Pros and Cons of a Full Keel

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.

Pros

  1. 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.
  2. Superb tracking – she stays the course. This is noticeable even on the bay.
  3. 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.)
  4. The rudder is protected. Cabo Rico boasts none of their vessels has ever lost a rudder.
  5. The rudder is large. She has great steerage (going forward) with very little way on.
  6. Generally less draft is needed with a full keel vs. fin keel, which gives you more options (for anchorages, etc.).
  7. Deep bilge – gives you a little more time when dealing with a leak. Also, potentially more storage space.

Cons

  1. A sense of dread maneuvering in marinas, close quarters and bay traffic, because of some of the items below.
  2. I cannot do a fairway turn – the prop walk is not strong enough to pull the bow through the wind, due to keel resistance.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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