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FAQ: Fin vs. Wing Keel 


What's the best choice, the fin keel or the wing keel?
If you could buy a new boat, which would you buy?

For those of you who made the deliberate choice of a fin keel over a winged keel or vice versa, could you share your thoughts on why you made that choice and whether you'd do it again?

I've never owned a wing keel, but from the discussion on this list I've learned the following opinions: The type of keel is determined by your sailing area. If you've got deep water in most places, go with the fin. A fin keel will perform a little better than a wing. If you're going to race, get a fin. A cruiser might not notice, or care, about the difference. On some boats, a wing keel will have more ballast than a fin so you end up with a heavier base displacement. In thin water a fin is said to be easier to get off the bottom than a wing. You can heel the boat and get off the bottom with a fin, where obviously; this technique won't work with a wing.
HTH bobb@ieway.com (Bob Bartleson)

Wing Keels Shallow water like Fla. West Coast
Fin Keel deep water - bump too much on West Coast Fla.

I have a wing and like the ride and stiffness it brings to the vessel in heavy seas and high wind. It also allows me access to spots on the West Coast of Florida that a fin would not allow (3'10" vs. 5'3"). In moderate winds I can get 27-30 degrees of apparent wind to weather and from my experience the fin may gain 1-2 degrees. This of course is a lot, but for cruising I give my wing a two thumbs up.
Regards from "GONE WITH THE WIND", C34, Naples, FL, Ron Euler sunshinesports@sprintmail.com

Our keel choice was made by the water we sail on not us. We sail on Lake St. Claire and the adjoining Great Lakes. With water depths at there lowest in twenty years the wing keel was our only choice. We have seen many boats aground that draw six feet or more. Our C320 performs wonderfully with the wing and we have been able to negotiate the lake without major incident. We have bumped bottom once or twice but would have been aground with the fin keel.
Tom Young "Forever Young" C320 #660

I just love my wing keel! My mooring broke when T/S Floyd came through Long Island in mid-September and the boat sailed itself through a mooring field ending up on a beach sitting perfectly balanced and upright on its wing keel in 6 inches of water. Half a dozen other boats also broke free (mooring pennants chafed on barnacles underneath the mooring ball) and those of the fin keel persuasion suffered very bad damage. I was lucky - all cosmetic damage - without the wing keel it would have been a lot worse. This is not germane to the original thread discussion, but I thought I'd throw it in, anyway!!
Michael Yorke, C42 Mk II (wing keel!) #573, Certa Cito, Port Washington, Long Island, New York, mikey4@idt.net

Now I'm confused. I thought the wing keel was introduced at one of the Americas Cup races and improved racing performance by reducing leeway when the boat is heeling and improving water flow over the bottom. I seem to recall the wing keel referred to as a revolution in keel design.
Cap'n Stan, SPMcHenry@worldnet.att.net (Stanton McHenry)

Cap'n Stan, The wing keel is like a Cunningham in that it was designed to make the most of limitations set by the rulebook. A wing will give better performance than a fin OF THE SAME DRAFT. The shoal draft option on production boats used to give up a lot of performance, now, the wing keel makes it an easy choice for anyone sailing in "thin" water.
Tony Toskas, Winch Wench C-30 #2566, tookas@yahoo.com

We traded in our C-36 fin for a C-42 wing and (don't tell my husband) I prefer the handling of the fin best. Fin could point better and the boat tracked very well. The helm was effortless. C-42 does round up and takes muscles at the helm. I convinced him to purchase a wing because I get paranoid about grounding and water depth has dropped in the Great Lakes. The extra foot probably doesn't make a difference anyway. The C-36 we sailed prior to our purchase of the 1998 fin was a 1986 wing and there was a distinct difference, don't know if age had anything to do with it.
Ann Gregor, "Headway" anngregor@prodigy.net

I think the fin keel model resist rounding up in higher winds. Part of which can be dealt with by reefing sooner. A friend of mine has had both a fin and a wing 30. He is in the process of trying to trade keels with someone because of the rounding up problem. I have sailed on and right next to the wing keelboat, which is very similar to mine (tall rig, same size headsail). My boat does not round up like the wing keel version does.
I am looking to purchase a C-36 and I do not want the wing keel version. Where I usually sail, water depth is not normally a problem.
Bob Uehlein, "Menagerie" C-30TRBS #2318, Menageri@ACD.net, Charlevoix, MI

You and your friend should talk to Gerry Douglas at Catalina about the "rounding up problem." Assuming the boat is being trimmed properly and not being overpowered, the problem may be with the rudder, not the keel. I have a tall rig, wing keel, C34 MkI. I replaced the original tapered rudder with the new elliptical rudder used on the new C34 MkII (and other newer Catalinas). I don't know if Catalina offers an elliptical rudder for the C30 but for the C34 the new rudder is a direct replacement. In fact I shipped Catalina my old rudder, they stripped off the old fiberglass and cast a new rudder on the original rudderstock so it could be reinstalled without the need to align and drill a new stock. A real labor saver. Anyway, the difference is remarkable. The new rudder can be driven hard, even overpowered and it doesn't stall, breakout or round up. Problem solved. In addition, the rudder is better balanced, more responsive and has a nicer feel. Bottom line is that you can solve the "problem" without giving up shoal draft convenience.
If your friend is actually planning to trade keels he may have to trade rudders too. I don't know about the C30 but the C34 and other models use a shallower rudder on the wing keel. If that's the case it would be much easier to try a rudder mod before attempting a keel swap.
Bob, C34 #1290, SailC34@aol.com

Don't let the performance of a Bennetau or Hunter affect your choice of wing or fin because in my opinion they are not in the same class as Catalinas. They are too light and under ballasted. Catalina always adds weight to the wings to keep them approximately as stiff as the fins. When a friend of mine was considering moving "up" to a Bennetea 32 from a Pearson I started re-looking at the specs and what a difference! I had more ballast in my c28 wing than a Benneteau 32 wing and the B/D ratio is always better on Catalinas than H or B's, so it's not just that the H or B's are lighter, but they will usually be more tender as stated in the post below.
By the way he ended up ordering a c36mkII with a wing keel which keeps many more cruising options open in NG Bay and beyond especially when you start out up in the shallow end of the Bay.
Stan, "Christy Leigh", c320 #656, Greenwich/Narragansett RI, srogacevicz@holycross.edu

Fin: 1) Supposedly better sailing, closer to windward (although I've tried both, and since I cruise and don't race, I can't notice the difference). 2) If you go aground, it's easier to get off by heeling, etc....3) less likely to get the rudder stuck in the mud.
Wing: 1) Reduced draft, less worry in skinny water. 2) When hauled, the whole boat sits lower, it's easier to sand, paint, wax, etc....3) If you go aground, it's a bitch to get off (the wing behaves like an anchor in soft mud) 4) More likely to get the rudder stuck in the mud, as well (it's about at the same depth as the bottom of the wing. After summing it all up, I bought the wing... the C34 with the wing keel didn't disappoint. The most important advantage to me was the reduced draft (Norm Bernstein). 

But isn't the fin keel faster? 
Someone has to stick up for the fin keel.  My 42 has a fin keel.  I've sailed both, although the other s were not Catalinas, I was sold on the fin keel.  I asked Catalina this same question when I went on a factory tour prior to attaching my keel and was told that if draft isn't a problem he would stay with the fin.  During most of the year my boat is on the Columbia  River, and being able to point as high as possible is great. Being able to rock or back out of a mud grounding works for me . I was on a hunter with a wing keel, and because Hunter had to shorten the rudder to protect it from a short keel, we did a major round up in the middle of a race when a gust of wind put use just a little further over. I also know of a 30 ft Ericson that did the same thing. My keel and rudder will stay in the water. I don't know if Catalina puts the larger rudder on the wing keel or not, but I would not want to ground my rudder before my keel even in mud.   the longer rudder also give me little or no weather helm. Pointing into the wind on a hard drive I can still take my hands of the wheel. The difference  in depth is 1" 2" I never cut it that close anyway. I know the North West cruising is totally different,  but for me a fin keel is the only way to go (Dave Peoples).  

While it's true that fins perform better than wings, if PHRF's are any indication, it isn't by much. The PHRF rating is derived by subtracting 610 from the average time around the buoys in seconds per mile. (At the time it was established, they figured that 610 was the best possible time, but now the fastest boats have negative PHRF's) The New England PHRF ratings for Catalina 30's are fin 180 vs. wing 183, so the ratio is 790 vs. 793, or a 0.3% net difference. For the Catalina 42, the PHRF's are 96 and 102, for a ratio of 706 vs. 712 or a net difference of 0.8%. So for a coastal cruiser, the difference would be 2 minutes for a C30 or 5 minutes for a C42 in a 10 hour day. If you ran aground just one time less in the life of either boat, those invested minutes might pay back quite well. Since our tide differentials here in the Northwest are 13 feet and they get larger as we head north, the differences in draft capability between a fin vs. wing keel is insignificant as far as the possible places to go. There is one big difference, however, and that is that with my C27, in our water, I can usually see four feet down, which has saved me numerous times from running aground. So in daylight, I'd say the winged keel has that advantage over the fin keel, and for any boat with a draft over four feet, I'd certainly favour the winged keel (Al Gunther).     

Beneteau 235 192 198 0.7%
Beneteau 285 183 192 1.1%
Beneteau Oceanis 390 132 138 0.8%
C+C 44 60 69 1.3%
Catalina 30 180 183 0.4%
Catalina 42 96 102 0.8%
Ericson 38 114 117 0.4%
Freedom 40 96 96 0%
Frers 41 72 81 1.3%
Hunter Legend 37 90 96 0.9%
J37 75 84 1.3%
Pearson 31-2 156 165 1.2%
Sabre 34-2 135 141 0.8%
Sabre 36-2 105 117 1.7%
NE average difference     0.9%


What happens when you go aground with a wing keel? 
I've sailed with a wing keel since 1989 and sadly have had more than my share of experience with going aground. Clearly, you can't 'heel' your way off, if you go aground. For one thing,  heeling the boat only serves to dig the leeward wing in deeper.... and I too  have worried about bending or snapping it.. If you're lucky and merely dig into soft mud on a gently sloping bottom, the  best thing to do is to drop sail and try to motor out backwards. DON'T succumb to the temptation to try to motor around and reverse direction....  the biggest liability of a winged keel is the fact that the rudder descends to nearly the same depth as the keel. If you try to turn 180 degrees, you'll  end up with the rudder stuck in the mud as well. I've gone aground and gotten off by myself many times, although one evening, I went aground quite hard whilst sailing on an outbound tide. I couldn't get off myself, so I called the towboat... and by the time the towboat arrived, not even a 375HP engine could get me off... I offloaded my guests to the towboat, and spent the night right where I was, till I was able to float off around dawn. The whole experience was embarrassing and inconvenient, although  no damage occurred ((Norm Bernstein). 

Well, I'm finally able to respond to this question. Late last summer I purchased a 1986 C34 fin keel and its 5'-7" draft. I had a choice  of it or another wing keel boat , same year etc. Since we are located  in the Chesapeake Bay and have experienced running aground numerous times, I deliberated on the choice for too many sleepless nights. In addition, at about that time the same debate on this list.    After much cajoling by my wife, step son and friends, we bought the fin because it was the best value for the cost (condition /price). I pay attention to the tide tables, the charts and, holding my breath, the depth meter. This past weekend while motoring into Reed Creek on  the Chester River I ran aground twice, once by sheer stupidity, forgetting "red right return" the second by the creek's revenge. I do not have a functioning speed indicator but was cautiously motoring at 1500 to 2000 RPM (my guess at about 3-4knts). The first time it was a hard stop. The second time a slow running aground. I was surprised at how easily it was to back off or turn the boat off the mud anchor.  I suppose that in considering a fin keel you have to remember that the bottom several inches vary from a point to only 2" to 3" wide. Not a very imposing anchor in soft mud. We once spend 12 hours on a friend's winged keel Bene waiting for a higher high tide to get free from a very effective wing keel mud anchor. In addition, when we returned to our slip we went in at low tide. There is a hump at the entrance to our slip which I believe may be near 5'4" to 5'-6" (measured with the boat hook) that stopped our progress into the slip. We, me my wife and 14 year old step son (small for his age) were able to pull our boat in by hand with some very low rpm rev (1500 rpm) help from our diesel. Again with my friend's Bene at the same marina, struggled for about half hour to winch and strain his diesel to pull his 4'-10" wing keel into his slip on an extremely low tide day.Lastly, we can point extremely close hauled to the wind, I've sailed with the tail of the indicator just crossing the 30 degree indicator many times and have made points of sail, early anchorage and many bottles of fine wine while waiting for my friend's Bene wing keel as he continued tacking across the bay to make the same point (Frank Kulscar

In reading the responses to date on this, I don't see anyone addressing the west coast part of the question. During the heavy tide weeks, and in the middle of the tidal range and falling, you are loosing up to an inch of water every minute, so you only have a minute or two to get off. I have never been able to back out of or power through any grounding in the soft bottoms I've run into in the NW. First, take advantage of any waves that might come from a passing boat. I've managed to run aground in marina entrances which often silt in, and wakes from passing boats will float you enough to back out if done in the first few minutes. Assuming you try to back off and can't, and the tide is falling, and has several feet to go, I'd suggest quickly moving the whole crew including the skipper as far forward and then as far aft as possible, and try once more to back off. If that doesn't work, sideways weight shifting might be effective with a wing keel to loosen it. Failing that, your best bet might be to get a quick tow from a power boat, if you can't do that in minutes, then it might be time to try to kedge off, using an anchor in the dinghy. I don't have any experience beyond that point. I think at that point with a winged keel I'd try to balance it, attaching the anchor rode from a 
spinnaker halya

Some say the C34's wing keel draws 3' 10", while others day 4' 3". Who's right? 
According to Mainsheet (February, 1992), early C34 literature stated that the draft was 3' 10" but these were preliminary specifications. The actual draft of the C34 is 4' 3". 

Does the rudder extend below the keel? 
This is a common misconception, according to Mainsheet (February, 1992). The rudder draws 1 to 1 1/2 inches less than the wing keel. 

Important: The opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors to this page, and not those of the Catalina 34 National Association or Catalina Yachts, Inc. Additionally, this material has not been reviewed by Catalina Yachts, Inc. for technical accuracy. This page's maintainer cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information or the desirability of suggested modifications or upgrades. Please obtain assistance from a competent marine mechanic or boatyard prior to making any significant modifications to your vessel.   


Last modified by Phil Imhof, Wednesday, August 11, 2004 . Copyright 2001 by Catalina 34 International Association.  All rights reserved.