All About Wing Keel Sailboats

By Matt Claiborne

What is a Sailboat Keel and How Does it Work?

A sailboat keel stabilizes, counters sail-induced heeling, and reduces leeway. Its underwater airfoil shape generates lift, aiding windward sailing.

History of Sailboat Keel Design

Full Keel Cruising Boats


Traditional offshore sailboats began with full deep keel designs. Shallow draft near-shore workboats often feature flat-bottomed variations that use centerboards, leeboards, or other means to fight leeway and work upwind.

Fin Keels


The first progression toward modern keels was the encapsulated deep fin keel. This was a natural progression as designers began working out ways to shrink a full keel down.

When Was the Wing Keel First Used?

Winged keels debuted in 1983 on Australia II, winning the America's Cup. Ben Lexcen's innovative design, exploiting rule nuances, made the boat lighter, faster, and victorious.

What is the Purpose of Wing Keels?

Wing keels offer sailboats shallower drafts, enabling exploration of shallow waters and accommodating sailboat owners with specific port requirements.

Disadvantages of Winged Keels



Wing and bulb keels can get tangled in things

Flat on the bottom, more challenging to get off than conventional fins


Bilge keel or twin keel sailboat


Retractable swing keel

Other Types of Keels