When looking to purchase a sailboat, one big consideration that faces buyers is whether or not the boat should have a full keel.
And there’s no shortage of steadfast opinions available on the internet.
Ultimately, the decision will rest very heavily on how you intend to use the boat. Will you be going offshore or sticking close to the coast? Are you planning ocean passages? Will you be spending a lot of time in marinas or mostly anchoring?
In this article we look at some of the pros and cons of both to aid your consideration.
- It won’t fall off. Full keels are integrated into the hull. While there may be some integral fin-style keels, most—and especially on production sailboats—are bolted on. It’s rare, but it does happen that a fin keel can fall off, especially if improperly maintained or not properly examined after a grounding. When it does happen, it is sudden and catastrophic, and survivability is low.
- Tracking. Especially in the open ocean, full keel vessels tend to experience and easier time “slicing” through chop. Full-keel vessels really shine in the open ocean, and this is where you’re most likely to really appreciate this feature.
- More forgiving. The consequences are gentler when running aground. The smooth curve vs. just smacking something with the front of the fin, which can result in immense stress and damage to where the keel meets the hull.
- Protected rudder. Typically the rudder will be just aft of the full keel, which yield unparalleled protection for the rudder. Cabo Rico, for example, boasts that none of their vessels has ever lost a rudder. However, if you’re looking at a fin-keeled vessel, you might seek a skeg-hung rudder for a similar level of protection. A spade-style rudder by itself is completely unprotected from a strike (ground, debris, whale, etc.).
- Large rudder. A full-keeled vessel may have a larger rudder than a fin-keeled one. This can offer better steerage (going forward) at slower speeds.
- Shallower draft. Generally less draft is needed with a full keel vs. fin keel, which gives you more options (for anchorages, etc.).
- Deep bilge. A full keel may mean a deeper bilge, which gives you a little more time when dealing with water ingress. Also, potentially more storage space.
- Maneuvering anxiety. Full-keeled vessels are generally more difficult to maneuver in marinas, high-traffic areas, and other close-quarters situation. This is particularly true when reverse propulsion is required. This can lead to a sense of trepidation or anxiety in such situations.
- Fairway turn. The fairway turn, otherwise known as a back-and-fill, is a very useful maneuver in marinas and other tight situations. The author’s own full-keel vessel was incapable of a fairway turn—the prop walk was not strong enough to pull the bow through the wind, due to resistance of the very substantial underwater surface area.
- Challenging in reverse gear. An analogy is trying to hit the bulls-eye when throwing a dart backwards. It can take longer for a full-keel vessel to achieve steerage in reverse, and the prop walk while doing so can be substantial. It may be necessary to “gun” the engine a bit in reverse to achieve proper steerage in a reasonable amount of time.
- Large rudder. Due to the additional surface area and leverage of the rudder, extra care must be taken when going in reverse, because the forces on such a rudder in reverse can get very high.
- Tacking difficulty. It may be necessary or advantageous to let the headsail backwind for a bit in order to help get the bow through the direction of the wind.
- Tacking speed. Tacking may be more challenging in some situations. More speed may be required in order to successfully come about on a full-keeled vessel versus a fin-keeled one.
- Harder to get instruction. The author has asked instructors a few times for private full keel instruction, and never got a response. There is, however, the Maryland School of Sailing on the U.S. east coast that teaches on full keel boats.
- Deep bilge. Some maintenance items may be a bit more challenging, for example bilge pumps and switches.
For the most part the cons are really only cons in marinas and high-traffic areas.
In conclusion, hopefully the above exploration of some pros and cons of a full keel have helped with your consideration of a sailboat that fits your needs.
Do you have any thoughts to add? Leave a comment below!