Is a keel Important?

I bought an Old Town 147 Guide Canoe and it doesn’t have a keel. I’m awaiting on instruction after I turned it over a couple of weeks back. One friend tells me a keel is a must and my canoe doesn’t have one. My instructor said the entire canoe acts as a keel and it isn’t necessary. What say you experts?

Not necessary
I have spent many happy hours in canoes without keels.

If it needed a keel…
…Old Town would have put one there.

A keel won’t keep a canoe from rolling over. It can help a canoe to not be blown about by the wind so easily. It can be an aid to straight tracking (and a hindrance to turning). It will hang up on shoals in the river and possibly cause you to roll.

Once you get good instruction (from a certified instructor, hopefully), you won’t have any problems.

No need for a keel

– Last Updated: Apr-24-12 4:07 PM EST –

Traditional canoes don't have keels, EXCEPT that keels were commonly seen on traditional canoes in Canada, in cases where the boats were made mostly for lake use. Even so, keels aren't really needed for tracking - that part can be controlled by the paddler(s) - and for a lot of uses, keels just get in the way (it easily gets caught on rocks or the river bottom when the boat's course is not exactly parallel to the current direction) or make maneuvers more difficult than necessary. Take comfort in the fact that 99 percent of "good" canoes do not have keels. Nowadays, most canoes with keels are cheapo models (Oh, take note of the post below. Aluminum canoes have keels to provide a way of solidly attaching the right and left halves of the boat together, so the "cheap" designation does not apply in that case).

Only Alum
Aluminum canoes always have keels, even the best ones. That might be what your friend is thinking of. My Dad thought the same thing, but he’s only ever paddled aluminum canoes. Old school.

Some plastic canoes need a keel to hold its shape, but those are the cheap crappy ones. Good canoes made of plastic, fiberglass, or kevlar do not need keels. Your’s is a good one. Happy paddling.

agree is doesn’t need one
We often paddle a Guide 147, have even taken it down some class I and II rapids. It’s a decent (if kind of slow and heavy) all around day tripping boat.

Your capsizing had nothing to do with a keel or no keel. A keel is for straight line tracking, not stability. The Guide is fairly flat bottomed so it should be easy for you to learn to balance in it. Most beginner dumps are due to not yet having the feel for balancing in the boat or from colliding with things in faster water or from sloppy loading.

Just keep using the canoe in sheltered waters and you will get the feel of it. Learn to kneel rather than staying perched on the seats when the water gets fast or you feel unstable. And learn to pack it correctly, not overloading it with tall coolers and the like. Use soft carriers that sit low in the hull. And move slowly getting in or out or when changing position in the boat.

some had a shoe keel
A keel was needed on aluminum boats to strengthen the joint between the 2 halves of the boat.

Paddlers who intended to use aluminum canoes on rivers, especially whitewater paddlers, wanted no part of a deep keel and could special order from some makers a “shoe keel” which was a more ovalized aluminum strip without the fin extending down in the water.

You don’t see too many of those shoe keeled aluminum canoes anymore. I guess they all wound up wrapped around rocks on the river.

None of mine have a keel.
It’s not an issue unless a particular design or construction needs one for rigidity and stiffness.

Keel, no.
A keel is the a sign of a poor quality canoe.

Keels are interesting historically
Seems at one time the recreational canoeist coming from a European background of shipbuilding demanded a keel. That might be why you find so may old historic canoes with them.

Other factors were avoiding abrading canvas bottoms. Keels gave protection.

Later outfitters loved keels because some of their renters dragged the boats unnecessarily.

Some Canadian canoes were the first to ditch the keel…The Chestnut Prospector and Ogilvy Special

Pretty neat article about keels from Mike Elliott

And some pretty fine historic canoes have keels. Mostly because the owner wanted them exactly as “Grandpa had” in the case of family heirlooms.

But no good canoes currently in mass production have them…except for Scott I believe.

Your “friend” needs a canoe education
Jack L

Why not join in the chorus
Keels are completely unnecessary for any performance reason on any canoe.

Canoes that have them have them because of their construction method. Most of the worst canoes have at least one keel, none of the best canoes have keels, excepting perhaps if “best” is a classic wood/canvas (the keel is there to protect the canvas).

If you want a keel to keep you from tipping, you would need something more like what is found on a sailboat - deep and ballasted. Then your canoe wouldn’t really be a canoe at all. When you get the hang of it, you will find your canoe, and really most canoes, to be quite stable.

The absence of a
keel is important.

When in Canada, I was surprised what
a substantial proportion of canoes had keels. Scott/ Mid-Canada Fiberglass almost pushes keels. Bluewater, now part of Scott, provides keels on some more “traditional” designs. Swift seems mostly agin’ keels, and Souris River skips them altogether.

Keels function as a rub strip between the boat and the real world. They sometimes are part of the canoe’s bottom structure. They aid tracking somewhat. None of those reasons are sufficient to justify the loss of handling, the increased friction from added wetted area, the added weight, the risk of “catching” on riverbottom obstructions, and the repair difficulty when damaged. But for some, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives.

I once had an alu canoe without a keel.
Dang thing split in two and sank. Never saw it again.


I wouldn’t say…
that ONLY poor quality canoes have keels. Most people would consider Old Town canoes to not be “poor” quality, and some of them have keels. But a keel on a Royalex or plastic canoe is NOT there for any performance reason, it will be found on some of the wide, flattish bottomed canoes purely to strengthen the bottom and keep it from flexing longitudinally (oil-canning). So…performance-wise, keeled plastic canoes are not the better ones, since a wide, flat-bottomed canoe will not track well, with or without the so-called keel on it. And as others have said, the keel on plastic canoes will catch most of the wear and tear that the bottom of the canoe suffers. That was always a good thing on the old aluminums, but it’s a bad thing on the plastic canoes because the “keel” is simply part of the bottom and it will wear out quickly.

Keels are only important if you’re Canadian. :slight_smile: