keel will be extended about 5' below the bottom of the keel
housing, bottom dead center of the boat. Wrap the line around the port and
starboard sheet winches. Using the winch handle, alternate between winches
and bring up the keel enough to make headway out of the slip or dock. Be
careful, as the line may slip off the end and the keel will drop again! I
had to force the keel up at least 2' to get out of a 4' draft channel. See
the picture "Starting Line Position".
- Haul the boat out at a marina by whatever method you normally use (fork
lift, trailer with jacks, or a strap lift, like the one that did mine). See
the picture "Lifting". Note the
lines on the side still holding the keel. You will want to relieve as much
strain on that free-swinging keel PIN as possible. If it were to give way,
the keel would make a nice open water anchorage!!!
- The boat needs to be as high as possible in order to work on the stainless steel keel
cable. Have the boat placed on jack stands, or you could just do the job
faster now that you have instructions and leave the boat in the swing for an
hour or so. See the picture "On Jacks".
- I was able to unscrew the shackle pin that attaches the cable to the keel
and remove it without a problem. The old shackle was in good shape and is
now my spare. The failure of my cable can be seen in the picture,
"Old Shackle". The cable
broke at the swage connection. I replaced the shackle (D type, 3" long by
3/4" opening) and had a new cable and swage crimps done at E & B Marine. I
didn't need a bolt cutter or a swaging tool. My new cable is 9 1/2' (half
foot longer than the one I removed just in case I screwed up) of 3/16 stainless steel,
also from E & B Marine. I cleaned up my old shackle and had a spare keel
cable made up for the future. I don't really see this as a yearly event!
- This picture, "Inside keel trunk"
clearly shows the head of the keel (top of the picture), and the cable hole
and inside of the keel truck area. In some e-mail messages I saw on the
Chrysler Newsgroup, someone suggested cutting the top off of the keel trunk
housing from under the table area for inspection purposes. If you did this,
then the picture here would have you looking into the cabin area. I didn't
have to go that far, but I can see how the process would work.
- The picture "New Cable"
shows the new keel cable and shackle connection. Oh, if that shine could
only last! Notice how long the stainless steel cable connection is. This will later
prove to be too long and contact the bottom of the hole opening, not allowing
the keel to be brought up high enough.
- The picture "Keel Cable Valve"
shows the thru connection for the cable as it comes up under the table rear
board. I replaced the stainless steel clamps, hose (1' of 3/4" clear tubing), and the top
end splash stopper. This whole area looks real rugged but it does not leak;
as it's normally covered by the end (aft) table board, and normally has nice
carpet all around. Here, I followed the old axiom, "if it ain't broke don't
fix it." Replacing the carpet will be my next project.
- The picture "Winch" shows the
keel cable winch, as you might have guessed. I replaced the two screws and
captive nuts on the side used to hold the end of the stainless steel cable. It was easy
to do. Plan on lubing the complete cable and winch with boat trailer lube
before putting the table back together. This seems like a good idea and I
don't know why not. Working with the winch was the dirty part. This is the
point I decided to justify the new carpet. Notice the white splash stopper
at the top of the 3/4" clear garden hose. I found a perfect rubber stopper
for this at Ace Hardware store in the bathroom section. I made the center
hole just a little bigger and the cable came right through the center. I
don't really think water gets that high above the valve, but it does provide
some splash protection.
- Inspect the stainless steel keel pin as much as possible. The picture
"Stainless Steel Pin Location" shows
the steel housing in the forward section of the keel trunk that has all the
stress of the keel. Plates are divided and held on by three bolts each side.
I didn't want to mess around here unless I had to. With the proper jack
support to hold 1830 lbs, I might be forced to work on it...if I had to!
- With the cable repaired, keel inspected, some scraping and clean-up of
the hull, lubing of the cable, and a two-coat free-board wax job,
"Carpe Diem" is Ready To Go.
Summary and Lessons Learned
- The hardest part of the job was paying the marina the haul out fee!
- I should have made the stainless steel cable swages closer to the keel shackle
connection. It turned out that I could only crank up the keel to about 10
degrees and not the full 90 degrees parallel to the keel truck. My swages
were too high above the shackle (check the picture). This is not a big deal,
but my minimum draft is now ~ 2.6" and not the 2.3" that is standard. I feel
that my connection is sound and strong.
- In starting out; to secure the keel, you need to know the approximate
location of where the line loops under the keel in order to get the best
position to pull the keel up (see the first picture). You are not going to
pull a 1830 lb keel up with the line looped too high on the keel, just below
the keel trunk. You might have to get wet to check this out. My son had
just taken diving lessons and he was in the water to fix this one for me.
- Make up a spare swing keel cable and shackle assembly and keep it on
board. Its cheaper to have a spare than to pay for a tow to shore!
- If there is a next time, I will try to change the cable out underwater.
The dive shop air fill charge is much cheaper that the haul out. If I did
haul it out, I would have the marina just leave it in the swing and do the
job there. A quick job should take less than an hour with a made up cable.
It sounds like a deal could be worked out with the marina here.
- Take the time to replace old hardware if you can. This gives you a
chance to inspect everything. I always wondered how that table top came off???
- The keel winch work is a messy job. Don't touch your cushions!
- After the cable is attached and the marina has your boat ready to drop
back in (while your boat is hanging in the air), you need to know how many
cranks it will take to go from full keel up position to full keel down
position or to the optimum position of 60 degrees. Have the marina lower the
boat to allow you to jump inside. Raise the boat back up to clear the
extended keel and exercise the keel winch full up and full down while the
marina calls out the approximate angle (90, 45 and 60 degrees). Count the
number of turns the crank makes. Write it down before you forget it! This
is good information to have while sailing when your skipper is cranking away
and asks, "which way does this thing go anyway?" My full up number was 10
cranks and 60 degrees was down 4 from full up.
|Stainless Steel 3/16" Cable, 9'
|E & B Marine Labor
|Nuts & Screws, Winch
||$5.00/ft x 26' = $130.00
|Pressure Wash Job
||$1.25/ft x 26' = $32.50
|Two Days Lay-Up
||$20.00/day x 2 = $40.00
No project would be complete without covering safety. The keel weighs ~1830
lbs. Don't do stupid things here. Watch your eyes when pulling the loose
cable around the winch. Working on your boat extended up off the keel on
jack stands requires watchful consideration.
This is one way to replace a broken keel cable. I'm sure there are other
methods that work just as well.
Now it's time to do what this boat was designed to do ... SAIL!
Many thanks to Harris Hickman for taking the time to write this "how to"
tutorial and take these photos! Harris sails "Carpe Diem" on the
Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. If you would like to ask him any questions
about this process, send an e-mail message to
This page last updated on Saturday, October 16, 1999.