Choosing a Centerboard or Fixed Keel Sailboat

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Centerboard or Fixed Keel?

You need to consider many different questions when deciding what kind of sailboat is best for you .

Depending on the general size range of the sailboats you may be interested in, you may need to choose between fixed-keel boats and centerboard (or swing keel or daggerboard) boats. This article will help you choose which is best for your needs.

As only a very general rule, most sailboats over 20-something feet have fixed keels. Most sailboats under 15 feet or so have centerboards. But there is a wide range of boats from 12 to about 25 feet with either a fixed keel or a centerboard. For example, in this photo, ​the boat on the left has a fixed keel, while the boat on the right, of about the same size, has a centerboard.

If you are shopping for a sailboat in this range, you should understand the differences between these fundamental types of keels.

Fixed Keel Sailboats

Virtually all large racing and cruising sailboats have a fixed keel. A keel is needed to keep the boat from being blown sideways at all points of sail except downwind. A keel also provides weight low under the water to lower the boat’s center of gravity below the waterline, which is needed so that the boat bobs back upright if knocked over by wind or waves.

Sailboats have many different types of fixed keels , such as full keels (see photo) and fin keels. If you decide a fixed keel boat is best for your sailing purposes, consider also which type keel best meets your needs.

Centerboard Sailboats

On centerboard sailboats, the centerboard functions like a keel to keep the boat from being blown sideways. (All sailboats need a keel of the board for this reason: the narrow, flat surface of the board or keel produces little drag when the boat moves forward but resists motion sideways.)

The centerboard usually hangs down below the hull from a pivot at one end. It can be raised by pulling a line that swings the centerboard up into a centerboard trunk along the center of the boat, as shown in the photo.

Some small boats, like a Sunfish, have a removable daggerboard rather than a centerboard. The daggerboard has the same function, but rather than swinging down, it is inserted like a blade down through a slot in the hull to protrude like a thin keel below the hull. A swing keel is another term used for a type of keel that like a centerboard can be raised.

A centerboard may or may not be weighted. If the centerboard is weighted, then it also provides weight low in the water, like a keel, to help keep the boat upright (although not as much weight as a fixed keel can supply). If the centerboard is not weighted, like the fiberglass centerboards of many small sailboats, then sailors must keep the boat upright by positioning their own weight on the upwind side of the boat. 

Benefits and Disadvantages of Fixed Keel and Centerboard Sailboats

Fixed keels and centerboards each have their own benefits but also disadvantages. When deciding what type of boat to buy, be sure you have considered these differences:

Advantages of a Fixed Keel:

  • Provides the most ballast to resist capsizing and ensure recovery from a capsize
  • More effective at preventing leeway (sideways movement of the boat)
  • Crew do not have to position body weight to prevent capsizing (see photo)
  • No centerboard moving parts to break or jam

Disadvantages of a Fixed Keel:

  • With deeper displacement, the boat cannot enter shallow water
  • The boat is heavier for its size (usually an issue only when trailering)
  • With deeply fixed keels, the boat may not fit on a trailer at all (25 feet is typically the largest trailerable fixed keel sailboat) - requiring the inconvenience and expense of a boatyard for launching, haulout, and storage

Advantages of a Centerboard:

  • The centerboard can be raised to decrease displacement to allow the boat into shallower water – and it should swing up and back if it hits the bottom when sailing with it down
  • The centerboard can be raised for faster downwind sailing
  • The centerboard can be partially raised if needed to provide better boat balance
  • Most centerboard boats can be trailered and easily launched and hauled out on boat ramps (larger centerboard boats may require deeper ramps)

A popular trailerable centerboard sailboat is the MacGregor 26 , which with its water ballast has the advantages of centerboard boats but not all the disadvantages.

Disadvantages of a Centerboard:

  • Provides no (unweighted board) or less (weighted board) ballast, compared to a fixed keel, to resist capsizing and ensure recovery from a capsize
  • Less effective than a larger fixed keel at preventing leeway (sideways movement of the boat)
  • The centerboard trunk takes up space in the boat’s cockpit or cabin
  • The centerboard pivot and control line involve moving parts and can jam or break

Finally, some historic crafts have leeboards instead of centerboards; these boards, mounted outside the hull on both sides, can be pivoted down like a centerboard to resist leeward motion. And some sailboats have fixed keel-centerboard combinations, which provide ballast and prevent leeward motion even when the centerboard is up but also provide the option to attain less leeward motion sailing upwind when the board is down.e a centerboard to resist leeward motion. And some sailboats have fixed keel-centerboard combinations, which provide ballast and prevent leeward motion even when the centerboard is up but also provide the option to attain less leeward motion sailing upwind when the board is down.

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What’s the deal with Centerboards?

Most of you who have followed our journey for some time are familiar with our somewhat infamous centerboard issue, where we ran aground in the Illinois river in 8′ of water when our boat should only draw 4′ .  This was the most dramatic and expensive example of the issues we’ve had with the centerboard thus far, but that’s not to say it’s been the only trouble our centerboard has caused us.

In this week’s video, This Little Thing could SINK our Boat , we’re highlighting another pain point and some of the additional maintenance that comes along with having a pivoting centerboard. We’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of the centerboard system and shed some light on how we’ve been using it with real life examples.

Sailors love to talk shop. It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to boats, and if you’re not too careful, it can lead lead to hours upon hours of enjoyable and sometimes educational discussion. Invariably anytime we get beyond the general pleasantries of “She’s a beaut!” or “What’s the length?” we know with more and more certainty that we’re talking with a sailor. As the questions get more specific e.g. “How much fuel do you carry?” or “How tall is the mast?” we will eventually hit this question: “What’s the draft?”

Up until this point, it’s only a Q&A session, but as soon as we divulge the boat has a centerboard — and that with the board up we draw between 4-4.5′ but when it’s down closer to 8′ — the discussion will turn one of three ways:

  • The questioner wasn’t quite prepared for that answer and is dumbstruck because they didn’t know as much about boats as they thought they did, and were unaware of the centerboard concept or are unaware a boat of our size could have a centerboard.
  • The questioner’s face lights up with a twinkle in their eye and responds with something like: “A perfect Bahamas boat, nice!”
  • The questioner’s face scrunches up with terror in their eyes: “Why on god’s green earth would you want to maintain a system like that!”

And after three years of owning, maintaining and traveling aboard a boat with a centerboard, we’ve been in each of these 3 camps at one point or another. Let’s dive in and tackle each point of view.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

What is a centerboard on a sailboat?

A centerboard is a retractable appendage that pivots in and out of a slot (centerboard trunk) in the hull/keel of a sailboat. Having the ability to raise and lower the centerboard allows the the boat to operate in shallow waters when lifted, while maintaining good upwind sailing characteristics with the centerboard down. Similarly, lifting the centerboard reduces the wetted surface area, resulting in lower drag while sailing downwind. This combination of characteristics makes it possible to build a safe, seaworthy boat, capable of easily sailing upwind off a lee shore, while still allowing the boat to tuck way up into shallow anchorages when necessary.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

When first looking for our sailboat , weren’t specifically looking for a boat with a centerboard. It wasn’t on any “avoid ” list of ours either; it just wasn’t on our radar. So when we first saw the boat online and noticed it had a centerboard, we were pretty ambivalent about it.

Is that like a Swing Keel?

Many people have incorrectly referred to our boat as having a swing keel, and for good reason as they are quite similar on the surface. Before finding our boat, we were aware of other boats with swing keels (specifically Southerly Yachts  popularized by “ Distant Shores “) and some of their unique benefits. While the swing keel is similar on the surface, it’s an entirely different animal from our centerboard. They both feature large underwater wing-shaped appendages that pivot from underneath the boat to provide additional wetted surface area to reduce leeway and increase lift for sailing upwind. The main difference is that in a swing keel boat the pivoting appendage is actually the keel. In cruising boats, swing keels weigh several thousand pounds, while centerboards weigh a couple hundred. Thus, a swing keel also contains a large part of the boat’s ballast, so the position of the keel can have a substantial effect on the stability and motion of the boat. Additionally, when retracted all the way up into the hull, the boat can be left to dry out while sitting upright in the sand — pretty cool.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Distant Shores II, a Southerly 480

The flip side is this: In the fully retracted position, the keel needs somewhere to go — which takes up interior volume of the boat. Additionally, moving an extremely large and heavily ballasted keel up and down requires some serious mechanical gear, and unless the swing keel is lowered to some extent, there is nothing counteracting the force of the sails to prevent leeway and the boat will not sail to windward.

Whereas with our boat, in addition to the centerboard, we have a shoal draft keel (which actually doubles as a housing for the centerboard). Even without the centerboard down the boat will still sail to windward. Dropping the centerboard only serves to increase the pointing ability and windward performance. The centerboard does not contribute meaningfully to the ballast of the boat (as it weighs about 200lbs), so its effects on stability in the up or down position are muted. It is designed primarily as a hydrofoil to prevent leeway when sailing upwind and is significantly lighter than its swing keel cousin. Lastly, by retracting into the keel instead of all the way into the hull it does not have any negative effect on the interior volume of the boat.

What are the benefits of having a centerboard on a sailboat?

Besides increased upwind sailing performance, the major benefit of a boat with a centerboard is a shallow draft. For our needs navigating the inland river system, sailing the notoriously shallow Gulf of Mexico , and cruising Bahamaian waters, these are fantastic qualities to have in a boat.

The inland river system has a controlled depth of no less than 9′ in the channel from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama, but most of the channel is significantly deeper than that. However , s earching for marinas and anchorages for the night where you have to exit the channel means the depths start changing quickly. With our shoal draft keel we were able to sneak into a number of marinas with sub 5′ depth at their entrance or at the dock that would’ve been impossible in many other sailboats of our size. Even in Mobile we ran aground twice while moving through the marina to get to our dock.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

In the Bahamas we find ourselves anchoring way up towards shore with the catamarans instead of much further out near the monohulls. Yet when it comes time to sail to windward, we’re able to drop the board and point much higher than we otherwise would’ve been able to with the shoal draft keel alone. This can shave miles off long passages and minimizes the number of tacks required in a tight channel.

Additionally, dropping the centerboard just a little bit can give us much better handling in tight quarters, as it prevents the bow from falling off downwind when trying to dock in strong crosswinds.

This all sounds pretty good, right? Why would you not want a boat with a centerboard?

What are the issues with centerboards?

With all the apparent benefits, you’d think the centerboard would be a no-brainer. And if you’re purely concerned with performance, then absolutely, it is. However, the centerboard represents an added layer of complexity that just isn’t absolutely necessary for the operation of the boat. Along with this added complexity comes additional maintenance to ensure the system continues operating normally, and even then, when everything is operating correctly, the maintenance itself can create some stressful situations. Below are a few of the negatives of having a centerboard we’ve discovered so far:

General Maintenance

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Our centerboard is raised and lowered via a control line, or centerboard pennant. The line is always underwater inside the centerboard trunk, and is incredibly difficult to inspect. The line exits the boat below the waterline meaning we have an unprotected thru-hull without a seacock to close, should there be a leak. The through-hull is connected to a hose and the hose connects to a conduit in the mast that rises well above the waterline.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

The centerboard line runs through this conduit and then exits the mast through a sheave at the deck level. It then runs through a turning block and clutch/winch to lock it off. Each of these items require some level of maintenance and/or at least inspection on a regular basis. These are all fairly simple parts, and the system is quite well-designed. However you can probably already imagine some of the issues…

Stepping & unstepping the mast is more difficult

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Because the line runs through the mast, stepping and unstepping the mast requires a few more steps to ensure everything goes smoothly. When unstepping our mast, we need to temporarily slacken the centerboard pennant to allow the mast to be raised out of the boat. To ensure we can run the line back through the mast we need to run a messenger line in the mast to be able to retrieve it again when re-stepping.

When re-stepping the mast, extra care needs to be taken to ensure the mast doesn’t get hung up on the centerboard pennant or the conduit it runs through. We’ve heard of other boats stepping their mast only to realize later that they pinched their centerboard control line.

Naturally (or accidentally) slackening the centerboard pennant allows the centerboard to drop, increasing our draft to 8′, unless it’s secured in some other way. We did this at the start of our river trip by securing a line athwartship from each of the midship cleats to act as a set of suspenders to keep the centerboard pinned up inside the trunk. Unfortunately this wasn’t tight enough and slipped off the centerboard allowing it to drop into the fully-down position. This set us back a few days as we fabricated a much stronger system to secure the centerboard line using an exit sheave at the mast partners.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

The centerboard trunk is difficult to clean & paint

While our boat was hauled out, we repainted the bottom with CopperCoat . However we were unable to paint the centerboard or the trunk with the same. Had we known better, we would’ve pulled the centerboard immediately after hoisting the boat out of the water with the travel lift. But since it was our first time hauling the boat for storage, we didn’t realize that once we were moved to the hydraulic trailer which the yard used to position boats, we would not be able to get enough height to drop the board and remove it.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

We did hang in the slings over the weekend prior to splashing, which gave us time to get underneath the boat with the board down to clean the centerboard trunk and repaint the board and trunk with ablative bottom paint. But we couldn’t repaint with CopperCoat because of how long it needs to dry before being splashed.

The centerboard pivot point is difficult to inspect

centerboard vs keel sailboat

The centerboard pivots on a large stainless steel hinge. This plate is bolted into the keel of the boat and has a large pin that runs through the centerboard allowing it to pivot around this point. There is also a heavy duty stainless eye on the backside of the centerboard that the pennant line connects to. Both of which are always submerged in water, and while they are stainless, stainless corrodes in environments lacking oxygen. So these parts need to be inspected on a regular basis, and this means removal of the entire board, which is easier said than done.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

The centerboard can get stuck in the up or down position

The centerboard is designed to pivot up and down in the trunk with fairly small tolerances on either side. Any more space than what is needed to get the board out, and it will interfere with the flow of water over the hull, increasing water resistance and drag. Any extra space will also allow sea life to make its way up into the trunk.  Thankfully it’s very dark up in there, there isn’t much water flow carrying nutrients into that space, and we have been diligent about keeping it clean. While we haven’t run into this particular issue yet, we’ve heard of some boats that have had so much growth in the trunk that they can’t get the board to move.

While, we haven’t had our board stuck in the up position, but we have had the board stuck down. The centerboard is a hydrofoil, so the leading edge is a bit wider than the trailing edge, much like an airplane wing. And whereas dagger board trunks (where the board drops in vertically) can be contoured to follow the shape of the board almost exactly, our centerboard trunk is rectangular, as it needs to accomodate the width of the leading edge moving all the way through it. This means the trailing edge of the board (which is on the top when in the retracted position) leaves a lot of extra space between it and the trunk, creating a wedge shape… Maybe you can see where I’m going with this…

A perfect storm scenario can brew under just the right conditions. Imagine for a moment you are loosening the centerboard pennant line to drop the board down, but for one reason or another, the sideways pressure of the water against the board when sailing upwind, growth in the centerboard trunk, stops or slows the dropping motion of board — perhaps it even gets pushed back up slightly as the boat pitches forward and backward in a large wave. You, as the unsuspecting crewman, continue to slacken the line thinking the board is dropping, but in reality what is happening is the line comes to rest on the top of the board, and because of the wedge-shaped trailing edge, the line slips down ever so slightly between the board and the trunk, and gets trapped .  Once there it wedges in between the board and the trunk making it extremely difficult to move.

This has happened to us twice. The first was an easy fix, which occurred during a daysail after purchasing the boat. We could’ve easily addressed it without getting into the water, but it was hot, the water was clear, and despite being warned about this particular scenario, I didn’t have a good visualization of what was happening and wanted to see it for myself.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

There is actually a built-in mediator of this problem which saved us considerable effort: A short section of exhaust hose with a diameter that almost exactly matches the width of the centerboard trunk serves as a conduit for the last 18″ of line of the centerboard. This prevents the slacked line from getting wedged in too tightly and allowed us to break it free with a tiny bit of force.

The second time however, was much worse, and is covered in detail in Episode 24 . We were in the Illinois Sanitary & Ship Canal, in incredibly disgusting water with no visibility, and because we hadn’t secured the centerboard line properly, the board unbeknownst to us dropped all the way down, and under zero tension actually hung forward of its pivot point. In this position, the geometry for pulling it back up is all out of whack.  With the protective hose completely out of the trunk, pulling the control line, only wedging it further in between the trunk and the centerboard.

So is a centerboard actually worth it?

While we’ve been both super happy we have a centerboard and a shallow draft, we have also been exasperated by the extra maintenance, sometimes wishing we had a “normal keel.” But at this point we’ve circled back around to mostly ambivalent.  The maintenance while sometimes stressful is all part of owning a boat and the benefit of having a shallow draft when needed are immeasurable.

In reality, we probably only use the centerboard 15-20% of the time we’re actually sailing. If you think about the benefits discussed above, it’s really only necessary in moderate upwind scenarios, which we often avoid anyway. It’s just way more comfortable sailing downwind! We’ve also found in light wind conditions the extra drag created by the centerboard outweighs the pointing ability it generates, so we leave the board up. To top it all off, when we’re not actually sailing (which is most of the time when the boat is at the dock, at anchor, or hauled out for storage) the centerboard is always in the retracted position. For the actual lifespan of the boat, the centerboard is in the down position much less than 10% of the time.

On more than one occasion I’ve thought that I’d rather have a keel full of lead where the centerboard trunk exists now. It would give us added stability 100% of the time, we’d have no additional maintenance, and we’d only miss out on the benefits 10% of the time. However that 10% of the time could potentially make all the difference if we really needed to get off a lee shore. Whenever we are using the board — i.e. upwind especially in a narrow channel or maneuvering under power in tight quarters — we’re often saying to each other “Thank goodness for the centerboard!”

In the end, as with everything on a boat, it’s a trade-off.  There’ll always be pros and cons of every design decision. There isn’t one right design for every boat or every boat owner. Overall, we’re happy with our Tartan37c  and would not pretend to know more than the S&S design team who dedicated their lives to designing these spectacular boats.

Let us know what you think!

Do you have any experience with a centerboard? Did we miss anything? We’d love your feedback.

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About the Author: Kirk

centerboard vs keel sailboat

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We had a centerboard on our very first keelboat, a William Tripp designed Polaris 26. Sailing in Michigan on Lake St. Clair, it was a great feature as we could gunk-hole into all kinds of places. Our horror story was that we once forgot we had it down when sailing into a shallow bay and we touched and pivoted under a pretty brisk wind. That was enough to slightly torque and twist the centerboard foil such that it would only retract about 1/3 the way up before getting jammed in the trunk. We had to sail the rest of the season that way until we were hauled out for winter and the yard could bend it back flat. Our subsequent three boats have all been shoal draft versions, which opens up a whole ‘nother discussion of the merits of shoal keel versus deep keel on the same boat model. Fortunately, we switched our home port to Charlevoix 20 years ago, where sailing depths are almost never an issue on Lake Charlevoix/Lake Michigan/Lake Huron. As you said, everything is a compromise with sailboat design. We were glad we had the shoal draft when we delivered our current boat from Annapolis to Charlevoix last year. We draw 6′-6″ and we bottomed out three or four times in the Erie Canal (supposedly a 9′ controlling depth, but who’s counting?). The deep keel version of our boat draws 7′-6″, so we would have never made it back to the Great Lakes. We are eventually going to be bringing this boat back out to the Atlantic permanently when we retire and plan to cruise the Bahamas and the Caribbean, so even the 6’-6″ shoal draft is going to be less than ideal. But hey, if Delos can do it, hopefully we can. Best to you and Lauren.

Jeff W SV Échappé Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54DS Charlevoix, MI

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Thanks Jeff, 6’6″ is the shoal draft?! We were so thankful for our 4’6″ draft in the Abacos. We could anchor in so many great places!

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Yeah as usual your videos and blogs are so helpfull to use on my tartan too, you guys are my teachers, when I bought the boat I had the problem with growth inside the trunk, I left the line loose by unexperience and in a sail trip it went down with the shocking waves, I didn’t know it happened and then on another short trip we ran aground because I didn’t know the keel was down. But after that it got cleaned and all works perfect, thanks!!!

Good to hear! Rest assured, if you’ve done it, we probably have as well!

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I had many maintenance issues with the centerboard system on my T 37. I managed to drift into shoal water while anchored with the centerboard half down – a position I often used to reduce roll. This resulted in breaking the lower 3/4 of the centerboard off. I recovered it and on next haul out, epoxied it back together and reinstalled it. Next haul out, the SS pivot assembly had a problem in the flange that received the pin – had to be re-fabricated. A couple of years later (I went way too long without a haul out from this point) the bolts holding the pivot assembly became loose and I was unable to lower the centerboard as the pennant was the only thing keeping it in the boat. Sailing with it up didn’t seem problematic.

It all sounds pretty familiar. I think we have a love/hate relationship with ours. 😉

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Hello and love your information, site, etc. Your trips are completely unique to me and the blogs and video are welcome adventures. Keep on cruising and writing. Please.

Centerboards: I was raised sailing all manner of boats with them. We had a 48 Alden yawl with a centerboard. I think it went down twice! We cruised Cape Cod, the US East Coast into the Keys, and Bahamas in that boat and all the reasons to have a board were apparent. I was a kid then and wondered why anyone would build a boat without a centerboard.

Then, I started racing and fell in love with deep draft. Our boat now is 32 feet long and draws 6 feet. Oh my, do we go to windward! We have raced a T37 (same handicap) and we out point him but he out foots us and usually finishes ahead. Cruising is not about hours of close hauled sailing. I get it now!

In our harbor and on the next mooring is the referenced T37 that I am coming to love. Pretty boat and shallow draft. Back to my youthful exuberance for a centerboard. If you guys find you way up to the Cape, I hope we see you. Look into Stage Harbor.

Norm Martin Averisera

Hi Norm, thank you for sharing your story. It’s interesting how some boats just reach out and speak to certain people. All the best!

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I have a membership in a sailing club with a collection of Capri 22’s that are not all identical. We have weekly races with them, where you show up and draw boat names out of a hat. One of them has a shoal draft keel, it is always the least favorite draw. Typically, while you might be able to point the bow upwind, it’s moving sideways far more than they other boats (regular keel versions of the same boat). But every now and then the wind is just right, and she’ll clean up, just own every race, but this is rare, relies on just right wind (5-10 knots) and tide conditions that allow her to get speed without being pushed leeward. Downwind, she also has a slightly shorter mast (several others also have shorter masts), but still usually keeps up. Possibly an advantage, but not sure. A centerboard would clearly help her upwind in some conditions. But it’s often going to be hard to really see those conditions without head to head comparisons and if your not caring you can just start the engine.

Sounds about right. That shoal draft boat likely does well on downwind legs given there is less surface area under the water.

We’re definitely not the fastest boat to windward, but we’re not racing. There some shoal draft boats that simply can’t sail upwind at all when the wind picks up. They have too much windage and not enough leverage on the water. We will hit hull speed at 30 degrees apparent in 15 knots apparent wind, which I’m quite happy with 🙂 All the best!

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A daggerboard is a centerboard, just as one is an integer and a whole number. If the daggerboard is off center it is a leeboard.

Is that so? I always heard it as a centerboard pivots and a daggerboard slides up and down. But I suppose your explanation makes sense!

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You guy’s are such centerboard rookies, but then again, most sailors are. I cruise the extremely shallow waters of the Southeast coast of the US and have always sailed centerboard boats for over 40 years, In fact my present boat is a Presto 36, a 18,000 displacement, ketch rigged, true or pure centerboarder, designed in 1884 by Ralph Middleton Munroe. I have no external keel at all, except for a 9″ X 6″X 12′ long lead grounding shoe, designed for “taking the Ground upright”. My draft, board up is 2′-6″ and approx.. 5′-6″ ” board down. The board weights approx. 400 lbs. My centerboard pendant, a 3/8″ super synthetic line runs upwards from the aft end of the centerboard trunk, to the cabin top via 1-1/4″ SS tube and is attached when it exits the top of the cabin, to a simple 6 to 1 tackle to help raise and lower the board. My centerboard trunk runs almost the entire length of the main cabin and has a 2″ dia. hole in it’s aft end. That hole and a short length of broom handle are extremely helpful for for coaxing a resistant board into going down as needed. I have spent many days pleasantly aground on a convenient sand bar, for recreation or maintenance needs and many a night secure in the knowledge, that no matter how busy the surrounding water are, I’m freed from the worries of getting “run” down in the night. Incidentally, I oft use the board along with my mizzen in assisting in self-steering. Never needed any auto-pilot. Up wind, she’s a drag, but any other course, with her sheets eased, she simply can’t be caught..

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My wife and I have a Bristol 35.5 with a centerboard. Our installation is much simpler than the one Tartan came up with – I was very surprised when I saw that yours comes up though your mast. Ours is on a wire winch on the cabin house that runs through sealed pipes over sheaves to the board. I’d say that the vast majority of the issues you’ve had with your board are due to that somewhat quirky design. That said, I’ve always loved the look of the Tartan, and you guys have definitely made fantastic improvements.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoy your channel and following your adventures. Keep them coming!

It is a bit of a quirky system, but running it through the mast is kind of a neat way to hide the control line, which needs to enter and exit the hull and deck. It does present some challenges, but it’s neat out of the box thinking. As you know everything on the boat is a tradeoff, and overall we’re extremely happy with the boat. Thank you for watching!

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Hi, how confident are you with the centre board in heavy weather … blue water … hove-to? We are going to look at a 47′ sloop with one tomorrow. I love our current smaller steel boat with a full keel but who knows …

Hi Melissa, Tartan 37s have sailed in every ocean on the planet, there have been multiple circumnavigations. As long as we keep the boat properly maintained, I have confidence in it. I don’t know what type of boat you’re looking at or what type of sailing it was designed for, but I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with a centerboard. Good luck!

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We have a 79 Irwin 39 with shoal draft an centerboard, the pennant is mid deck and runs through the sole to cabin top” stripper pole” that is attached to the galley and also serves as handhold under way, the pivot is a SS pin that runs abeam and is puttied over, I need to remove this soon as there is a bit more play in this joint than I’m comfortable with, The boat is very tender and we are contemplating the best way to add ballast to the keel as it heels very quickly and carries a lot of sail. The centerboard isn’t very effective when she’s on her ear for limiting leeway losses . She draws 4’3″ up and 9’6″ down, I never thought about partially dropping to improve turning so am excited to try that when maneuvering around docks. I’m hoping adding some lead will make it less tender and will be pursuing this after haulout.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Peter, sounds like you’re at the beginning of a fun adventure learning more about your centerboard and how it can improve the handling of your boat. It was a fun learning journey for us, and we really began to respect the purpose and design of the CB.

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I have a 1966 Morgan 34. The bronze centerboard has deteriatiated beyond repair. Especially in the hinge pin and pennant attachment area Draft board up 3 1/2 ft, board down about 7 ft. Bronze board is at least 250 lbs, about 5 ft long, and is a great template

1..Any guidance on where I can get a replacement , perhaps Foss Foam?

2. Is the weight important to proper deployment. Sure cranks hard..a challenge for an old fart to raise

Hi Capt Ron, sorry to hear of your CB woes. Unfortunately I don’t have any sources for replacement. Weight is important, the heavier the better, to an extent. You obviously want to be able to lift/lower it under your own power. At a minimum you need some weight at the bottom of the CB to prevent it from floating and get it to drop down and stay down while underway. But the more weight you can drop down there the better.

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My Cruiser Life Magazine

What is a Swing Keel? Advantages & Vs Centerboards, Lifting Keel, Canting Keels

Swing keels are an often misunderstood sailboat feature. They stand unique as a capable offshore sailboat with good windward performance – but they also can provide access to places that few other sailboats can venture.

What is a swing keel, and what makes it so unique? Let’s look at a few examples and weigh the pros and cons.

Table of Contents

Swing keels versus centerboards, swing keel versus lifting keel, swing keels versus canting keels, bilge keels, shoal draft cruisers, daggerboards, advantages of swing keel yachts, disadvantages of swing keels, is a swing keel right for you, faq – questions about swing keel sailboats.

swing keel yacht in the boatyard

What Exactly are Swing Keels? And What Are They Not?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what a “swing keel” is—so let’s start by clearing a few things up. Swing keels are a rare feature found on larger cruising boats. It’s an expensive and specialized item that a boat buyer has to seek out if they want one!

A swing keel is a weighted fin keel that pivots up into the hull of the boat. It can be adjusted from a deep-keel design for optimum sailing performance to a flat-bottomed boat with no keel at all for “drying out” on a sandbar or motoring in extremely shallow water.

In short, a swing keel sailboat gives you the best of all worlds—excellent sailing performance, even upwind, and shallow water access to get in and out of virtually any anchorage or marina in the world.

To be effective, these yachts have very heavy keels. You cannot lift them manually—a proper swing keel requires an electric or hydraulic lifting mechanism. The keel is shaped like an airfoil for maximum performance and is cast out of lead or iron. They usually weigh as much as a couple of automobiles.

Swing keels are effective for two reasons. First, they are ballasted, so they provide righting momentum and stability for the yacht. Secondly, they are shaped like an airfoil, so the water moving over them creates a hydrodynamic force like a regular fin keel does.

There are currently only two major manufacturers of true swing keel yachts— Southerly (now owned by Discovery Shipyards in the UK) and Sirius Yachts from Germany. In 2020, Jeanneau announced a new swing keel version of their Sun Odyssey 410. However, it’s unclear as to precisely what type of keel it features.

The confusion isn’t helped by many sailors using multiple terms interchangeably. The truth is, swing keel sailboats are so rare that most sailors have never even seen one in person! Additionally, some manufacturers use many terms to misdescribe their products as swing keels, adding confusion and taking advantage of the ill-informed.

Sailing Away

First, and perhaps most importantly, a swing keel is not a centerboard. The two may look similar, but their likeness ends there.

Centerboards are extremely common on small sailboats, especially trailerable sailboats . A centerboard sailboat has a flat bottom and a simple board that pivots back into the hull.

The centerboard itself is usually lightweight and lifted with a simple cable and winch system. More often than not, it’s a flat board made of fiberglass. The effectiveness of a centerboard comes entirely from the pressure of the water moving over it since its light design does not provide any righting momentum of its own.

Some larger and very capable cruising boats do have centerboards. However, these boats are usually fitted with internal ballast to improve the boat’s stability beyond what only the centerboard could provide.

There are many monohull fiberglass boats with centerboards, some of 40 feet or more. Usually, the centerboard option is a less common option from the factory for people who want to use the boat in very shallow water. On bigger boats, the board is usually retracted into a ballasted stub keel that doubles as the centerboard trunk.

The Gemini 105MC Catamaran has a pair of centerboards, each of which can be lifted with its own winch. This setup enables Geminis to operate in shallow waters, even by catamaran standards. The Gemini is a lightly-built coastal cruiser from the US.

Some other interesting examples are the Alubat Ovni and Allures aluminum sailboats made in France. These two companies produce different takes on the rugged “go anywhere” sailboat. To that end, they focus on using a centerboard to reduce the draft to make beaching the boat easy. Both of these boats are capable world cruisers.

A man wearing overalls and standing on a plank works on repairs and maintenance to a yacht in dry dock.

Lifting keels look like a conventional fin, bulb, or even wing keel, but they have one significant design difference. Using a high-power motor, they can lift vertically up into the hull. This allows the yacht to have a conventional ballasted fin keel that adjusts in draft.

With this arrangement, the yacht can squeeze into shallow slips or even shoaly anchorages. But, with the keel fully extended, it has upwind sailing performance similar to a full keel version.

Lifting keels are very rare since the cost of manufacturing the lifting mechanism is so expensive. Plus, the interior of the boat must be designed to accommodate the trunk the keels lift into.

Compared to swing keels, lifting keels are more susceptible to damage from a hard grounding. A swing keel will simply pivot and retract partially. A lifting keel, in contrast, can easily damage the tracks and lifting mechanisms.

Another term that is often batted around is “canting keel.” A canting keel is found only on the most cutting-edge ocean racing boats. They swing not aftward, like a swing keel, but instead side to side.

Why would you ever want your keel to swing to the side? Their purpose is to flatten out the boat when sailing upwind. By getting a flat-hulled racing yacht to sail level, its hull will perform better and overall speed will be increased.

Other Shallow-Draft Designs to Consider

The list above is just a few ways that boat builders have found to reduce the draft of a sailboat. Depending on the purpose, there are other ways to do the job.

Bilge keels boats are most common in the UK. They are sometimes called twin keels because they feature two shorter keels mounted at slight angles below the hull. The main advantage of a bilge keel is that the boat can be allowed to “dry out” in areas of big tidal swings. In other words, the boat can stand on its own after the tide goes out.

A small coastal town near Kirkcaldy, Fife. The quiet sombre time where the tide is out and only the noise of distant seagulls can be heard.

Boat design is all about the give and take. While one buyer might want the ultimate in offshore performance, another might say they want a decent sailing boat that can fit into their slip—which only has four feet of water on the approach. What to do?

If yacht designers were allowed to draw their boats without considering shallow areas, most would attach deep, high-aspect-ratio fin keels. Then the boat would be limited to areas with seven or more feet of water. In some parts of the world, like The Bahamas or the Chesapeake Bay, that limits the number of places they can visit.

So boat builders often make at least two conventional keel versions of a boat. One has the best performance characteristics and a deep draft. The other has a slightly reduced draft and a few design tweaks to make it work. Often, the amount of ballast will be increased to compensate for the change in lateral resistance.

A fixed keel shoal-draft version of a sailboat does have a few advantages over other options. It is just as sturdy as any other keel design and has no moving parts or expensive lifting mechanisms.

Small boats that use centerboards have a few other options. Leeboards are a traditional design that uses pivoting boards mounted on each side of the boat. The classic Herreshoff Meadowlark is a good example.

Daggerboards are similar to centerboards, but instead of pivoting, the boards move directly up and down. Also, like centerboards, the daggers are not ballasted.

This arrangement is used on many sailing dinghies, like the Sunfish. For bigger cruising boats, they are popular on performance cruising catamarans like the Maine Cats, Outreamers, and Catanas.

Simply put, a swing keel yacht will allow you to go places that nothing else will. If you eliminated lightweight centerboard designs from your list of options, there are very few shoal-draft ocean-going sailboats to choose from.

Most centerboard designs are inadequately designed for bluewater sailing. Those built heavier and mounted on larger vessels tend to be mounted in stub keels. While they certainly have a shallower draft than other similar-sized vessels, they are still a far cry from “shoal-draft.” As a result, the list of true bluewater centerboard boats is extremely short.

Swing keels are robustly designed, heavy enough, and stable enough to handle ocean crossings. At the same time, they fold up to access very shallow water. That allows the skipper to get into pretty much any anchorage or marina—even places that other sailboats can’t get into.

There are also times when sailing that the variable draft feature will have its plusses. When sailing downwind, for example, having the keel in the fully lowered position makes little sense. By reducing draft slightly, you might be able to sail fast under spinnaker.

It also enables some swing keel sailboats to be dried out. This is standard practice in some harbors with big tide swings. In other places, it means that you can perform maintenance on a sandbar in the right conditions. And that means fewer trips to the boatyard!

Maybe one of the neatest tricks that will make those with fixed keels jealous is what happens if you run aground in one of these boats. First off, bumps are unlikely to damage the keel. The keel swings on its pivot point. The skipper can then just reduce draft a little, and carefully proceed.

Sailboats moored at Land and Sea Park in The Exumas

It’s not all good news, of course. If swing keels didn’t have some minuses, chances are there would be a lot more of them out there.

While sailing performance is very good on these boats, it does not match a hull with a full-depth fixed fin keel. The design of the swinging keel does not allow for the same distribution of weight, so the balance of the boat will always be a bit different.

The system required to raise and lower an enormous and heavy keel is not trivial. It is a complex system made up of expensive parts. Experienced boaters will immediately understand the problem with this. It means that it will break one day, and when it does, it will be difficult and expensive to repair.

Routine maintenance is not a burden, however. Beyond checking the hydraulic level, keel threads, and swing keel cables occasionally, there is little to do.

The other significant disadvantage of this system is the initial purchase cost. These boats target a very niche market and only sell a few boats a year. As a result, they’re hard to find, which means that good examples are expensive to purchase. If you’re building a new yacht, then a swing keel system is a costly option.

There are also slight day-to-day considerations with a swing keel. As with any complicated boat system, the keel lifting mechanism will require occasional maintenance. The entire system will likely need to be overhauled by the yard every 20 or 30 years.

Finally, the interior of the yacht must be designed to accommodate the lifted keel. Southerly often solves this by featuring a raised salon area where the central dinette sits higher, on top of the keel enclosure.

While swing keel sailboats are pretty rare, this is no lack of information available about them. The trick is to make sure that the boat you are looking at and talking about is indeed a swing keel and not something else.

Luckily, one of today’s most experienced and knowledgeable cruising couples has several decades of experience on Southerly swing keel sailboats . Paul and Sheryl Shard of the Distant Shores television show have documented their experiences extensively. They have cruised Europe, the Caribbean, and North America and made at least five Atlantic crossings various Southerly sailboats.

Clearly, these boats are not for everyone. Most people don’t need the extra expense or complexity of a swing keel. But if you want a boat that can access shallow water while at the same time not sacrificing offshore or sailing performance, then swing keels should be on your shortlist.

Are swing keels good?

As with all things boating, the answer is, “It depends.” Swing keels are an expensive feature to add to any boat, and as such only well-built boats will bother putting it in.

A swing keel is a good option if you’re looking for a shallow-draft sailboat that does not sacrifice sailing performance. And unlike most centerboard-equipped designs, these boats are bluewater-capable and very robustly built.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.


What Is a Swing Keel?

What Is a Swing Keel? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Swing keels are a robust and useful alternative to centerboards, and they’re common on variable draft sailboats.

Swing keels are retractable keels that are hinged in the front and swing into a slot called a trunk. Sailors lift and lower the keel with a crank, pulley, or hydraulic system. Sailboats with swing keels can reduce their draft for shallow water sailing or to make them fit on a trailer.

In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know about swing keels and the sailboats that use them. We’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of swing keel designs, compare them to centerboards, and cover the different variations you’re likely to find on common sailboats.

We sourced the information used in this article from sailboat design guides, sailboat plans, and from the sailing community.

Table of contents

‍ What are Swing Keels For?

Swing keels are commonly outfitted on trailerable sailboats that need low clearance. These vessels are usually longer than 20 feet and would normally have a fixed keel if they weren’t designed to be towed.

Swing keels are used in applications where centerboards are cumbersome or have insufficient ballast. Also, a swing keel allows additional ballast to be placed underneath the hull and around the keel trunk.

What is a Keel Trunk?

A keel trunk is a simple rectangular box located on the bottom of the hull. The box, which is open on the bottom and closed on the top, houses the swing keel and its hinge mechanism. The keel retracts into and out from the keel trunk.

The keel trunk can be located inside or outside of the hull. Some vessels have an external keel trunk that protrudes a few inches from the bottom of the hull and usually contains ballast for stability. Most swing keel sailboats have a recessed keel trunk, which is flush with the bottom of the hull.

How a Swing Keel Works

Swing keels, also known as lifting keels, are simple. They act a lot like a lever. The keel is contained in a trunk-mounted to the hull with a pin, which serves as a hinge. The keel is raised and lowered by a system of ropes and pulleys or by a hydraulic system.

Some swing keels are retracted into the trunk using a crank. This system is common on some Catalina sailboats and has proven to be very reliable. These systems usually use a ratcheting pulley which can be locked in one direction for lifting and lowering.

The weight of the keel keeps it in the lowered position, but some vessels have a simple locking device to keep the keel in the down position. When raised, the keel or the raising mechanism is locked securely into place.

Swing Keel vs. Centerboard

Swing keels and centerboards are not the same, but they share some characteristics.

 Centerboards are distinguishable from fin keels because, unlike fixed fin keels, centerboards can be retracted into the hull. Swing keels may appear like fin keels from the bottom, but they also retract into the hull.

So then, how are they different from centerboards? Unlike centerboards, which must be lifted vertically out of the centerboard trunk, swing keels hang on a hinge and fold into the hull. Hence, they ‘swing’ instead of raise.

Benefits of Swing Keels

Swing keels have several distinct advantages over centerboards. Chiefly, swing keels don’t require a massive trunk in the center of the cabin or cockpit.

Most swing keels retract into a trunk located below the hull. Others retract into a trunk under the deck, and some require a small amount of cabin space.

Swing keels never need to be removed or lifted into the boat. Additionally, it’s physically easier to raise a swing keel. This is because the keel distributes some of its weight to the hinge, and lifting it is easier thanks to the physics of levers.

Additionally, swing keel trunks are usually sealed. This is good for a number of reasons—especially in rough weather. Water rarely floods a boat through the centerboard trunk.

But lifting out a centerboard can make a mess, and a pitching and rolling boat could allow water in through an open centerboard trunk. Swing keels don’t suffer from this issue, as the only hole they have is for the rope and block system used to lift and lower the keel.

Drawbacks of Swing Keels

Swing keels have a few notable drawbacks. For one, they’re not as strong or robust as fixed keels. They don’t provide the stability of a full or semi-displacement keel, and they don’t have the windward performance of bilge or fin keels.

Additionally, these keels still require a trunk, which can still take up cabin space on some models. The systems used to raise and lower a swing keel are prone to failure and add complexity where it otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Are Swing Keels Strong?

Swing keels are not as strong as fixed keels. This is because they’re usually smaller and lose rigidity at the hinge. Usually, the addition of mechanical complexity reduces the strength of a system, and that rule applies to swing keels.

A fixed keel can be mounted to a boat with numerous rigid bolts, whereas a swing keel is mounted to a pin and adds a level of complexity. That said, swing keels have an advantage in one respect, which we’ll cover next.

Advantages of Swing Keels in Shallow Water

Most swing keels swing down to the front, meaning their hinge is mounted forward. This is advantageous in shallow water, as it allows the keel to swing up into the boat instead of snapping off should the boat run aground. It’s like an automatic failsafe.

However, some swing keels lock into place in the lowered position. Sailboat owners should always proceed with caution in shallow water and lift the keel if the water isn’t deep enough.

Can You Beach a Sailboat with a Swing Keel?

One of the advantages of having a swing keel is that you can easily beach the boat. All you have to do is build up a bit of momentum, retract the keel, and head for the beach.

Sailboats with swing keels are particularly popular for island hopping due to their transformable flat bottoms. They can also utilize more seaworthy hull shapes than other shallow-draft vessels, thanks to their long retractable keels.

However, some sailboats with swing keels cannot be beached. If the keel retracts fully into the hull, and your rudder does too, you’re in luck. But if you have a fixed rudder, a prop, or any protrusion of the keel under the hull, you have to proceed with caution.

What Sailboats Have Swing Keels?

Dozens of different sailboat brands and models have utilized swing keel systems at some point. One notable and extremely popular example is the famous Catalina 22. The Catalina 22 is a trailerable coastal cruiser with a masthead sloop rig and a typical swing keel.

This small cruiser has a spacious cabin thanks to its keel, which retracts into a hidden trunk. The raising and lowering of the keel is performed by a pulley system and hides out of the way when not in use. The Catalina 22 keel is made of heavy metal.

The Catalina 22 is an example of a sailboat with a semi-hidden swing keel. The trunk only partially covers the keel, as the boat is designed for trailering—beaching abilities were not considered key in its development.

As a result, the keel swings up and still protrudes out from the bottom of the hull. But the swinging design gives the vessel a variable draft and a much deeper keel for stability. The boat otherwise wouldn’t have good handling characteristics if it weren’t for the swing keel.

Not all Catalina 22 sailboats came with a swing keel, but many of them did. It’s the most common boat of its type and a great example of the benefits of swing keels on smaller cruising sailboats.

Do Large Sailboats Have Swing Keels?

Large sailboats aren’t known for having any sort of retractable keel system. However, many ultra-modern big cruising vessels utilize some version of a retractable keel for performance and shallow water operations.

New sailboats that utilize swing keels usually do so for increasing hydrodynamic performance at high speeds and for reducing the draft of an otherwise deep keel.

For example, a vessel with a long 8-foot keel can reduce its draft to 4 feet or so when navigating a harbor and then extend the keel to increase performance offshore.

However, most large sailboats use fixed keels for strength, simplicity, and cost-effectiveness. This is also because most designers simply don’t bother with complex keel systems on larger cruising boats.

What are Swing Keels Made Of?

Swing keels are usually made of strong materials like steel. They’re extremely heavy, as they function as part of the sailboat’s ballast. Swing keels are typically made of a solid steel plate between one and one and one-half inches thick.

Some swing keels on high-performance yachts are made of composite materials like carbon fiber and filled with ballast, but this is exceedingly rare. Much of the sailboat’s ballast is usually internal on swing keel vessels.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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Making the Most of Centerboards

Understanding how centers of effort shift can help make you a better sailor and reduce loads..

centerboard vs keel sailboat

A deep, ballasted keel does a lot of good things. It lowers the center of gravity, provides lift to windward, and stabilizes the boat. It can add great strength if integrated into the construction of the hull, allowing the boat to sniff soft bottoms without damage.

There are downsides. Trailering is impractical. Countless shallow creeks and snug harbors become inaccessible. Docking is more expensive.

A centerboard is one solution, but there are differences. You probably read something about raising and lowering the centerboard or daggerboard in a book on dinghy sailing years ago, and unless you’ve been racing centerboard boats all these years, you’ve probably forgotten the details. Here’s a little refresher.

Even for the cruising sailor, centerboard position is as vital an adjustment, as sail balance and trim.

Balance. On a poorly trimmed boat, one of the largest sources of drag is often excessive rudder angle. Assuming you have the typical rudder profile (NACA 0021), the optimal helm range is generally 2-4 degrees when close hauled. A few degrees helps it share the work of the keel, providing lift to windward. More rudder angle and you are increasing drag, and if the angle exceeds 6 degrees, you are courting a stall when a strong turn to leeward is needed.

What causes excessive load on the rudder?

  • Too much sail area aft. Sailing with main-only or a partially rolled-up genoa can do this.
  • Over-trimmed mainsail.
  • Excessive mast rake. Check the manual. Beach cats and planing skiffs have very specific reasons for radical mast rake. It only translates into more speed or better handling if the boat was designed for it.
  • Excessive heel or bow-down trim. The hull form itself can force a turn to windward. A deeply buried bow can act like a forward rudder.

Centerboard trim

There are ways to fix these tendencies. Ease the main or lower the traveler. Reef the main and the headsail in balance. When sailing off the wind, it is often better to reef the main before the jib, to help keep her head down. Rake the mast to spec. Sail the boat flat. Bear away in the puffs when sailing deep, before the boat begins to heel excessively. Always steer for balance.

However, a centerboard or daggerboard adds an additional trim tool that is often forgotten. When the centerboard first begins to swing up, it moves more aft than up. In fact, a centerboard that is half up has typically lost only 20 percent of its draft and 15 percent of its projected area. On the other hand, the center of lateral resistance (CLR) on a 4-foot centerboard has moved aft about 1½ feet.

What about the change in righting moment of a weighted board? You have lifted it no more than 15 percent of the distance to the waterline, and depending on the board’s maximum depth, you’ve probably lost no more than 10 percent of the board’s contribution to righting moment. Don’t lift a weighted board more than this under sail, but experiment with how a slight movement aft changes things. Always mark the pendant so you know how far you have lifted the board.

Making the Most of Centerboards

Rising windspeeds

Consider the case of our Corsair F-24 test boat. As the wind rises, we might furl the jib for easier sailing. Reefing the main gives better balance, but rolling up the jib is easy and eliminates handling a whole set of sheets. Unfortunately, the sail center of effort (COE) then moves aft three feet, badly overloading the rudder.

In this situation, sailing becomes sluggish and we get trapped in irons every single time we try to tack. And there is no escape from irons, because even when we back the boat out as far as possible by reversing the rudder and fully easing the main sail—as deep as a beam reach—the moment we attempt to sheet in to make way, the bow swings right back into the wind.

However, if we lift the centerboard halfway, the center of lateral resistance moves aft about 1½-feet with very little change in area. We have less sail up, so the loss in area does not significantly increase leeway. The rudder will still be slightly overloaded and successful tacking requires easing the mainsheet as the boat comes through the wind, but you won’t be trapped in irons and the boat  accelerates well as the main is slowly brought in. The rudder angle remains a little higher than normal, but it isn’t a brake.

Reaching in Strong winds

Strong reaching conditions are another time when centerboard adjustments help. When the wind gusts, the boat heels, and the resulting submerged hull form wants to turn to windward. In the case of a multihull, the lee bow digs in, acting as a forward rudder. The helmsman tries to bear off, but the rudder stalls and the boat swerves to windward anyway. Apparent wind accelerates, flow over the sails becomes better attached (reaching sails are often partially stalled, so rounding up attaches the flow), apparent wind increases, and power increases dramatically, just when you don’t want it. Centrifugal force from the rapid turn adds to the mess. A monohull will broach. A multihull can capsize.

The solution? First there are the standard solutions. Reef the mainsail early and fly more headsail; this will help keep her head down. Bear off early and smoothly before the boat heels excessively rather than waiting until the need is urgent. The earlier correction is actually faster, because the rudder angle relative to the water stays low, keeping drag low.

But also consider lifting the centerboard halfway or a bit more. Because there is little side force from the sails when reaching deep, you don’t need as much area. The boat will probably be moving faster through the water relative to the side force, generating more lift with less area. But don’t lift it all the way up unless the boat has a stub keel; you still want some board down as a leverage point for steering. The goal is to move the center of effort aft, so that the boat doesn’t want to round up.

You cannot adjust a board under load. If you apply enough force, you will only break something or hurt your back. Even if there are slides and a sturdy tackle, only adjust the board when traveling straight upwind or downwind, slowly if possible. This will reduce the load. Sometimes shooting straight into the wind for just a few moments is enough; quickly make the adjustment and then return to your original course.

Centerboard adjustments are not just for racers. It is a cruiser adjustment, just like reefing, for those who value good handling and safety. It’s all about balance, and by swinging the board aft just a little bit, you can cure certain handling problems.


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Centreboard vs keel

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I realise this has probably been done to death, but I'd like to get the opinions of more experienced sailors than myself. If you could choose between a centreboard or keel for the same boat, which would you choose and why? Most of my sailing will likely be short, trailered trips in our local lake system, but I also have desires to take her offshore for coastal cruising. I will be building this boat, not buying, so a consideration must be given to simplicity of design, reduced materials cost, ease of construction, etc. The boat in question is a Grey Seal by Iain Oughtred:  


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We love our centerboard. We use it almost every day, at anchor and underway. At anchor, it minimizes roll in an anchorage and also underway, but it also can be used to reduce weather or lee helm by having it partially or all the way down.  


I would choose the centerboard boat. I like the ability to get into shallow water to anchor and even sail through. If the boat is intended to be trailerable then all the more the centerboard draft for increasing places you can haul and launch. Ratings of the same boat with shoal vs deep keels allow about 3 to 5 seconds per mile. That's important to racers I suppose but has no relevance to me, a coastal sailor. The Seal design, very beautiful, looks like a perfect keel centerboard. I doubt there is much performance difference between the two drafts.  


If you're going to be trailering the boat then centerboard. Absolutely. The shallower draft simplifies trailer design, making for a less expensive trailer. It also makes it easier to get on and off the trailer, and opens up more ramps that you are able to use. Having owned a number of trailer boats over the years, for me this would be a no-brainer. Good luck, whatever your choice.  

I would be wary if the design was for a fixed-keel yacht and the manufacturer offered a centerboard version as an option. But I think there are real advantages if the design was centerboard from the start. The Ted Hood-designed Bristols are a good example of this, or so I'm told.  


To begin with, I would suggest that this is a very poor choice to build if your goals are lake sailing. Lake sailing tends to be a mix of extremely light air, and comparatively heavy air with relatively few medium days in between. This design would do poorly at either end of the wind range being obscenely heavy for a boat with this short a waterline length and being really short on sail area for lake sailing. Normally, for all of the reasons mentioned above, I would agree 100% that the centerboard boat should be a more practical design for trailering. I typically am a fan of well designed keel centerboard boats. But in this case, given your goals for the boat, I am not so sure that the centerboard version does make sense. Both versions of this design are severely short on sail area as compared to its drag, initial stability, and displacement. In the case of the centerboard version, there is less stability and so the sail area has been reduced as well. That would be okay if you normally sail in an area where the winds are rarely any more or less than 10 to 15 knots. But you are talking about both lake and ocean sailing and that requires a boat that is good at both ends of the wind range, which neither version would be, but the centerboard version with its smaller sail plan and stability would be much worse to the point of saying either change your sailing objectives or change your choice of design. I would respectfully disagree with the statement "I would be wary if the design was for a fixed-keel yacht and the manufacturer offered a centerboard version as an option." since has been routinely done on boats with longer keels, and produced successful equally successful designs. Jeff  


For trailering, centre board for sure. And the mast would ideally be in a tabernacle. A boat you can not easily rig and launch solo, you won't use. An alternative design I might consider for the kind of mixed usage coastal/inland trailering I might consider the B & B Core Sound 20 Mark 3. Water ballast cat ketch. Fast, light, easy to launch and can take some weather. I have been aboard these boats. They are pretty sweet. Core Sound 20 Mark 3 | B&B Yacht Designs  

I have been impressed with the B&B designs too especially considering how well they have performed in the Gulf of Mexico in some fairly grueling seas that have caused others to call for assistance. The Belhaven design with its bilge keel/centerboard design which give a more open cockpit and cabin and is based a bit on the CoreSound is another one that appeals to me. Belhaven 19 | B&B Yacht Designs  


There are builders and there are sailors. If you are a sailor and want a very small boat which will be safe in the ocean would get a Flicka or something similar. By the time your done building and outfitting not much difference in cost. The difference between 2 1/2’ and 3 1/2’ is meaningless as to where you can go when sailing. Yes it’s a bit more of a headache when launching. But that additional foot is meaningful as regards righting arm. So decide Build or buy Ocean or lake Daysail or cruise There are many great small centerboard day sailor designs. None are seaboats. There are a few very small ocean boats but the spectrum is large from minitransats to full keelers. The demands for an ocean v lake trailer boat are so different it’s hard to image a design satisfying such diverse requirements. If you’re ocean sailing you’d likely launch and leave in the water for days and cruise. If you’re lake sailing probably don’t even need bottom paint. If ocean you’d want something stout with a good avs. If lake something fast and fun. I think you will need to make up your mind. It’s sounds like you’d get more use out of a good centerboarder but don’t expect to cruise in open waters. I don’t get why people think coastal hops don’t require a substantial good boat. You can get into a lot of trouble within sight of land. If you go lake would get a more modern design. Something with a better performance envelope. I’d get a folding tri but that’s my 2 cents. I say so as those are good bay and protected waters boats so quite safe for coastal cruising with a bit of common sense.  

I'm certainly not building the boat just to get on the water, I'd be mad to do that. The boat itself is the aim of the game, but when it's done I'd like to have some options with it. We have a substantial lake system (The Gippsland Lakes) on our doorstep, forecast winds for the rest of the week in the 10-20 knot range and I'd like to be able to use the boat there when finished, but we're also (relatively) local to places like Eden/Twofold Bay and I'm not opposed to the idea of driving up to the great barrier reef and pottering around the whitsunday islands, or putting in at one location and spending a couple of weeks sailing down to a pick-up point further down the coast in Queensland. So ideally I'd like a boat that can do both. Like anything boat-building or sailing related, everything is a compromise and in an ideal world I'd have a dedicated boat for both goals, but the Grey Seal is described by the designer as being slightly over-powered in terms of sailing in order to perform well in light winds, and all reports I've read from owners/builders describe her as handling extremely well in more powerful winds as well. Plus it's just a downright beautiful boat, I love her lines and her traditional look, I think it falls within my capabilities as a builder and is the right size for one or two people to spend an extended amount of time on. Maybe in the future I might look at a second hand folkboat or something similar for extended coastal cruising, but time and money only permit one project at the moment!  


There is an ongoing discussion about Gray Seal building on Wooden Boat forum. Two very simple statements I would ask you to give lots of thought over. "Sail, then build" vs "build to sail". Without knowing your actual sailing experience and abilities and just looking at the choice you're making, clearly you need two different boats. I feel strongly about sailing then building because the boat you build will be strongly affected by the kind of sailing you do. and almost guaranteed, the boat you have or build will be too small too soon. Also, it's pretty well-established that: it is not cheaper to build a boat than it is to buy one. Most often the Builder seriously and religiously builds a beautiful hull before they lose interest or run out of money because they didn't allow for the fitting out of the craft which is often another two thirds more in costs. I often see new discussions on the Wooden Boat Forum about a boat someone just picked up from someone else that was building! so if you still want to build a boat I would suggest looking for a project that someone lost interest or ran out of money,. These are usually new builds.  


I had centerboard boats for 25 years and then got my swing keel boat 27 years ago. We are able to keep such boats in the shallow (2.5’ MLW) area in front of our house, which was a primary reason for buying them. However, we quickly found that variable draft allowed us to take shortcuts and to anchor in shallower water than a keel variant of the same boat. Being able to anchor in the fringes of a crowded harbor can be a real advantage. Extending navigation time in shallow tidal waters can also be an advantage. Being able to reduce draft is also an advantage in a soft grounding situation. Bottom line: it would be real hard for us to switch to a keel boat when a swing keel/centerboard version is available.  

Fallard physics is undeniable. Each sailor needs to decide which boat is right depending upon how they intend to use the boat. For you and where and how you use a boat you made a great decision. But for someone else it maybe a poor one. For me the extra few degrees to windward, the slightly better avs, the decrease in complexity and maintenance, the slightly better ride are more important than draft. My problem isn’t getting into a nook or cranny but rather having enough chain. The OP seems to like classic designs. He is building the boat himself. There is a significant increase in skills required to build a centerboarder and a significant increase in expense. Perhaps that’s worth it as there’s no question launching a boat with less draft off a ramp is much easier. Perhaps that’s the key thing in his decision and more important than gunkholing ability. The size he is contemplating is just large enough that centerboard maintenance isn’t him just rolling the boat on its side and working on the centerboard. He’ll need help and some ingenuity.i helped a friend do this. He dumped his boat off the trailer near a tree on his lawn. We rigged a block and tackle and lifted the boat to get to the centerboard. He replaced the pin , wire and pulley. This was done after the boat was placed in a cradle he constructed so it was elevated enough to work on. The board had a weighted shoe and was awkward. Was a two person job. I think he understands there’s a difference between a lake boat and an ocean one. If I truly wanted a coastal and lake boat as said would go with a Corsair or Dragonfly like design. If I wanted an easy lake boat with a classic appearance would go with a smaller centerboarder so less HAs with maintenance and give up on the idea of open waiter sailing. People think about sailing but often not enough about owning a boat.  

outbound said: Fallard physics is undeniable. Each sailor needs to decide which boat is right depending upon how they intend to use the boat. For you and where and how you use a boat you made a great decision. But for someone else it maybe a poor one. For me the extra few degrees to windward, the slightly better avs, the decrease in complexity and maintenance, the slightly better ride are more important than draft. My problem isn't getting into a nook or cranny but rather having enough chain. The OP seems to like classic designs. He is building the boat himself. There is a significant increase in skills required to build a centerboarder and a significant increase in expense. Click to expand...

I took a screenshot of the Gippsland Lakes on google maps. It looks nice, but challenging sailing on nearly any boat. A series of medium sized lakes connected by narrows, canals and wetlands. The OP is likely to be motoring a fair bit in nearly any boat except a specialised beach boat or cruising dinghy in this area. So if you like Grey Seal, go for it, but I would say get the centre board with all the shallows. Get a good engine for getting through the shallows, narrows and canals. If you really do want to trailer it, then see what options the designer has for solo mast raising systems. *Or, you could just stick to the main bodies of water and you could probably sail just about any boat.  

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Centerboards are useful for cruising in shallow water, but you do want something fairly sturdy for taking on ocean swells, even if it's just sailing coastwise. The design you suggest looks like it would be up for the task, but also looks like it would take a long time to build. Bruce Kirby has a design that might provide more performance in light air, looks good, and would be easier and quicker to build: Norwalk Island Sharpie Sail Boats by Bruce Kirby Marine | Sailboat and Yacht Designer of Laser, Sonar, Ideal 18, San Juan 24, Canada 1 and others It appears the design is robust and stable enough for heavier weather too: Fisher Bass Strait 1.pdf They're sold as kits or you can purchase plans: I contemplated building a 29' one, but we ended up buying a used production boat because we wanted to spend more time sailing than building.  

Fallard don’t want to get into a pissing war. Especially as this is thread drift. Yes you have a wonderful boat. Yes, all boats have warts including mine which JeffH has pointed out. Yes, I think ( as does others) i have a damn good boat for a cruising couple crossing oceans but not perfect. If I had infinite sums I’d call BobP, or perhaps one of several European houses then NEB to watch a perfect boat for cruising being built. Yes, there are good centerboard boats for ocean work. Boreal or one of the Ed Joy boats come to mind. Still a 35’ weighted centerboard is at a disadvantage c/w bulbed, high aspect fin keel. Yes, it is the physics. Naval architecture has moved on as well. They are very skilled and smarter with this stuff than me or you. There’s a reason that even in the one off market where money isn’t limiting folks have moved on and similar designs as yours are no longer in production.  

outbound said: Fallard don't want to get into a pissing war. Especially as this is thread drift. Yes you have a wonderful boat. Yes, all boats have warts including mine which JeffH has pointed out. Yes, I think ( as does others) i have a damn good boat for a cruising couple crossing oceans but not perfect. If I had infinite sums I'd call BobP, or perhaps one of several European houses then NEB to watch a perfect boat for cruising being built. Yes, there are good centerboard boats for ocean work. Boreal or one of the Ed Joy boats come to mind. Still a 35' weighted centerboard is at a disadvantage c/w bulbed, high aspect fin keel. Yes, it is the physics. Naval architecture has moved on as well. They are very skilled and smarter with this stuff than me or you. There's a reason that even in the one off market where money isn't limiting folks have moved on and similar designs as yours are no longer in production. Click to expand...

I know and like Southerlies. A nicely made and thought through craft. Think it quite a different design however. Still think putting a whole lot of weight a distance down on a more effective foil simplifies the physics while allowing a better polar. Believe that’s why in spite of the complexity lifting keels have gotten more popular. We now can engineer and have the materials to do so so do so. I was not being presumptuous rather humble. Had an NA as crew it was amazing to learn how much is involved. I’m in awe by how complex this has become. I thought there were geniuses like the wizard of Bristol who just saw boats and ships whole in theirs mind eye and put down their vision. Yes there are still extraordinarily gifted people but they see it more like a complex vector diagram and it’s a team that creates these wonders. I’m sorry if I got your hackles up.  

outbound said: I know and like Southerlies. A nicely made and thought through craft. Think it quite a different design however. Still think putting a whole lot of weight a distance down on a more effective foil simplifies the physics while allowing a better polar. Believe that's why in spite of the complexity lifting keels have gotten more popular. We now can engineer and have the materials to do so so do so. I was not being presumptuous rather humble. Had an NA as crew it was amazing to learn how much is involved. I'm in awe by how complex this has become. I thought there were geniuses like the wizard of Bristol who just saw boats and ships whole in theirs mind eye and put down their vision. Yes there are still extraordinarily gifted people but they see it more like a complex vector diagram and it's a team that creates these wonders. I'm sorry if I got your hackles up. Click to expand...

Thanks for all the great responses! I have a vehicle suited to towing the Grey Seal and local cruising grounds within a 60 minute drive in several directions, so I would really like to be able to trailer her and not have something bigger which really needs to be craned into the water and permanently moored. What I'm balancing this against is perhaps a slightly less seaworthy boat if I get caught out and need to heave to in heavy weather, and (more pressing to my mind at the moment) is the added complexity during the build and for maintenance. And of course the added difficulty of launching a boat with a deeper draught. I'm building the boat more to have the boat, than to go sailing, if that makes sense. I have no illusions that building will be cheaper than buying, and certainly not quicker! It's a project I expect to take two to three years, which I think falls within my capabilities but will also teach me new skills and challenge me. I'm also planning to use it as a way to spend some more time with my old man, as I have no doubt he will be spending as much time working on it as I will! My sailing experience isn't extensive, although I know the basics and have been out fairly often in my younger years. Time, money, and weather permitting I will be taking some classes and sailing on other peoples boats in the meantime while building the boat. I've picked this design not because it's the best boat (although all reports I've read from other owner/builders is that she handles very well) but because I think it looks beautiful and for the challenge of building it. I'm aware that the cabin is comparatively cramped and there are easier and faster boat designs available, but none of them give me a longing feeling like the Grey Seal does. The designer also has plans for a longer, 24'7" version of the same boat which would no doubt be roomier, faster and have better sea-keeping abilities, and I may look into that version, but I also feel like I'd be giving myself further problems when it comes to trailering and launching/recovering. One piece of knowledge I haven't actually looked into yet is how easy it will be to launch a boat of that size at the local marinas. Cranes are available so if worse comes to worst I would always be able to get the larger boat into the water, but I'd really like the process to be as painless as possible. Interestingly Iain doesn't offer a keeled version of the larger boat, only an offset centreboard, which would definitely be easier to construct than having to put the centreboard through the keel, and the draught is listed as no more than the smaller version of the boat. However, the longer boat means many more scarph joints for the planking and an increased materials cost. Food for thought. Thankyou so much for the Charlie Fisher read! That was excellent! What an amazing trip!  

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Sailboat Keel Types: Pros And Cons 2024

Sailboats are highly versatile vessels that offer a unique form of entertainment and leisure, yet before you can truly unlock their potential, it is important to gain an understanding of all the different keel types available—each providing its own advantages.

Whether you’re new to sailing or an experienced sailor looking to ride a different wave, this post will provide you with insight into all the various sailboat keel types and highlight the advantages they present.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the advantages of different keels, as well as discuss the best route for outfitters trying to decide which is right for them.

From fin stabilizers to centerboards, let’s dive right in and explore which one best suits your boating needs!

sailboat keel types

Table of Contents

Centerboard keel, what is a sailboat keel, what is the purpose of a keel on a boat, sailboat keel materials, can you sail without a keel, how to look after your keel, what to do if your keel breaks at sea, sailboat keel types and their advantages.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

From improving maneuverability in tight spaces to increasing stability when combating choppy seas, understanding how each type works can give you the edge you need to brave any challenging conditions that come your way.

Here are the most common types of sailboat keels and their advantages and disadvantages.

a full keeled sailboat on dry land

A full keel is one that runs pretty much the whole length of the sailboat.

This is one of the most stable types of keel, and is popular with offshore cruisers looking for a solid, rugged sailboat.

A full keeled sailboat will usually fare better in heavy weather. They tend to track better in big waves and there is less risk of you losing the keel compared to other keel types.

Another advantage of full keeled sailboats is that they are safer to run aground (if you find yourself in that unfortunate situation), and the rudder is pretty well protected.

The disadvantages of full keels are that they don’t maneuver well in reverse. This can be a big problem when coming into moorings astern, especially in the Med where stern to mooring is popular. They also tend to need more power to tack effectively.

Full keels are usually also deep keels (though you can get full keeled sailboats with shallow keels too). It’s really important to consider the draft of a boat before buying, because you’ll want to be sure you can cruise it in your desired waterways.

How to tie a sailboat to a mooring ball

a fin keel sailboat on a beach

Fin keels are probably the most popular type of keel on modern boats, and you’ll see many of them around a boat yard.

Fin keels look how they sound, like a fin underneath the boat. They tend to hang quite low to make up for a smaller amount of ballast, so boats with a fin keel usually have a deeper draft.

There are many advantages to fin keels, explaining why they are so popular today. They tend to outperform full keeled points on most points of sail, especially close to the wind where they can point closer and sail faster.

They handle more easily under power and can go astern, making mooring easier. They are also more agile when tacking.

The main disadvantages to a fin keel are that they tend to be less stable. They will power up quickly and heel quickly, so reefing at the right time is paramount.

Another concern from many sailors is the fact that fin keeled boats are bolted on. If those bolts aren’t regularly inspected and maintained then they can fail, resulting in your sailboat losing its keel with catastrophic results.

Because they tend to have a deeper draft there is more possibility of them grounding, and more possibility of a grounding having serious consequences.

Although these safety concerns are sometimes overdramatised by the sailing community (plenty of people cross serious oceans in fin keeled boats every year), they are something to bear in mind.

a sailboat with a bulb keel

A bulb keel is very similar to a fin keel, only it has additional ballast at the end, usually in the shape of a bulb or teardrop which is where it gets its name.

The ballast improves stability, using the distance between force and counterforce as a lever.

The benefits of a bulb keel are very similar to that of a fin keel, but you’re likely to find increased comfort and stability and better performace.

The cons are also very similar to fin keels, and you’ll want to check the keel bolts carefully before you purchase a boat with a bulb keel, and make sure you’re on top of regular maintenance too.

A sailboat with a wind keel

A wing keel is again very similar to a fin keel, but with a horizontal fin at the tip of the keel that looks a little like wings.

The design of this keel gives most of the same advantages of a fin keel, but the edge it has over it is the fact it can have a shallower draft, meaning you can sail in shallower waters. These boats tend to be popular for river or lake sailing for this reason.

The cons of this design are that you will lose some windward performance compared to the fin keeled sailboats, and you might find the wing creates drag and therefore a slower performance overall.

a sailboat with a bilge keel

A bilge keel boat has two keels, or twin keels placed off centre. They are a popular type of keel although less common than fin and full keels.

One of the big advantages of these types of sailboat keel is that they allow the boat to be beached and rest on the keels. This also makes running aground safer, especially compared to fin keeled boats.

Bilge keels have double the wetted surface area, increasing the overall comfort of the boat and its directional stability. They also sail pretty well to windward.

Compared to the fin keel, bilge keeled sailboats tend to be slower, especially the older models. What you lose slightly in speed you tend to make up for in comfort.

Sailboats with a centreboard keel can give you the best of both worlds. With a keel that retracts, usually resting on a hinge that can be raised or lowered through a slot in the hull, it can increase or reduce the draft of a sailboat.

You will find sailboats that have ballasted lifting keels, and ones where the centreboard isn’t essential to the stability of the boat and carry hardly any weight.

With the centreboard down, the idea is that the sailboat will track better to wind and give you more maneuverability. It should make your boat behave similarly to a full keeled sailboat.

With the board up, you will be able to reach much shallower waters. It also means the boat is faster under motor alone with less drag through the water, and often a more effective downwind sailor too. Some of the best shallow draft liveaboard sailboats have lifting keels.

The disadvantages of a lifting keel are that you will lose some performance, especially when sailing upwind.

There is also the safety aspect of more working parts that need to be maintained, and with boats that have a ballasted lifting keel the danger of losing the keel is even more prevalent.

a large sailboat on stands out of the water

A sailboat keel is the fin that hangs underneath a sailboat like a dagger, providing stability against strong sideways forces of wind.

The design is crucial to hold the boat upright and make sailing tack easier, with its depth and shape involving meticulous calculations of size, weight, center of gravity, providing buoyancy, and other features.

On modern sailboats, the keel may be made out of cast iron or steel for extra strength, while traditional boats would opt for a design comprised of lead or copper.

Regardless of its form though, it proves to be an absolute must-have device on any ship meant to travel on wind power alone.

a sailboat with a keel on a boatyard

Sailboats are designed to take advantage of the wind, allowing you to traverse the seas with relative ease. But what makes a sailboat so efficient? Well, it all comes down to its keel: the long, usually slightly curved structure that extends below your boat’s hull and helps keep it stable.

The keel on a boat is an integral part of its design and provides many essential functions.

Acting as an anchor, the keel helps to keep the vessel in place regardless of wind and current conditions.

It also helps to increase the stability of the boat by lowering its center of gravity and distributing weight more evenly across it. This improves the handling of the boat, which can be especially important in rough waters.

The keel holds the ballast for the sailboat, keeping it from tipping over and meaning it can right itself if it does capsize.

All told, a boat’s keel plays a very important role in making sure that its passengers have a safe, stable ride out on open water.

the stern of a sailboat in a boatyard

Most keels are made from the same material as the boat itself – usually fibreglass, wood or steel.

They will then also contain a ballast. A heavier material that gives the boat its righting ability, and prevents it from capsizing easily in heavy seas.

The ballast in sailboat keels are traditionally created from iron or lead to give the boat stability and balance in the water.

a catamaran hull on the ground

The answer to this question is, it depends. There are sailboats that have been designed without keels, such as sailing dinghies that rely on daggerboards, and catamarans.

If your sailboat has been designed to have a keel, though, then it would be very dangerous to head out sailing without one.

Keels are designed to counteract the forces that the sails, wind, and waves put on a boat and make sure it stays upright. Or if it is knocked over it will right itself again. Without a keel there is a high likelihood that your sailboat will capsize and remain inverted.

As the keel is one of the most important parts of your sailboat you’re going to want to really take care of it.

One of the main things you’ll need to do on a regular basis is keep your keel clean. This will help immensely when it comes to performance, as even a little growth on the keel can slow you down a lot.

Another benefit to keeping your keel clean is that it’s easier to do a basic sight inspection. You can check for any cracks or possible damage that might have occurred if you hit something or run aground.

The best way to keep your keel clean is to have it jetwashed when you come out of the water to antifoul your boat. Without taking your boat out of the water the only way to clean it is to dive down and do it yourself, which many sailors will do at least once a season.

Another very important check to carry out yearly is a keel bolt inspection if your boat has a keel that is bolted on.

Outside check

  • Check for rust along the hull to keel joint.
  • Check for signs of movement along the hull to keel joint (any cracks or splits in the joint area)

Inside check

  • Is the bilge dry? Bilges should be clean and dry to help prevent corrosion.
  • Do a visual check of the fastenings in the bilges.
  • Check for rust or staining around the fastenings.
  • Check for signs of movement. This will probably appear as stress cracks around the keel bolts.

If you notice any of these signs then get your keel checked by a professional surveyor who will be able to tell you what’s going on, why, and what your next steps should be.

a capsized dinghy

It is extremely unlikely that your keel will break at sea, especially if you follow the correct maintenance and make sure that if you run aground you haul the boat immediately for an inspection.

There have been a few cases of keel bolts failing at sea, and these cases obviously hit the headlines as they cause total disaster, and lives are often tragically lost.

If you hear the sound of your keel falling off at sea then you need to act extremely quickly. You have hardly any time at all until the boat is likely to capsize. Make sure you have a command for anyone down below so that they have time to get up on deck immediately.

One of the only things you can do is launch and get into your liferaft before you capsize. This is why it is so important to have a liferaft that is easy to launch and a grab bag with essentials like an Epirb that is easily accessible.

Conclusion: Sailboat Keels And Their Advantages

After exploring the various types of sailboat keels, it’s clear that each offers its own advantages and disadvantages.

While a full-keel boat offers exceptional stability against strong winds or currents, it lacks speed and maneuverability due to its heavier weight.

Conversely, a centerboard or winged keel has far superior speed and agility but lacks the same level of lateral stability as a full-keel boat.

No matter what type of sailing you enjoy, analyzing sailboat keel types can make all the difference in finding the right boat for your needs.

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Centerboard or swing keel again?

  • Thread starter Greg
  • Start date Jan 2, 2006
  • Macgregor Owner Forums
  • Ask A Macgregor Owner

Okay!I know port from starboard and bow from stern but does a swing keel kick up like my sailboard daggerboard when it hits the bottom? And does a centerboard stay straight down when it hits something (unless you pull it out? I'm still trying to figure out if I should buy a centerboard model or a swing keel? PLEASE HELP? I don't want to make this BIG mistake.  


Stan breaux21640.

Just one correction... A daggerboard is a board that goes staright down through a slot in the hull of the boat. A centerboard and a swing keel are essentially the same thing. They both rotate into position. The D and M models have a daggerboard. The S and X models have a swing keel/ centerboard.  

Herb Parsons

Another Correction While both a swing keel and a centerboard both rotate into position, they are not essentially the same thing. A swing keel has the entire keel, or most of it, rotate into position. That involves a lot of weight, and the boat will typically not sail at all if it's not into position. A centerboard has a small keel or trunk, that holds most of the weight, with a lighter centerboard that swings down to extend the keel. A centerboard keel will sail with the centerboard up, but with poorer performance. My O'Day 25 has a centerboard, and to answer the original question, when I hit bottom with it, the centerboard simply rotates up. This is still not a good thing to do, since there is the possibility of damage if there is any sideways movement when it hits.  

Louis Holub

SWING vs BUMP... Ive seen 'smashed' dagger boards...and not a pretty sight. And thats why I prefer a 'swing' keel. My former boat, a Mac 26S, and present boat, a Mac 26X have swing keels. I've struck shallows several times, and although I have a depth finder, shallows occur fast on occasions and I was glad that I had the swing keel. It isnt damaged when striking underwater objects, shallows, etc. But, Ive never met an unhappy MAC owner matter if its a Daggerboard or Swingkeel. I simply prefer the swing keel, and less worry in the shallow bay areas that I sail.  

Night Sailor

water hazards In the Pacific, the Gulf, the Atlantic and inland lakes, I have hit numerous underwater objects with swing keels and sustained no damage at all while sailing, sometimes at hull speed. There is an almost endless list of possilbe things just under the surface in deep water that can surprise you, so I recommend the swing keel model on all but extended cruise blue water voyaging boats. IMHO, Since the Macs are ostensibly designed for minimal cost, family fun, not racing or long distance cruising, I think the only logical reason for Roger Macgregor to have ever designed and produced a daggerboard model was for marketing reasons....increased attention... just to have something new that makes news. The difference in interior space or sailing performance sure isn't enough to justify a radical design change when it still has water ballast. Especially if you take into account the disappointment most of us felt when we bought the factory performance hype and then actually sailed or motored our new boats ourselves, falling far short of anything the factory claims with a real crew and gear on board. But, there is no law saying manufacturers have to give real world numbers in their puffery and gross exaggerations. Yet.  

Night Sailor..."well said" We were docking New Years day with a strong wind at our marina. Its always easier having some or all of the swing keel down for docking and better control. The tide was out, and depth at the dock was a range of 2 to 4 ft. It wouldve been a mess trying to dock, handle a dagger board depth, and wind. But with the swing keel, these issues are made easier. Happy Sailing....  

Dboard Control On my 26D, I have a single line led aft to the cockpit that allows easy, immediate and infinite adjustment of the daggerboard depth. I have a fish finder, too, to follow bottom contour and reduce dboard depth if necessary. I never read any factory hype as I purchased my boat used. My boat just outpoints any swing keel of similar length. I have found that the boat 26D handles well with an outboard pusher with the dboard all the way up, but then I have a IdaSailor daggerboard and rudder. I'd recommend retracting the dboard in any shallow water situations (prior to docking). My GPS tells me that the boat motors about 1 MPH faster with the dboard all the way up, all other conditions remaining the same. For a new sailor, I recommend the swing keel for mistakes made sailing. For those who have more experience and care about speed, efficiency and upwind performance, the daggerboard design shows great potential. Roger M even designed a boat half way to the fixed D model: the S model. But apparently he was still unable to make everyone happy.... John S Boise  

2 Feet of Water OK Louis, I have to give you a hard time. You are docking in 2 feet of water and none of your crew (or you) were willing to step over the side and guide the boat? Sounds like a bunch of cats who don't want to get their paws wet. Ha John S Boise where standing in the water hurts and your lower extremities are in danger of frostbite or worse's the deal...HA. JohnS...thanks for the hard time...but here's the deal on the Holub Boat. No one seems to volunteer jumping over the side in 2' of water to lead the boat in. I'm sure you know the RULE that the Captain never leaves the boat...HA...My former boat, a Mac 26S, seemed easier to dock. But I watched a 28' tri-hull boat and crew coming in after I docked. They were having docking problems too, and one of the guys fell overboard at dockside. The strange thing is, he walked grumbling to the ramp via water about 80 ft. distance without towing the thats the kinda crew folks get these days...HA... Happy Sailing to you and yours !  

Ramblin' Rod - Mac 26D - SeaQuell

Daggerboard vs Swing Centreboard When we set out to move up to a MacGregor classic from our Ensenada 20, (after 3 years of research convinced us that it was the right boat for our type of sailing), we targeted the "S" model. Everything else being absolutely equal, I would have then and would still now, chose a centreboard model over the daggerboard. But often, the daggerboard model, being a few years older and with the potential damage "stigma", is considerably cheaper (everything else being equal). In reality, the daggerboard model is a better sailer, again everything else being equal. Roger MacGregor didn't make a "faux pas" with the daggerboard design from a technical or performance perspective. The reason for the quick switch to the swing centreboard was due to the market perception (real or otherwise) that the daggerboard was an unnecessary liability due to increased risk of damage. The reality is, you are a damn fool if you are not always very, very, careful to ensure you have sufficient water under your keel. Even a swing centreboard can get a healthy chunk taken out of it, if it strikes something solid at good speed. Even more important than that, is that you can lose control of the boat if the centreboard is forced up while you are relying on it to prevent leeway. And as previously mentioned, the swing centreboard is more prone to damage in a grounding with a lateral movement component. For these reasons, if I were to do it again, with everything else being equal between a daggerboard and centreboard model I was considering to purchase, if the daggerboard model was $350 or more dollars less expensinve, I'd buy that. Either way, purchasing one over the other can not possbily constitute a "BIG" mistake.  

Dagger advantage The only unarguable advantage of the dagger over the centerboard is the ease of replacing that vertical appendage if it does break. To replace a centerboard you have to raise the boat, unbolt the holding flanges and/or pivot pin, and lower it carefully out the bottom. To replace a dagger board you pretty much lift the old board out and drop a new one in and you’re done. Also, if you ever break your dagger, you can drop a board or paddle down the dagger slot as an emergency backup. Otherwise, both are wonderful! Happy sails *_/), MArk  

Crew Rights Louis, I like the saying that," the boat may belong to the captain, but the lifeboats belong to the crew". John S Boise  

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13 Popular Trailerable Sailboats with Lifting Keels

Trailerable boats come in a wide range of styles, sizes and capabilities. Dinghies and small sport boats are easy to trailer and even car top, but what if you're looking for something you can take some place, and maybe spend a weekend on board?

One good way to open a lot of shallow cruising grounds and gunkholes and to make your trailering life easier is to add a lifting or swing keel to the boat. With drafts under a foot on some models, these boats will give you a lot less trouble with overpasses, wires and launching.

While this isn't an exhaustive list, these thirteen popular boats will give you an idea of the range of trailerable boats with lifting keels you can find on the market. Some are older and no longer built, and you can find some of them at the boat shows and ready for purchase new today. Whether you're looking for a day sailer or a weekender for a couple to gunkhole along the coast, here are some great boats to consider.

Catalina 22 Sport

  • Com Pac Eclipse

Flying Scot

  • Islander 24

MacGregor 26

Montgomery 17, norseboat 17.5.

  • Seaward 26 RK
  • West Wight Potter 15/19

Most of these builders have several boat models, and several them have specialized in pocket cruisers, trailerable boats, and smaller hulls. Remember the specific model listed may be a good sample of their work, but check their entire lineup for something closest to what you want.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

13 Biggest Trailerable Sailboats: Cheap But Good

Also - not all these boats are still in production, though they you can find them for sail used. Links are to the builder where possible, or to information pages to learn more if the builder is no longer around. Because we're looking at smaller boats, they won't likely be listed on brokerage sites, so you'll need to search for them on places like Craigslist, class association sites, and smaller regional boat sales sites and for sale boards.

centerboard vs keel sailboat

On this page:

Com-pac eclipse, seaward 26rk, west wight potter (15 and 19), finding your boat.

First introduced in 1970, the Catalina 22 has been one of the most popular trailerable boats since its inception, though the Mk II update added a few inches of beam and couldn't race the Mk1 boats under one design class rules. The 22 Sport updates the classic original, while returning to the specifications for class legal racing out of the box with the original 22. It has a retractable lead keel, or an fixed keel option, and has berths below for up to four people. It's an easy weekender to launch and sail, with ready made fleets for fun, competitive racing.

Find the specs here

Com-Pac specializes in small, compact trailerable sailboats. The Eclipse is a solid example of their sloop-rigged boats. With a 21 foot overall length, 7'4" beam, and a 2,200 lbs displacement, it will tow easily with a modest vehicle. Down below, you'll find a double v-berth and space for cooking and food preparation. This converts to sleeping space with two additional quarter berths.

When looking for a trailerable pocket cruiser, look at the entire Com-Pac line.

Over five hundred CS 22 hulls were built in their production run in the early 70s, and this sturdy little cruiser is still a popular boat if you can find one on the used market. They conceived it as a lightweight, trailerable cruiser. It has a stubby externally ballasted keel with centerboard for added stability and pointing.

Though small, the interior has sleeping accommodations for four, a small galley, and a space for a portable toilet, making it a suitable choice for short expeditions and weekending. Though scarce today, the CS 22 is a good example of compact design that helped set the standard for later pocket cruisers.

The Flying Scot is a day sailer, and a popular design with over a hundred racing fleets around the U.S. It's an older design, having been in production for over fifty years, but this 19 foot sloop will still get a small group out on the water for a day of sailing and fun. Although it doesn't have an interior, clever and adventurous sailors have rigged up boom tents and other means to spend the night on their boats. Options on new boats include space for motor mounts, swim platforms, and higher end racing packages, and there is a strong market for parts and equipment.

The Hunter 22 is an updated replacement for the retired Hunter 216, another popular trailerable boat. The boat can be configured in a cruising setup with a V-berth and portable toilet, or a performance package with a sprit and asymmetrical spinnaker. For the size, it's a good value mini-cruiser with good performance and enough comfort to keep a small crew for a weekend. Depending how you configure your Hunter 22, it can run the gamut from comfy pocket cruiser to sporty day sailer.

Note: Hunter Marine changed names to Marlow-Hunter, though there is an enormous base of used boats with the Hunter brand.

There are several varieties of the MacGregor 26 beyond the base boat, including the 26D (1986-89), 26S (1990-95), 26X (1995-2003) and 26M (2002-2013). MacGregor boats have proven very popular trailerable boats, selling over 38,000 boats during the company's lifetime.

The Mac 26 differs from many small sailboats by two things - water ballast for stability, and the ability to take what is, by small sailboat standards, a massive outboard engine. A seventy horsepower engine on a 26' sailboat can make it hit planing speeds under power. This popular boat is a compromise - the water ballast, hull design, and smallish rig make it a somewhat underpowered sailboat, but it will sail. But if there is no wind, the Mac owners will still beat everyone back to the bar even while towing a water skier.

Their blend of form, function and design have made them controversial boats with experienced sailors, but there is no doubt the MacGregor 26 has gotten thousands of new boats on the water and built a loyal following for one of the most popular trailerable boats ever sold.

After the closure of MacGregor yachts, the Tattoo 26 was developed from the Mac 26 and is almost identical in performance capabilities and design.

Built at first with a fixed keel with an optional centerboard, orders for the keel/centerboard version outstripped the original and more centerboard versions were built. If you're looking for one, make sure it's the right version.

Lyle Hess and Jerry Montgomery designed the Montgomery 17 as a cruising capable, trailerable boat. The lapstrake fiberglass hull deflects spray and chop, and the 1,550 lb boat gives a stiff, dry sail. The cuddy cabin below has comfortable space for two adults, space for a portable toilet, and ample storage for gear and supplies. A four-part tackle rig makes raising the deck stepped a snap.

NorseBoats specializes in lighter day sailers and trailerable boats with a classic look but modern build and design concepts. Marketed as the "Swiss army knife" of boats, any of their offerings meet the criteria for an easy to trailer and handle boat with a shallow draft. The 17.5 can take a small outboard, has two rowing stations, and comes with a carbon fiber, rotating mast for easy setup and break down and solid performance under sail.

The larger NorseBoat 21.5 has an optional cabin version, with more sheltered space for sleeping and living than the open version.

The venture is a sixteen foot day sailer, and a modern design which can be sailed by up to eight people. The Venture has options for fixed keel, a centerboard, or a ballasted centerboard. As a forgiving design, it's a popular boat for inexperienced sailors and sail training, but still has enough power to be interesting and fun for skilled sailors as well. The RS Venture Connect features a lifting keel.

RS Sailing develops and sells many performance oriented small dinghies and day sailors aimed at a range of sailing skill and applications, from sail training dinghies to high performance racing skiffs.

Hand built with carbon fiber and vinylester resin over balsa core, this little boat is lighter than expected, but still sails well with options for a fixed keel or centerboard. At 16'10" overall, a 6'9" beam, and 1,300 lbs it's an easy boat to handle. But down below it's got a V-berth sized for adults and seating for two down below. The lapstrake designed hull deflects water and spray for a drier, more comfortable ride.

The smaller Sage 15 is another option for a lightweight boat using the same modern materials and techniques in a classically styled package.

The Seaward 26RK is the successor to Nick Hakes’ Seaward 25, with an edge to more comfort and better performance in a similar price to the last generation yacht. The result is the 26RK with more waterline, more buoyancy aft, and a lifting keel.

One of the larger boats on this list, the Seaward 26 RK, is still easy to move over land with a trailered weight under 6,000 pounds. The boat alone displaces 3,800 pounds, with 1,200 lbs. of that in retractable ballast with a bulb on the bottom. The keel lifts with an electric motor and is simple to operate. The cockpit is comfortable for four and has options for wheel or tiller steering.

Down below you'll find four six-foot berths and seating for four. Interior configurations include options for an enclosed head and v-berth, and a two-burner stove in a small galley.

Seaward Sailboats began sharing construction facilities with Island Packet Yachts and are sold through the same dealer network.

For over fifty years, the West Wight Potter has been a compact, trailerable option for a weekender and vacation boat. The fifteen and nineteen foot models have been fixtures at boat shows and in harbors, and sailors have even crossed oceans in these doughty little boats. The fifteen displaces only 475 pounds, with 165 pounds of ballast in the lifting keel. It's self righting and self bailing, with added foam for stability and floatation. The 19 is heavier at 1,225 pounds with 370 pounds of ballast, but the extra volume adds two more quarter berths, more headroom, space below, and more waterline.

With a kick up rudder and retracting keel, these little cruisers can be beached or taken in shallow waters. They designed the hull for stability and reduce spray for a dry and comfortable sail. Factory options include several creature comforts, sail options, and even trailers. With over 2,600 West Wight Potter 15s built and 1600 of the nineteen footer, there's a ready market of these pocket cruisers for sale.

While the big boats get the glory and high profile spots at the shows, smaller trailerable boats are what most people can buy. The corners of the shows where you see the West Wight Potters and Com-pacs to be just as exciting to me as the main docks filled with forty and fifty footers, because these smaller boats invoke a different adventure. An attainable adventure, for so many more people.

There's an array of smaller boats you can store in your garage or backyard and take out for everything from a casual day sail to a long summer vacation. This list gives you a flavor of what's out there in the trailerable boat market, but it's up to you to decide where you want to go and how you want to get here.

The article is headed by a photo of a S2 7.9 but that boat did not make your list. IMO the best trailer boat .

Leave a comment

You may also like, what is a swing or lifting keel 14 pros and cons explained.

If you need to know what a swing keel is, like me, this article is for you. I'm trying to decide what keel type is right for me, so I dove into the swing keel.

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  1. Centerboard (Swing Keel) vs. Fixed Keel: Pros and Cons

    Centerboard keels are a board that you can lower through a slit in the hull; Brief explanation of fixed keels. A fixed keel is just what it sounds like. It's a keel that stays in its place and is immovable. No matter its size, shape, or weight, it is a keel that doesn't move relative to the boat. It is also the most traditional one you will ...

  2. Choosing a Centerboard or Fixed Keel Sailboat

    Most sailboats under 15 feet or so have centerboards. But there is a wide range of boats from 12 to about 25 feet with either a fixed keel or a centerboard. For example, in this photo, the boat on the left has a fixed keel, while the boat on the right, of about the same size, has a centerboard.

  3. Sailboat Keel Types Compared: Pros and Cons of 13 Types

    The keel types that are known for their comfort and seaworthiness are full keel, bilge keel, wing keel, Scheel keel, and fixed keel. The best keel types for speed are canting keel, bulb keel, and wing keel. For improved maneuverability and agility, the best keel types are swing keel, centerboard keel, and daggerboard keel.

  4. What's the deal with Centerboards?

    A centerboard is a retractable appendage that pivots in and out of a slot (centerboard trunk) in the hull/keel of a sailboat. Having the ability to raise and lower the centerboard allows the the boat to operate in shallow waters when lifted, while maintaining good upwind sailing characteristics with the centerboard down.

  5. Swing Keels and Centerboards: Pros and Cons Explained

    Swing keels are the most versatile keels available, but it comes at a cost. Let's discuss those costs. I'll also show you two technical diagrams to explain t...

  6. What is a Sailboat Centerboard?

    Daniel Wade. June 15, 2022. A sailboat centerboard is a retractable fin that protrudes from the bottom of the hull. The centerboard keeps the boat stable and on course. Centerboards are an important and often overlooked part of a sailboat, but they're essential to stability and effective navigation. Centerboards perform the function of a keel ...

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    Plus, the interior of the boat must be designed to accommodate the trunk the keels lift into. Compared to swing keels, lifting keels are more susceptible to damage from a hard grounding. A swing keel will simply pivot and retract partially. A lifting keel, in contrast, can easily damage the tracks and lifting mechanisms.

  8. Sailboat Keel Types: Illustrated Guide (Bilge, Fin, Full)

    The most common sailboat keel types are full-length keels, fin keels, bulb keels, wing keels, bilge keels, and lifting keels. Full keels are popular among cruisers, while fin keels are generally used for racing. ... A centerboard is a type of retractable keel that rests on a hinge and can be lowered through a slot in the hull. It folds out like ...

  9. Sailboat types- Centerboard vs. Keelboat

    September 30, 2016. Sailboats come in all shapes and sizes but one of the biggest distinctions is between a centerboard/ dagger board and a Keel-boat. To sail effectively across the wind or upwind you need something to resist the tendency for the boat to slip "leeward" or sideways through the water. Keels and centerboards accomplish this goal.

  10. Sailboat Keel Types: A Complete Guide

    A full keel runs from end to end of the boat lengthways. A full keel, as the name implies, runs almost the entire length of the boat. At a minimum, it must run 50% of the length of the boat. A full keel is one of the most stable keel types, which is why it is so common. Full keels are also safer should you run aground.

  11. What Is a Swing Keel?

    Swing Keel vs. Centerboard. Swing keels and centerboards are not the same, but they share some characteristics. Centerboards are distinguishable from fin keels because, unlike fixed fin keels, centerboards can be retracted into the hull. ... The trunk only partially covers the keel, as the boat is designed for trailering—beaching abilities ...

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    The boat will probably be moving faster through the water relative to the side force, generating more lift with less area. But don't lift it all the way up unless the boat has a stub keel; you still want some board down as a leverage point for steering. The goal is to move the center of effort aft, so that the boat doesn't want to round up.

  13. Centreboard vs keel

    Ratings of the same boat with shoal vs deep keels allow about 3 to 5 seconds per mile. That's important to racers I suppose but has no relevance to me, a coastal sailor. The Seal design, very beautiful, looks like a perfect keel centerboard. I doubt there is much performance difference between the two drafts.

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  19. Centerboard or swing keel again?

    A centerboard has a small keel or trunk, that holds most of the weight, with a lighter centerboard that swings down to extend the keel. A centerboard keel will sail with the centerboard up, but with poorer performance. My O'Day 25 has a centerboard, and to answer the original question, when I hit bottom with it, the centerboard simply rotates up.

  20. 13 Popular Trailerable Sailboats with Lifting Keels

    Built at first with a fixed keel with an optional centerboard, orders for the keel/centerboard version outstripped the original and more centerboard versions were built. If you're looking for one, make sure it's the right version. Lyle Hess and Jerry Montgomery designed the Montgomery 17 as a cruising capable, trailerable boat.