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Does A Sailboat Need A Keel?

Do sailboats need keels

Sailing can be a fun and efficient way to get where you need to go. Have you ever seen a sail boat cruising the water? Graceful lines gently caressing the ocean's surface? It's a beautiful sight. Those smooth graceful curves hold a secret beneath the water. That's right, the keel of your chosen watercraft. Does a sailboat need a keel? The short answer is yes, but there are many different types of keel available.

Some keels are retractable for sailing through shallow water, while other boat keels are completely removable. You generally won't find these on larger ships, which is a wise design choice. I doubt that a giant ship without a keel would last upright for very long at all. So let's look specifically at sailboat keels in all their shapes and forms.

Keel Etymology and History

The word keel comes from the Old English word cēol, and/or the Old Norse word kjóll. It has the unique status of being regarded by some scholars as the first English language word ever recorded in writing. In the 6th centure, Gildas' Latin work De Excidio et Conquestu Brittaniae mentioned a keel under the spelling cyulae.

The Latin root for the word keel is carina. Careen shares the shame root, but there is reason for that similarity. Careening can be used to clean a keel (and the ship in general) by rolling the ship onto its side in order to reach places that would normally be hidden underwater and therefore unreachable.

does a sailboat need a keel? boat underside

Careening a boat can be dangerous, so we have different, more modern methods of cleaning a boat these days. Give your boat the attention and all-over clean that it desperately deserves with our no slip deck cleaner and instant boat hull cleaner, then to complete the service with our synthetic chamois wash towel and synthetic chamois dry towel. Your vessel will shine like the day you bought it, we guarantee it! Whatever your boat cleaning needs, The Better Boat has you covered.

Laying the keel is a significant event in the building of any ship and is considered to be the actual birth of the vessel according to nautical tradition. This is generally accompanied with some sort of celebration or ceremony. The only event that is more important than laying the keel is the actual launch of the ship.

Why Does A Sailboat Need A Keel?

There are literally thousands of reasons a sailboat requires a keel. Many of them go into a realms of physics that I don't possess the knowledge or willpower to even begin to understand, so we'll do our best to keep the explanations simple. Some keels are larger, some are much smaller but they all serve the same purposes.

does a sailboat need a keel? boat keel

The primary function of a sailboat keel is to counteract sideways forces from wind or waves and keep the boat upright in the water. The sailboat keel also holds the boat's ballast and prevents capsizing. Obviously, both very important jobs. In addition, the sailboat keel provides counterbalance and lift which help your boat perform better.

The last job that a sailboat's keel has is to control drifting. When you're out in the water with nary a landmark to be seen, it's very important that your vessel is on the correct heading. Thanks to our friend the sailboat keel, holding a heading is simple. Set it and forget it. Without a keel we would be checking our heading constantly.

Different Types of Keels

Trying to list every different kind of keel available on the market is quite an undertaking, but I will at least try to cover a few of the more common ones. As I said earlier, some can retract into the boat itself or even be completely removed. Other keels flip upwards, while some can't be budged in any direction whatsoever. We'll start with the basics.

Full Keel

Starting with the most common examples, we've got the full keel up first. It's a big one that is usually fitted on blue-water sailboats. It has much more stability compared to something smaller like the fin keel, but this makes is much slower and a bit harder to maneuver in tight spaces.

does a sailboat need a keel? boat crane

Fin Keel

If you want to go fast, you're going to want a boat with a fin keel. This sailboat keel is small and sleek, providing very little water resistance. You can zip around without too much worry of grounding your boat, but the fin keel offers a smaller degree of stability which is something to stay aware of.

Dagger Keel

Dagger keels are super cool. These keels are retractable, and stored in their own compartment when not needed. This means you can brave the shallows with ease. Not to be confused with a daggerboard, which are completely removable and generally found on one man vessels like catamarans.

Other Keels

Different types of keels include the long fin, swing keel, and bulb fin. There are plenty more out there on the market and with a little more research you can find one that fits your every need, but for the everyday sailor the ones mentioned about should suit you and your needs just fine.

Final Thoughts

The keel is an amazing piece of sailing equipment that many people don't give a second thought. It needs care and maintenance from time to time, but outside of these brief windows the sailboat keel is largely out of sight and out of mind.

Modern sailing would never have progressed to the point that it has without the sailboat keel. Next time you admire the sleek beauty of a sailboat, give a nod to the unsung hero that floats just beneath the surface of the water and makes all of the amazing adventures we undertake a possibility.