A friend of mine who’s looking at boats just asked for my thoughts on the pros and cons of a full keel vs. a fin keel.
Here’s what I responded:
So I don’t have a great deal experience with full keel, especially in the place where I expect it to most shine – the open ocean. Having said that, here’s been my experience thus far.
- It won’t fall off! I have yet to personally see a fin keel that is integrated into the hull. I think they exist though? Maybe the Amels have something like that? But usually they’re bolted on. And they can fall off.
- Superb tracking – she stays the course. This is noticeable even on the bay.
- More forgiving / gentle when running aground. (The smooth curve vs. just smacking something with the front of the fin, which causes immense stress and damage to where the keel meets the hull.)
- The rudder is protected. Cabo Rico boasts none of their vessels has ever lost a rudder.
- The rudder is large. She has great steerage (going forward) with very little way on.
- Generally less draft is needed with a full keel vs. fin keel, which gives you more options (for anchorages, etc.).
- Deep bilge – gives you a little more time when dealing with a leak. Also, potentially more storage space.
- A sense of dread maneuvering in marinas, close quarters and bay traffic, because of some of the items below.
- I cannot do a fairway turn – the prop walk is not strong enough to pull the bow through the wind, due to keel resistance.
- Don’t expect to have any steering control in reverse gear. The analogy is trying to hit the bulls-eye when throwing a dart backwards.
- My vessel has more difficulty tacking than a fin keel. I have to keep the jib back-winded through the tack to help coax the bow through the wind.
- I cannot quickly tack twice in a row. I had a close call, where I tacked to avoid a little boat headed downwind on a spinnaker, then had to use the engine to keep from hitting Angel Island, because I didn’t think we could get enough momentum to tack back (we’d already tried once and failed).
- Hard to get instruction. I’ve asked instructors a few times for private full keel instruction, and have never gotten a response. There isn’t a good spot in my marina to practice, so I’m thinking this spring/summer of going over to the Richmond marina just to practice close quarters motoring. There’s a school on the east coast that teaches on full keel boats, I’m considering that as an option as well.
- Some maintenance items (like bilge pumps and switches) are a bit more challenging.
For the most part the cons are really only cons in marinas and high-traffic areas. It’s not where she’s most at home. When out cruising, I expect her to shine.