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post #1 of 6 Old 08-12-2010 Thread Starter
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Keel type advice/opinions

Tried searching the forums for this topic and came up dry. Apologize if this has been discussed ad nauseum...just couldn't find it.

We are currently looking for our next boat. Need some information/opinions regarding various keel configurations...advantages/disadvantages to wing keels and especially bulb keels. (We have only sailed with a fin keel - in the Chesapeake Bay.) We are looking to travel more with the boat...down The Ditch, Florida, Keys, maybe Bahamas or Caribbean....
Boat size we are looking at is 36' - 40'.

Thanks for any input.
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post #2 of 6 Old 08-13-2010
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There are quite a few good posts by Jeff_h and others here. I studied keels at one point and wrote down a survey of the information. Maybe this will help you:
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post #3 of 6 Old 08-13-2010
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The best keel is the one designed to the expected use of the sailboat it's on. On a slow boat, you want one w/ more draft, a fast boat, you want one w/ a thinner cross-section.

If the rest of the boats performance matches, this one is probably pretty efficient.

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post #4 of 6 Old 08-13-2010
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I'm sure all would agree that what is best depends on how you use your boat. We cruise our 41' ketch seasonally from Maine to the Bahamas with short offshore hops as well as much ICW travel. Three features of my keel allow me to excel with my style of cruising. I have a 3/4 keel, not full from the stem, but what many call a "full keel" and it is contiguous with the rudder. First, The longer keel allows for a shallower draft. A shoal draft allows greater access for a coastal cruiser and gunkholer, though we all will push our limits. Second, unlike a fin keel, I present a very forgiving profile forward that will cause any impact with a submerged object or grounding to be oblique. Third, my keel contiguous with the rudder allows me to side over the crab trap lines of the south and the lobster trap lines of Maine and the Keys without concern that my prop will be fouled our that I will drag the trap. This increases my opportunity to travel in poor visability or at night without extra crew looking for traps. For these advantages I give up ease of backing and quicker tacks. Take care and joy, Aythya crew
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post #5 of 6 Old 08-13-2010
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Originally Posted by didash View Post
Tried searching the forums for this topic and came up dry. Apologize if this has been discussed ad nauseum...just couldn't find it.

We are currently looking for our next boat. Need some information/opinions regarding various keel configurations...advantages/disadvantages to wing keels and especially bulb keels. (We have only sailed with a fin keel - in the Chesapeake Bay.) We are looking to travel more with the boat...down The Ditch, Florida, Keys, maybe Bahamas or Caribbean....
Boat size we are looking at is 36' - 40'.

Thanks for any input.
Its a trade off of better sailing ability, vs. access to skinny water. For any boat you can name that has a fin keel version and a wing keel version, the fin keel version will point better which translates to better VMG. The fin keel may also balance better have less weather helm than the wing keel version in equal winds.

That said there are lots of places in the Chesapeake and ICW that over 5' can be limiting and many, if not most, sailors on the bay choose to take the slight loss of performance of a shoal draft in exchange for being able to get into and out of the many creeks and coves with shallow entrances.

Even with my wing keel (<5') I manage to bump the bottom once or twice a season, so I wouldn't want anymore than 5' of draft which usually translates to a shoal keel or wing keel when talking about 36-40' boats. Fin Keels on that size boat tend to run closer to 6' or a bit more.

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post #6 of 6 Old 08-13-2010
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This is edited from a draft of an article that I had written for a different purpose but it summarizes the various types of keels (actually appendages). I apologize for its length but hopefully it addresses your basic questions.

In principle Appendages keep a boat from making leeway. They come in many shapes and sizes. Keels are supposed to be a fixed appendage and centerboards generically are moveable appendages that occur on the centerline but centerboards are just one kind of moveable appendage. In more detail:

The earliest form of a keel was simply the backbone of the boat extending through the bottom planking. (Like a Viking ship) That works OK with running and reaching sails but when you try to point toward the wind you slip side wards at great speed. As sails and rigs were invented that allowed boats to point toward the wind the keel was extended below the boat either by planking the hull down to a deeper backbone or by adding dead wood (solid timber below the backbone. A planked down keel permitted the space between the planking to be filled with heavy material (originally stone), which served as ballast keeping the boat from heeling. After a while it was discovered that there were advantages to bolting a high-density cast metal ballast to the outside of the deadwood and interior ballast dropped out of fashion.

Full keels:
These earliest keels pretty much ran from the point of entry at the bow, to the aft most point of exit at the stern. Those are full keels in the fullest sense of the word.

They have some advantages; they theoretically form a long straight plane, which keeps a boat on course better (greater directional or longitudinal stability). If you run aground they spread out the load over a larger area reducing the likelihood of damage. Once really planted they keep the boat from tipping over fore and aft. They are easier to haul and work on. You can spread out the ballast over a longer distance and so they can be shallower for the same stability. You have a greater length to bolt on ballast so it is a theoretically sturdier and simpler connection.

They have some disadvantages; a larger portion of the keel operates near the surface and near the intersection of the hull and keel, which are both turbulent zones. They also have comparatively small leading edges, and the leading edge is the primary generator of lift preventing sideslip. Because of that they need a lot more surface area to generate the same lift. Surface area equates to drag so they need more sail area to achieve the same speed. Long keels tend to be less efficient in terms of lift to drag for other reasons as well. As a boat makes leeway water slips off of the high-pressure side of the keel to the low-pressure side of the keel and creates a turbulent swirl know as a tip vortex. This is drawn behind the boat creating drag in a number of ways. The longer the keel, the bigger the vortex, the greater the drag. So they need more sail area again to overcome this drag. To stand up to this greater sail area the boat needs more ballast and a stronger structure, which is why long keelboats are often heavier, as well. (Of course, then the spiral starts again as more sail area is needed to overcome that additional weight as well. It is the classic weight breeding more weight design cycle) Full keels tend to be much less maneuverable.

Fin keels:
By the classic definition of a fin keel, any keel whose bottom is less than 50% of the length of the boat is a fin keel. Fin keels came into being in an effort to reduce drag. Cut away the forefoot or rake the stem, as well as, move the rudderpost forward and rake it sharply and pretty soon you have a fin keel. Today, there seems to be a widely accepted belief that a fin keel implies a separated rudder (skeg hung or spade) but in fact early fin keels usually had their rudder attached. No matter what we call them, these comparatively short keels with attached rudders were in all ways were a worst of all worlds situation. They offer all of the disadvantages of both full and fin keels, but with nearly none of the virtues of either. Unknowing or unscrupulous brokers will often refer to boats with fin (or near fin) keels as full keel if they have an attached rudder.

Fin keels with separate rudders seem to be the most commonly produced keel form in the US these days.

Fin keels have many advantages. They have less drag as explained above so they typically make less leeway and go faster. You can get the ballast down lower so in theory they are more stable for their weight. They are more maneuverable. They take better advantage of the high efficiency of modern sail plans and materials. They work especially well in terms of roll dampening and so offer advantages in terms of motion comfort.

They have some disadvantages as well, many of these have been offset or worked around by modern technology but at some level they are still accurate critiques. They often have less directional stability than long keel boats so the tend to wander more under sail. Since directional stability is also a product of the dynamic balance between the sail plan and underbody, in practice they may actually hold a course as well as a full keel. In general though you can expect to make more course adjustments with a fin keel. It is sometimes argued that the lower helm loads requires less energy to make these corrections so a fin keel may also require less energy to maintain course. This I think is a product of the individual boat and could lead to a debate harder to prove than the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Fin keels are harder to engineer to withstand a hard grounding and when aground they are more likely to flop over on their bow or stern. (Although in 40 plus years of sailing, I have never heard of anyone actually experiencing this.) Fins typically have deeper draft. They are easier to pivot around and get off in a simple grounding.

Shoal keel
A shoal keel is just a keel that is not as deep as a deep keel. Today the term seems to be applied mostly to shallow fin keels. Shallow full keels seem to be referred to as shoal draft boats. A shallow fin is a tough animal to classify. Like a fin keel with an attached rudder, I really think it has few of the advantages of either a deep fin or a full keel and has many of the worst traits of both full and fin. This can be partially offset by combining a shallow fin with a centerboard, which is a neat set up for shoal draft cruising.

Bulb Keel:
A lot can be done to improve a shallow fin. One way is to add a bulb. A bulb is a cast metal ballast attachment added to the bottom of the keel. They concentrate the ballast lower providing greater stability and sail carrying ability than a simple shallow keel. Traditionally bulbs were torpedo or teardrop shaped. They have been re-contoured to provide some hydrodynamic properties. Recalling the discussion on tip vortex from above. Shallow keels need to be longer horizontally than a deeper fin in order to get enough area to prevent leeway. This means that a shallow longer fin would generate more tip vortex and more drag than a deeper keel. The bulb creates a surface to turn the water aft and prevent it from slipping over the tip of the keel thereby reducing tip vortex. This does not come free since a bulb increases frontal area and surface area.

Scheel Keel:
Scheel Keels are a specialized form of shoal bulb keel which is shaped to reduce induced drag (tip vortex) and surface area, and lower the center of gravity. Like any shoal bulb keel ity offers a very big improvement over a simple shoal draft fin but do not sail as well as a properly designed deeper fin.

Wing keels
Wing keels are a specialized type of bulb keel. Instead of a torpedo shaped bulb there are small lead wings more or less perpendicular to the keel. These concentrate weight lower like a bulb and properly designed they also can useful in reducing tip vortex. There has been some discussion that wings increase the effective span of the keel when heeled over but this does not seem to be born out in tank testing of the short wings currently being used in production sailboats. Not all wings are created equal. They potentially offer a lot of advantages, but they are heavily dependent on the quality of the design and I really think that many wing designs are not really working to their potential.

Then there is the whole grounding issue. The popular perception isthat wing keels are harder to free is accurate. This seems to be born out by discussions that I have had with some owners of wing-keeled boats, towboat skippers on the Chesapeake and with a researcher who worked on a project that studied groundings at the US Naval Academey. According to both wing keels were extremely harder to free. Straight fins were much easier to free, especially when heeled. There also is some evidence that bulb keels may also be easier to free than fin keels.

Keels that are not really keels:
Swing keels are ballasted centerboards and drop keels are ballasted daggerboards that are ballasted beyond what it takes to submerge themselves. They are really forms of centerboards. More on these in the discussion on centerboards.

Keels that are keels that move.
I said in the introduction that keels do not move. That used to be true. We now have canting keels, which can be pivoted from side to side. They are best designed to be light fins with heavy bulbs that can be canted to windward increasing the effectiveness of the righting aspects of the keel. Just one problem, a keel canted to windward losses efficiency to prevent leeway so they really need other foils, typically dagger boards, to resist leeway.

Centerboards are appendages that can be raised and lowered on or near the centerline of the boat. They can rotate up into a trunk or rotate below the boat. Daggerboards are a type of centerboard that raises vertically or near vertically in a trunk. Swing keels are a type of rotating centerboard that actually contains a substantial portion of the boatís ballast. They may be housed in a trunk like a Tartan 27 or 34 or hung below the boat like a Catalina 22. In the case of the Tartan 27 or 34 they are more frequently referred to as a Keel/ Centerboard (abbreviated k/cb). A swing keel is intended to act as a fin keel when lowered and allow some sailing in the partially raised position. My biggest problem with swing keels is that most do not have a positive lock down. In an extreme knockdown they can slam up into the hull greatly reducing the boatís stability. This is a pretty rare occurrence and usually requires big wave action combined with a lot of wind, but I have experienced it out in the Atlantic.

A drop keel is a daggerboard that actually contains a substantial portion of the boatís ballast. These are easier to lock down but can be more easily damaged in a grounding. They generally have better shape than a swing keel and can be more robust, but not always are.

Other appendages: (besides the rudders)
Bilge keels (or twin keels for our English friends) are a pair of keels (usually fins these days) that emerge on either side of the boat and angle out. They offer some advantages. If you let the boat dry out the boat can stand on the two keels and wait the next tide. There are dubious theories about increased efficiency since one is vertical like a good leeway resisting foil and one is canted like a good stability inducing foil. With computer modeling there has been greater success in approaching that theory on large bilge keel boats. While bilge keels do allow shallow draft though, they extremely difficult to free once aground since having the two keels on the ground prevents heeling the boat to get free. In practice bilge keels have enormous wetted surface creating a lot of drag at lower speeds, and produce two very large tip vortexes creating a lot of drag at speed.

Keel Centerboards are a wonderful choice for coastal and offshore cruising. Properly designed they offer nearly the performance of a fin keel, and yet permit access to shallower venues. They can be partially raised to precisely control the center of lateral resistance and therefore offers the ability to have a very neutral helm and great tracking in a wide range of conditions. Properly constructed they have proven to have a long service life. Keel-centerboard boats really proved themselves offshore during the late 1950ís and into 1960ís.They fell out of popularity with the advent of the wing keel in the early 1980ís. The downside is that they are a little harder to maintain, and because the ballast is closer to the center of buoyancy they require more ballast and so end up requiring a higher overall displacement, a higher ballast to displacement ratio, or are more tender, or some combination of the three.

Bilge boards (for the scow guys), are a pair of centerboards that angle out of each side of the boat. They work well on scows but Iíve never been able to really figure out scows anyway. Seriously, You raise the windward board and lower the Leeward one on each tack and because they are close to vertical they can be small and efficient. I still donít get the scow thing.

Last but not least- Leeboards. Leeboards are foils that are bolted to the side of the hull like on Dutch Jachts and Herreshoff Meadowlarks. Phil Bolgerís sharpies use them a lot as well. They have some advantages but they drive me nuts. They are vulnerable in docking and ideally are raised and lowered on each tack also. Some are designed to hinge outward from the hull so as to feather and so those do not need to be raised.

So thatís about it. The final is tomorrow- multiple choice and essay.


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