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Start Keelboat Racing

1: What are keelboats?

Sportsboats and keelboats are larger than dinghies, typically being around 20–30ft in length. As the name implies, a ballasted (weighted) keel helps provide stability, but usually there’s no accommodation, or at best only a vestigial interior that’s mainly used for stowage. Keelboats are often older designs — some popular classes date back to before the Second World War. Their key appeal for most sailors is close one-design racing in large fleets of identical boats — classes such as the XOD and Etchells 22 provide some of the most intenselyfought racing you will find anywhere.

It’s perhaps not surprising, given the wide range of ages of design, that there are a very wide variety of keelboat styles. Class rules for Darings and Seaview Mermaids, for instance, insist you must keep your feet on the cockpit floor, so hiking or sitting out is effectively prohibited, which makes them very ‘gentlemanly’ boats to sail. Etchells have no such rule, so hiking is crucial to boat speed, but there are no toe straps — instead you keep the tail of the sheet taut and tuck your feet underneath!

Sportsboats are more recent designs, many from within the past 10 years, and so are much more modern than traditional keelboats. They make full use of advances in technology and are powerful lightweight boats capable of blisteringly fast downwind speeds. As some Sportsboat fleets are less well established than those for keelboat classes, you’ll often find yourself sailing in a handicap fleet. There are of course exceptions to this, the most obvious being the Laser SB3 class, which has large fleets around the country and can muster a very impressive 100 boats for major events.

Sportsboats and keelboats are sailed extensively around the coast of the UK and a good number of clubs across the country sail smaller keelboats such as Flying 15s and Squibs. However, all but a handful of inland waters are too small for larger keelboats and for faster Sportsboats.


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The heavy keel means that neither keelboats nor Sportsboats will capsize in the conventional sense

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