Why a Stuck Swing Keel Pivot Pin is a Good Thing

A reader recently asked me about the pivot pin stuck in his swing keel.  Over the years, I’ve read other owners’ calls for help for the same thing in online forums. They assume that the pin has to rotate freely in the hole in the keel.

In my opinion, the pin is better off stuck inside the keel hole either accidentally or intentionally. Mine was that way when I bought Summer Dance and I’ve left it that way, even through a complete refinishing project. It appeared as though the previous owner epoxied it in, which I’ve heard of other owners doing.

Rotate Not, Rust Not

Think about it. It doesn’t make sense that the keel needs to rotate on the pin and the pin to also rotate within the hanger brackets. Only one connection needs to rotate. Which would you rather have wear out, your keel or the hanger brackets?

The iron keel is harder than brass but when it rusts (turns to iron oxide), it softens. The brass pin will grind off the rust continuously, resulting in significant loss of keel metal. Pins have been known to wear completely through the edge of the keel until the keel fell off the pin, snapped the cable, and went to the bottom.

To make matters worse, galvanic corrosion accelerates the destruction of the iron where it contacts brass in the presence of an electrolyte — water, especially salt water. If you look up brass and iron in a chart of metallic electrical potentials, you’ll see that iron is more active (anodic) than the less active brass (cathodic). The anode is the material that corrodes. The less active metal attracts electrons from the more active. That means that in a galvanic corrosion battle between brass and iron, iron will always lose, literally. However, iron oxide (rust) is a poor conductor, so once a rust barrier forms between the brass and iron, galvanic corrosion dramatically slows or stops, leaving the pin stuck solidly in the keel.

It’s a similar battle between stainless steel (fasteners) and aluminum (mast, boom, cast fittings, etc.) except that it’s more fierce because the two metals are farther apart electrically than brass and iron. The aluminum always loses in the form of aluminum oxide, the white powder you see if you manage to get the fastener out of the aluminum. That’s why you should always, always use a corrosion inhibitor on stainless steel fasteners in aluminum.

This keel was gradually being eaten away by rust and the pivot pin. Notice the conical point inside the hole that bore the most weight and wore the slowest. The matching pin is shown below.

If the pin is loose in the keel, replacing the pin eventually means repairing the elongated and edge-worn hole in the keel. That’s typically a job for a machine shop and an expensive one. Some owners just have the hole refilled with steel, leave the pin loose, and start over again only to do it again someday (or the next owner). Some owners have a stainless steel bushing welded in place. I’m not sure there is much benefit to that but I haven’t had experience with it either.

If the pin is left loose after the repair, the hole through the iron will begin rusting almost immediately (less so with a stainless steel sleeve), even out of water. That means the keel is not sealed watertight and the barrier coat around the hole will begin to fail rapidly and rust will begin to take over the whole keel. Your careful and expensive refinish job will be short-lived.

Don't wait until your pivot pin looks like this to replace it.
Don’t wait until your pivot pin looks like this to replace it.

With the pin affixed in the hole, the hole doesn’t wear at all and doesn’t become a problem. During refinishing, you can apply the epoxy seal, barrier coat, and bottom paint layers over the keel/pin joint to waterproof them and keep your keel 100% sealed, as I did.

That assumes you do the same at the winch cable eye bolt and you don’t drill a hole into the side of the keel to attach a sacrificial anode (another hole for water to intrude and for which there are alternatives).

BEFORE - Close-up after grinding
Pivot pin stuck in my keel at the start of refinishing

Get the Lead Brass Out

If your pin is epoxied in place, you’ll be hard-pressed to remove it even with a big sledge hammer and a punch. I’ve seen pin ends mushroomed badly from owners trying to drive them out. If you can’t get it out but are determined, you can try to drill the pin out or make the trip to the machine shop for them to press the pin out.

I’ve also seen pins heat-seized into place. That’s where the machine shop super heats the keel around the hole to get it to expand, then they insert a pin machined to very close tolerances and let the keel contract onto the pin as it cools. Good luck getting that one out!

Lines drawn for applying 1/4" layers
Pivot pin left in place while I faired my keel

If you lower your keel and discover the pin is stuck in the hole, I recommend you leave the pin as-is and move on. Taking the pin out gains you nothing and could wind up costing you a lot. Leaving it in costs you nothing and gains you a tighter working, more maintainable keel. Speaking of maintenance, make sure you don’t have bigger problems to deal with like these Five swing keel maintenance blunders and how to prevent them.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. miguel says:

    Please, I need know the dimension of pivot pin . What material its recommended for replace . ?? Thank very much !!

    1. Hi, Miguel

      The pin is 1″ in diameter by 3-3/4″ long bronze. You can purchase a replacement pin as well as hangers and bolts at the Catalina Yachts Parts Store or at Catalina Direct.

  2. miguel says:

    Ok, thank you very much ! Iwill do it !!!

  3. Chris Beautement says:

    Hi, I just bought a Jaguar 22 – the Catalina 22 made in the UK. Bought it on the internet, drove to the UK, trailed it back to the south of France, and plan to learn to sail in my retirement.

    My first task will be to check what I have bought! Starting with the bits you can’t readily see, so finding your keel posts came as a Godsend. Thank you!

    I guess that doing this work will keep me busy for a while before I get onto the water.

    A quick question – is there any way I can visually check the keel without removing it, so that I can enjoy a little sailing before I start the work?

    Regards, Chris

    1. Hi, Chris

      Yes, there’s several things that you can do to inspect the keel without removing it entirely. For starters, check the 5 areas I discuss in Five Swing Keel Maintenance Blunders and How to Prevent Them. Those will cover some of the most important safety issues. The other area that you can check is the pivot pin assembly.

      Check the torque of all four hanger bolts like I describe in Refinish Your Swing Keel for Best Performance – Part 5: Installing. Then with the boat on the trailer and the aft end of the keel lowered onto its cross-member, try to rock the keel back and forth by hand to see how much play there is between the pin and the hangers at the forward end. A little bit is normal (less than an inch) and not cause for alarm. But if you can move the keel more than that, it’s probably worth a closer look. I recommend taking a close look anyway so that you know for sure the condition of those critical parts.

      You can do that by carefully supporting the front end of the keel with a hydraulic jack, removing the hanger bolts, and lowering the keel until you can remove the hangers and inspect them and the pivot pin for excessive wear. Again, some is normal but if you see anything like the pictures in Why a Stuck Swing Keel Pivot Pin is a Good Thing, then it wouldn’t be wise to sail before repairing the keel. Jacking the keel back into place and securing it with the hanger bolts can be tricky to get everything aligned correctly, but take your time, don’t force it, and you should do fine.

      If those steps don’t reveal much, go ahead and take her out on the water but pay close attention to how the keel winch operates while raising and lowering and listen for klunking noises when you switch tacks. They can be signs of more wear than you were able to discover on land.

      Best of luck with your Jag!

  4. Richard says:

    I have a Catalina 22 from 1975. I bought her two years ago. i replaced the keel bolts, and the cable but have been wondering about replacing the keel pivot pin. it looks fine and is sort of frozen in its hole but I am wondering if the pin should be replaced if it’s the original one from 1975?

    1. Hello, Richard

      Is there much slop between the pin and the hangers? Do you hear a thunk sound when you switch tacks and the keel flops from one side to the other? If not, then the previous owners must have taken very good care of it. If you don’t notice significant wear, then I wouldn’t bother changing it. Just check the torque of the hanger bolts and go sailing!


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