An older Hallberg-Rassy: keel and hull construction

We have received some questions from readers that are considering buying an older Hallberg-Rassy. Since the construction issues might be interesting to other readers as well, I decided to write a blog post on the keel and hull construction on older HRs. However, I consider my two years experience with one HR boat (29) fairly limited, so more extensive user experiences can be found from various discussions forums for example.

With about twenty years old HR, one of the most important distinctive factor is, whether the boat is designed by Olle Enderlein/Christoph Rassy or Germán Frers. The latter started designing boats for HR in the late 80s and this marked a beginning of a new era for Hallberg-Rassy. Keels shortened, waterlines became longer and internal keels were replaced by external lead keels. New designs were introduced at the rate of one or two boats per year. Thus, in the early 90s there were still many Enderlein/Rassy -designs in the production in side with the newer designs. In addition to the visible differences in the design, there are some differences in the construction as well.

Encapsulated keel construction
Enderlein/Rassy -designs have an encapsulated keel which means that the ballast is integral with the hull and inside the fiberglass laminate. This structure is not used that much nowadays since the design trends have changed towards flat-bottoms and bulb-keels. Furthermore, the encapsulated keel is not practical, since it may need repairing after quite minor groundings. However, encapsulated keel structure has also some benefits:
- There are no keel bolts so one does not have to worry about their condition. Therefore the keel requires less maintenance when intact.
- The structure allows a very deep bilge and a space for tankage in the bilge.
- When properly made, the structure is very strong and uniform package and the grounding is unlikely to cause stress damage elsewhere on the boat.
- One does not have to worry about the potentially leaking keel/hull joint

The weakest point of this structure is that one does not know about the condition of the ballast. Iron, concrete or steel rust when in contact with the water, whereas lead is highly resistant to corrosion. Of older HRs, only HR 382 and HR 49 have a lead ballast according to the HR's website, while other models with encapsulated keels have iron as ballast material. Some other yards have used concrete or steel in keels as well. The gelcoat surface on the keel can be damaged in a grounding, which may lead to ingress of water into the ballast. Therefore, the damages should be dried out and repaired properly - and rather sooner than later.

Another potential way for water to seep into the keel is through the bilge. Especially, when the bilge is very deep, there is often some water remaining in the back corner of the bilge. Coating the bilge with an epoxy might be a good idea.

After our contact with an underwater rock in Norway last season, I was looking for information on problems with water in encapsulated keels. However, I could not find any information on problems related to Hallberg-Rassys.

Damage in the keel after hitting a rock at speed of about three knots. The damaged area was opened, left to dry over the winter lay up and is repaired in the coming spring. 

Hull construction 
The older HRs have a solid laminated GRP hull, whereas the newer Frers-designs have a sandwich/cored structure above the waterline. Actually, the yard wants to talk merely about an insulation between solid laminate layers. However, practically speaking it is a cored structure with its potential problems. Especially in an older boat, I would prefer a solid laminate hull - just in case.

Many older HRs (not the 29) have integral fuel and water tanks in the bilge. Although, this is a good place for tankage in terms of weight distribution, blistering is a potential problem since tanks may be damaged in a harder grounding.

Older HRs were built according to the Lloyd's Register of Shipping London specifications and under personal supervision of Lloyd's surveyor. Each boat was also supplied with Lloyd's Certificate of Hull Construction. Nowadays, the HR boats are CE certified by Germanischer Lloyd.

The Enderlein-designs have a large, almost full-depth skeg for rudder, which is a very rugged construction. The downside is that rudder is unbalanced and heavier to handle. The newer Frers-designs have either semi-balanced rudders with partial skeg or a balanced spade rudder. Actually six of the latest Frers-designs have a spade rudder, so this is probably the future trend for Hallberg-Rassy as well. Rudder fittings are of bronze in older HRs.

In general, I prefer sailing with a boat to repairing it. Therefore, I like simple structures that can stand the test of time. Even at the price of slightly heavier and slower boat. I am not a fan of cored hulls, so in this case I prefer older HRs with solid laminate hulls. The encapsulated keel in Enderlein-designs is not ideal, and I would prefer the external lead keel. The rudder construction in Enderlein-designs is less vulnerable to damage than the spade rudders in newer models.

Feel free to comment and add information, if you think that something essential is missing.


  1. Hi

    Had a similar grunding this summer on my boat ( a 33 ft OE).
    Have had it rapaired on a boatyard this winter. They also found 3 minor cracks on the inside of the boat that needed care.

    Is it possible to make some sort of moisture measurment from the outside of the keel (we have a very similar contruktion)

    Mvh Martin

  2. Hej Martin,
    I think that the problem with the moisture measurement is that the moisture meter is not reliable in places that have iron such as the keel. It is one of the drawbacks with this kind of construction that one does not know when the laminate is dry. I am not aware of any other way of measuring moisture from the keel.

    Best regards,

  3. Hej,
    My Misil II had a grounding last summer and we found a 10 cm GRP damage in the bottom corner of the Keel when lift it up in October. Yesterday I started the repair by removing loose fibers but realized that the layers are delaminating in a much larger extension than the 10 cm crash (like 30 cm). I am afraid that if I keep pealing out loose pieces the extension would grow even more and my work will became too big. Besides that I cannot fix the 3 places were the boat is placed over. Between layers I found a brownish color that looks like moisture.
    Today I plan to Grind the impacted area hoping that the rest of the keel be OK. After it I plan to glass fiber it with Epoxy resin all over.
    Any feedback on This ?

    1. Hej Tiago, sorry to hear about that. Unfortunately I am not a professional on boat repair so I cannot comment on this without seeing the extension of the damage. However, I have heard about similar issues regarding Albin Vega, which also has an encapsulated keel. Albin Vega's discussion forums/owner's association websites might have information on this kind of issues. Certainly they are not uncommon with boats of this vintage.

  4. Permission to Post here, Hi! I'm Nerry from Berkwil Construction Inc. for Contractor, Interior Design, Construction Service and Supply just visit our website at or if you want to contact us just dial 455-1621. Thank you :)

  5. Hi !
    Despite thiis the problemas with thiis kind of keel, I prefer it when cruising with my family. I could see what happens when you ground whith a external lead kell at 7 knots on a Swan 40 (new model). The water was above the knees when my friend arrives in the marina and lift the boat just 2 hours after grounding.
    On the same way, I think its better a skeg rudder and a solid GRP hull on a cruising boat because, despite the loss of speed, I have more directional stability (better for windvane use) and wont have water inside the boat in case of grounding. Is more complicate to repair? I still prefer arrive on dock
    with a expensive repair to do than have water inside my boat and a less expensive repair to do IF I reach a travel lift in some South Pacific island.
    If I would intend to race I would prefer a light sandwich cored hull, spade rudder and external lead kell but I never will offshore cruising with my family in such kind of boat.
    That is my opinion and for my purpose, the old Enderlein models is better choise for long cruisings with a few crew, in special the HR 42e and HR 38.
    Marco Neves

  6. Hi

    Since better later then never, thanks Antti for you reply. My Epoxy fix took many layers of epoxy and effort but was very successful and looks quite sound and strong.

    Marco Neves, thanks for you feedback. So you mean that a lead keel is more dangerous because it can leak water into the hull thought the fixation holes ? Good to get to know pros about the GRP enclosed keel type which I have in my HR Misil 2. By the way are you Portuguese or Brazilian ? I am a Portuguese leaving in Sweden.
    Tiago Bravo Marques

    1. Boa noite Tiago
      Eu moro no estado do Rio de Janeiro, mais precisamente em Angra dos Reis que aliás foi um nome perfeito escolhido quando os portugueses por aqui chegaram.
      Devo passar na sua terra em breve pois tenho parentes em Portimão, Lisboa e no Porto.
      Você está muito bem servido com qualquer HR mas eu vou preferir sempre os modelos antigos que creio serem mais robustos e seguros como o seu.
      Espero que você aproveite muito o seu barco .
      Um abraço


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It would be very great to hear your opinion or comments. Thank you in advance for commenting! -Antti & Minna