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Old 05-21-2001
Dan Dickison Dan Dickison is offline
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Fixed Keels vs. Swing Keels

Are fixed keels or swing keels better?

Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. It's definitely an interesting topic, but I'll forewarn you that there isn't an easy answer. If you're talking about canting keels, which can be articulated off centerline vs. fixed keels, you're talking about two distinctly different ballast options and the choice essentially comes down to the owner's preference. Look at the Vendee Globe, which finished earlier this year. Nearly half the 20 entrants sailed aboard boats with adjustable keels. Obviously both approaches have their proponents.

Most folks would tell you that swing keels involve moving parts, so that increases the maintenance factor and makes this option a less appealing choice from that stand point. However, the ever increasing research on canting or swinging keels indicates that the performance advantages to be had are significant. Will we see these devices settle into the mainstream? I don't think so. That's not because there's anything wrong with them, it's mostly because the market isn't ready for such a big concept shift—not just yet anyway.

The other factor involved is the application. If you were setting up a boat to make a fast passage across an open ocean, having a canting keel might be a valuable feature because you could anticipate being on one tack or the other for long spans of time. However, if most of your sailing were to involve frequent tacks, a canting keel would likely become a nuisance due to the extra time and work needed to adjust the keel before or shortly after every tack.