Keel or no Keel?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a Keel on a canoe?

Keels are always needed!
On aluminum canoes to join left and right halves, wood & canvas canoes for wear, polyethylene canoes for hull stiffness.

Other than that, I cannot think of any reason for a hull to have a protruding keel.


A keel would prevent you from slipping sideways in the wind, (advantage)

A keel makes it harder for you to turn the boat (disadvantage)

I have five canoes, and none of them have a keel.

With a keel it would be much harder to make the canoe go where you want it to or make it dance to your own tune.



Keels are still surprisingly popular on
canoes in Canada. In trips along the north shore of Superior and Huron, most of the private canoes we saw had keels.

That said, I would never want a keel. Anything a keel does can be achieved, with less weight and more paddling efficiency, by appropriate hull design.

Im adding one to my canoe
Then again Im adding a rudder and a sail too. As for turning problems, if you are solo, it will make it harder, but in tandem I don’t really think you would notice it to much. I did a experiment with a makeshift board mounted to one side at midship( or is that midcanoe) and solo I found I had to use my ore like a rudder to turn with any speed. When my friend went with me it was almost as if it wasn’t even there, but we stayed streighter in winds that used to turn us. So the extra effort in turning was more than made up for by the less effort in staying streight in wind.

So they can help, and most keel board designs for canoes are retractable as is the one I am working on, so you only lower it when you need it. :slight_smile:

A Keel can …
… catch on rocks and other things just below the surface … not recomended for downriver runs if rocks are expected to be negotiated … where you might easily slide over a rock with a no keel design , a keel can stick right to that rock and stop the canoe in it’s tracks , usually right smack in the middle and the canoe then can weathervane (pivot on that point) , effectively unballancing the canoe , the water flow then can turn the canoe sideways to the flow and roll over towards the downstream side dumping you and any loose items in for a swim … as for tracking straight and wind assist it’s said a keel helps with that , but if you have the minimal of paddling stroke tecniques practiced , you can easily make a keeless go perfectly straight in very strong winds never having to change paddling side (except infrequently) , so I don’t really believe a keel makes any difference upon tracking …

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On laker canoes OK
I like them on laker canoes that I put a motor on. It helps tracking since the motor is offset.

I don’t have any canoe with a keel currently in my inventory. I have paddled many with keels on lakes and rivers. Keel boats have always gone faster for me down the river and that is the only effect I have ever seen or felt from having a keel. Biggest thing to me is that they can hang up in current, so I sold my keel boat.

agree with all the above
I have 2 canoes, one with and one without a keel.

With a keel it is easier to glide down a river with minimum correction. With a keel it is easier to catch on a rock if you aren’t going straight, however that could happen, and get turned completely around instead of slipping over it.

Without a keel the turning respsonse is much quicker.

Take your pick.

The canoe that I have is a Old Town Stillwater 16 ft with a keel. I’ve taken it out several times on streams with little or no current and found it to be very stable for me and my small kids and we’re really enjoying it. However, reading the previous responses is making me nervous. Should I not attempt to take my kids on streams with any kind of current???

Can’t really answer that …

– Last Updated: May-09-08 3:22 PM EST –

....... question for you ?? ......... have you ever got momentarily hung on a submerged object just below the surface that surprised you ?? ...... can happen in flat water as well , stumps , fallen trees with heavy branches , etc. ........ if so , you know how quickly the canoe becomes unballanced due to pivoting tendency on the hang up point ....... add flowing water into the equation , some flows are strong others are light ........ in a moderate flow the canoe will want to turn completely perpendicular to the flow and roll , especially if the hang point ends up in the middle area between bow and stern ....... don't misunderstand , a flat bottom can hang as well but the hang point is then on a much broader area of the hull and pivoting tendency is greatly reduced but ballance is still upset ......... it's not anything like bottoming out in shallow water where you just push off to retreat or continue , it's like weathervaning and rolling over if flow is sufficient to make it all happen that fast ........ if you can step out of the canoe onto an adjacent rock quickly enough the canoe will become free immediately , but a hang , spin and roll happens fast and the best advise is to know the possibility is always there in a downhill rocky river such as mountain streams , rivers etc. , at least knowing it helps prevent it " almost " always ..

Not Much Concern
I think it’s a safe bet that in the last 50 years, more people have paddled on rocky rivers in Grumman canoes with keels than all other kinds of canoes combined. For most, getting hung-up by the the keel is an annoyance, but nothing more. The rolling concern is actually pretty minimal, I think. Sure, if a canoe gets stuck sideways against a tree branch or boulder, the tendency to roll is pretty strong, but if the boat is snagged only by the keel, the normal rolling forces don’t apply (this same principle is why a canoe being lined through rapids with a bridle (where the rope attachment is at centerline on bottom of hull) can’t roll, but if the line is attached higher on the hull, it can roll very easily).

Explain how a canoe stuck only…

– Last Updated: May-09-08 5:20 PM EST – the keel can roll. To do so, the whole boat would have to work its way upstream against the current - not gonna happen. Any stoppage of the boat by a part of the hull that's higher than the bottom will create the risk of rolling, but if the boat is stuck to the snag by its keel, there's no way. It could roll downstream of course (the opposite of a normal pin-and-roll direction), but doing so would release the keel from whatever was holding it. Actually you can take that idea to an extreme by putting a lining bridle on both ends of your boat and letting it out into the current sideways. Even with a load and solidly anchored by the two bridle lines, a canoe cannot roll if the anchor point is right on the keel line. It will lean such that the bottom of the boat faces into the current and ride up higher, but it will not flip.

haven’t sunk yet because of it.
.got caught on lots of rocks and had the keel catch, but either it will roll over the rock or the boat will just swing around and loosen itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wet a few times but don’t think it was the keel’s fault.

Retracting would make it

– Last Updated: May-09-08 4:47 PM EST –

more properly called a daggerboard or centerboard than a keel. The makeshift one on the side of your boat is properly called a leeboard.

The keel gets hung on the rock edge …
… the wieght on that single point of the keel is a lot and the canoe can not move forward or backward , it’s stuck on a 1" square area and that 1" area is now efectively becoming an instant see-saw , the current flow turns the boat sideways (a pivot) , the flow now is broadside and pushes the bottom up and she rolls over to the downstream … the spin (pivot) is quick and violent , the rush or shoot you were setting up to run through has rocks and jag edges above water line on either side and that’s why you chose to run the sliding board and not crash the obvious above water rocks … how can it happen you ask , just set 400 to 700 lbs. on a 1" square area and see just how well it sticks … especially Grumman aluminum boats , they stick like they are nailed with one nail right through the center … stick , spin and roll , dump your gear and have a nice boat exit , real quick !!

also …
… when it does heel over and roll to the downstream , IT DOES UNSTICK ITSELF , but that’s a little too late cause the gunnel is going under !!

Funny, I used to do just that in…

– Last Updated: May-09-08 5:29 PM EST – brother's old Grumman, and a bunch of the aluminum canoes owned by the university outdoor program back when I was in school. The only thing that ever happened when the boat tipped toward downstream direction was to stay put, or slip-slide along, or be released completely and float free. Once the boat starts tipping toward the dowstream, the current is pushing on the very bottom of the boat - not a good place to do anything except slide and/or lift (with a ramping force). To get the canoe tipped sideways enough to roll and have enough hull exposed to the water would require a very deep hang-up, and with that much hull submerged, it usually just lifts.

That's been my experience. Never seen it happen any other way either. I've seen countless pin-and-roll situations, but never when snagged by the keel.

more …
… when the boat heels over at 30 to 45 degrees and is perpendicular (that’s sideways) to current flow (advanced weathervane) , what do you grab for ?? … oh , the upstream high side gunnel , the one you’re now looking up at , that helps a lot doesn’t it ??

Oh …
… so I guess the extreme pitching to the gunnel is a no concern situation for someone with kids in the boat ?? … you may have enjoyed the situation and been well advanced in what happens next and prepared for the event , even doing so on purpose for the fun of it , I’ve stalled and spun airplanes a few times for practice , but I’ll let you in on something , if you aren’t prepared and practiced in recovery , you’re in a heep a sh*t , same goes with all other craft one must manuver , when an unexpected pitch , roll , slide and yaw catch you off guard , most will immediately become the rider instead of the driver , cross your fingers and hold on huh ??

A roll takes place …
… around the longitudinal axis , a roll doesn’t mean a flip over (180*) , a roll to 30 or 45 degree is still a roll … anytime the boat leans to either side it is effect in a roll , even at 5* … I think you are speaking of flipping the canoe upside down (a 180* roll) , that does not happen to my experience when the keel hangs , spins the boat sideways (yaw) , and rolls over to the downstream side , but for all practical purposes it might as well finish what it started because the occupants are thrown way off ballance and doing their level best to keep from falling out … might as well just let go and drop in …