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Old 23-11-2014, 17:18   #1
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Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Hi all,

I am eagerly researching my first sailboat and I would love to find something in the 30 foot neighborhood that I can learn on as I live aboard and eventually progress from inter-coastal day sailor, into salty trans-Atlantic passage-maker. With that imagery in mind, I would like to know your opinions on the ability of a Full Keeled mono hull sailboat (i.e. Alberg 30) to maneuver safely while backing in and out of a slip in a crowded marina.

I am debating as to whether I should find a Fin Keeled boat with a skeg hung rudder for the control in tight quarters now, or a full keeled boat for blue-water stability in the future.

Ideally, I would buy a Contessa 32 and have the best of both worlds, but that is outside of my $20,000 USD price range.

So please let me know if you think I will have issues backing an Alberg 30, or if it is manageable enough that I can get a solid boat that will suit me well for the next 10 years as my skills progress?

I greatly appreciate your input and look forward to seeing you all on the waters of North Carolina!


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Old 23-11-2014, 17:31   #2
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Think the biggest factor affecting the ability to maneuver a boat in a crowded marina is the helms-person's skill level. Keel type is very distant secondondary factor.


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Old 23-11-2014, 17:34   #3
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

There's no debating about it. A full keel boat doesnt back well. But, if you practice you can master the dreaded backing out of the slip with only a couple 3 point turns. Some people are better than others at this feat. However, a full keel boat cuts through the waves like butter and would certainly make a better blue water boat. I was wanting a full keel boat myself until I made a passage on one. It was very slow and took a 20kt wind to make it go forward. It was a heavy PIG and with a 6' draft it was not going in the ICW so it was a ocean going boat for sure. On the flip side in heavy 8' seas it sailed smooth as silk. Its all a trade off. If you are choosing your sail boat based on its backing capability in a marina my advise to you is buy a power boat with twin motors.
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Old 23-11-2014, 17:59   #4
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Practice and an understanding of the quirks of the boat and you will be fine.

At first I found our boat a nightmare to reverse, and our make and model have quite a reputation for being difficult. But two years on and I have adjusted. I avoid situations that I know will be problematic whenever I can and when I cannot avoid them I just plan as much as time allows.

In our case I get good results from a pretty heavy handed approach to the throttle. Short hard jabs of power works better on our boat and using the rotational momentum to my advantage by factoring it into my plans.

I have also refined my approach to our pen to come in pretty hot angling in to port from the starboard side of the pen then giving a good hard shot of reverse to pull the stern to port.

The point is, this is as different as can be from my initial tentative approaches years ago and I have learned what works for our particular long keeled, skeg hung rudder setup. You will end up doing just the same with whatever you buy. Don't let it put you off buying the right boat for you.


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Old 23-11-2014, 18:18   #5
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Some full keelers are better than others. It depends on the power and the size of prop and which direction it walks. I determined early on with my full keel ketch that backing to starboard was nearly impossible unless wind and current were favorable. Backing to port wasn't so bad. An Ingrid 38 I helped as crew didn't back either way very well. You took your chances.
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Old 23-11-2014, 19:37   #6
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Full keel boats are more difficult to maneuver in tights spaces. No getting around it. I've owned my full keeler for four years now, and still get cold sweats going into a tight marina. Reversing is a crap shoot regarding direction until you get some speed on. But there are ways to overcome the challenges.

I would say don't get a full keel boat if tight maneuvering is your primary concern. I absolutely love our boat for all the advantages it gives us, but tight maneuvering is not one of them.

Couple of lessons I've learned (and am still learning):

#1. Prop walk is your friend. Learn to use it.
#2. Plan your approach, and be prepared to do something else if conditions won't allow your entry into a marina.
#3. Use of spring lines will get you on and off some very tight docks.
#4. Don't be shy in telling the marina staff you'd appreciate some help in docking. Ask for easy docks.
#5. It's great to have people grabbing your lines, but remain in control. Even apparently experience boaters can screw up a docking by reefing on your bow or stern lines.
#6. Go as slow as you can to maintain steerage. This means keeping sufficient speed on. Some people (myself included) get into trouble by going too slow.

Finally, I have a friend with an Alberg 30 (great boats ). He can dock that baby in the tightest of slips, with crosswinds and counter currents, with barely a few centimetres between him and the commodore's million dollar stinkpot. So it is still possible to look like a docking star with a full keeler. Just takes more practice.
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Old 23-11-2014, 20:14   #7
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

For backing out of a slip, just push out, without running the engine, or rather, without turning the prop. A good shove and you may be surprised to find that without the prop turning in reverse, you actually do have some steering while making sternway.

I think if is a lot easier in general to back out, because you can easily push out, than to back in.

An outboard works sweet for backing when you need good directional control. Just sayin.
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Old 23-11-2014, 20:48   #8
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Maybe just get the fin or modified fin keel boat. I've owned a full keel and modified fin keels with skeg rudders. Put many miles at sea on both and in my opinion the overall boat/hull design is much more important than one single detail IE the keel.

There are full keel boats that handle poorly at sea and fin keel boats that excel, and vice versa.

And in general, handling in close quarters a fin keel will certainly turn in a tighter circle but backing up some just seem to go where they like. Factors like prop position, 2 vs 3 blades, shaft angle and more are factors as well as what kind of keel.
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Old 23-11-2014, 21:23   #9
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Originally Posted by Mike OReilly View Post
#1. Prop walk is your friend. Learn to use it.
I met folks who dial their Max Prop pitch way up, just to have more prop-walk.

I think it is a pretty cool idea. I don't have a Max Prop and don't know how hard it is to change, but the Dashew's Cruising Encyclopedia has a long love letter to (from the cockpit) adjustable pitch props for that reason.
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Old 23-11-2014, 21:27   #10
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Its a question of knowing your, and the boats limits. I have an Ingrid 38 ketch rig...classic wood sailing vessel. In open water she is precisely what I dreamed of. In a marina with wind and current at play all those factors must be used to help her do something that she is not really designed for. In some cases she requires warping or even a good shove from the crew in the dingy. Its bad form to damage other peoples property so discretion is required. Its not just full keel sailing vessels...even large single screw power boats need to be careful when and where they go. You may find yourself anchored out while your friend with the Cal or Bene is nicely backed into the slip and already in the pub. Its up to what you want from the experience.
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Old 23-11-2014, 22:25   #11
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

A lot of good responses here already. Backing a full keel boat is definitely more difficult than a fin keel. Initially you have very little control with the helm. You have to think each backing situation through, especially if it's in tight quarters. You'll have to learn how to use a spring line and prop walk to your advantage.

I like the challenge of maneuvering my full keeler around, but I am judicious about where I put her. I have said "no thanks" to marinas when they could not accommodate a suitable docking situation. It gives you something else to think about. However, a full keel boat is generally going to be heavy, meaning that grabbing a mooring or anchoring out might be a real option in more exposed areas. A 30' boat that weighs 8000 lbs. is going to move around a lot more in 2' chop than a 30' boat that weighs 16000 lbs.

Also, I'll point out that you don't need a full keel boat for ocean sailing. The vast majority of boats that are sailing offshore have fin keels these days, and they do just fine. Seaworthiness depends on more on the build and condition of the boat. Which boat you pick will depend more on your preferences, what is important to you, and how you are going to use the boat.

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Old 24-11-2014, 01:17   #12
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

a long keel.. yeah I Hate backing too we have a small prop as well.spring lines do the trick for us.
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Old 24-11-2014, 05:16   #13
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

My first and only sailboat I've ever owned is a heavy displacement full keel, so you can learn but,
I'd say go find the best boat you can afford and whatever keel it has is just fine, type of keel isn't as important as other things
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Old 24-11-2014, 06:12   #14
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

I owned an Alberg 35 for 15 years. I would back up by putting the boat in reverse and seeing which way it went. If it was the way I wanted to go I continued on. If not_ I put it in forward and tried again.
Get a light fin keel that is fun to sail in the typical winds you'll be in. No point in lugging around in an old lifeboat.
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Old 24-11-2014, 07:20   #15
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Re: Maneuverability of a Full Keel Sailboat when backing

Our 28 foot Cape Dory didn't back worth a darn. She definitely had a mind of her own and you could do the exact same thing the exact same way and get totally different results on any two given days depending on minute variables in conditions. However, the beauty of a boat in that size/weight range is that you can still muscle her around quite a bit so we learned to manage quite well using spring lines and boat hooks and just pushing her around where we needed her to go when she was being less than cooperative on helm alone. That would not be as do-able on a larger boat.

She was a champ out in the snot with that long keel though, and rode beautifully at anchor, and we really appreciated those characteristics so she was worth the trouble.

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