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.
Centerboard Boats usually smaller 6’-20’ although some larger cruising boats use a swing keel to get into shallow water. Because they are generally a smaller boat they are sometimes referred to as a “dingy”. These dingys are great for learning because the basics of sailing are quickly learned through a responsive and more basic setup. Centerboard boats are light and fast and the weight of the person(s) on board are the ballast that helps the boat stay flat as the wind pushes or pulls the vessel through the water. A centerboard is a retractable fin that keeps the boat from slipping sideways whereas a dagger board is off to the side of the boat (less common usually very small boats). A huge benefit of this retractable fin is when it is in the up position you can pull the boat up on to a beach or easily trailer the boat. Both fin types can be pulled up when running straight down wind to lessen drag, since leeward is the direction you want to travel you don’t need something from going leeward. The rudder (another fin used to steer the boat) is typically removable/ retractable so it isn’t damaged when in shallow water or beaching the boat. Centerboard boats can flip over if you are not properly moving weight around, and one of the first things you learn is how “right” the boat and get sailing again. For this reason they are typically used near-coastal or on lakes and in warmer weather or with wet suits. They typically do not have a motor- another reason sailing skills are learned at an accelerated pace. Common centerboard boats include Sabots, Lasers, Sunfish, Lido 14’s among others.
Keel boats have a fixed keel that is weighted to provide ballast which makes these boats more stable and forgiving. These vessels are typically 10’ up to the largest sailboat in the world at 359’, the Sea Cloud. The weight of the keel is typically near 50% of the total displacement weight of the boat. For this reason a keel boat is self-righting and more suited for venturing offshore. “Heeling” or leaning over of the boat is a fun part of sailing and the more a keel boat leans over the more the boat wants to right itself. For this reason keel boats do not flip over in all but the most extreme conditions and even if they were to capsize, they will almost always right themselves. Keels come in all shapes and sizes from the most common fin keel to a full-keel boat designed to go straight for long range cruising. Many sailboat manufacturers make the same model in a standard keel and shoal draft version for shallower cruising grounds. Race boats often bulb keels that consist of a heavy missile like structure at the end of a long fin. Some of these fastrace boats like the Volvo Open Ocean 65’ Class race boats have canting keels that allow the keel to “cant” or lean over to the windward side increasing the amount of power you can put into the sails while keeping the boat from heeling over too much. Common keelboats include; Catalina’s, Hunters, Beneteau’s,
Neither centerboard or keel boats are necessarily “better” but rather more suited for specific boating variables. Lucky for you, we happen to love and have both types of sailboats so you can learn to captain them yourself, or just go for a cruise!