DAGGERBOARDS VS KEELS

Story by Phillip Berman / June 20, 2017

WHICH IS BEST FOR ME?

Many people are confused about the pros and cons of daggerboards versus keels. As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages. Here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of dagger-boards:

PROS

  • A daggerboarded cat will sail consistently higher into the wind than a cat with keels. Typically between 5 to 7 degrees higher. This added speed and pointing ability represents a significant safety feature when cruising because it enables you to claw off a lee shore or to arrive at an upwind destination with far greater alacrity. Sometimes you cannot “run for cover” – you must “beat for cover.”
  • A daggerboarded cat, all things being equal, will sail at least 2 knots faster, on average, than a catamaran with keels simply because it isn’t carrying the enormous fixed hydrodynamic drag (i.e. wetted surface) of two long and deep fixed keels. This added speed is a significant safety feature for long-range cruising. Not only are long passages cut shorter, reducing exposure to adverse weather, but should one encounter adverse weather it is much easier to either run from it or avoid it entirely with proper weather routing. A faster boat always increases one’s options, and therefore increases safety, when cruising.
  • A daggerboarded cat typically draws 2 to 2.5 feet less water than a cat with keels. As such, the sailing grounds and potential anchorages available to a cat with daggerboards are considerably larger than those available to a keel cat.
  • In extremely severe seas daggerboards enable the skipper to adjust the balance of his catamaran by raising and lowering the boards. When sailing in large cross-seas you typically raise the leeward daggerboard entirely and lower the windward board half-way to prevent being tripped over by a breaking wave. A keel cat is stuck with the keels down, all the time – as such, there is no way to prevent the boat from “tripping over herself” in storm-force conditions.

CONS

  • Daggerboards are very costly to construct. A builder must create dual dagger-boards as well as dual dagger-board trunks, along with the winches and pulleys to raise and lower them. Dual daggerboards add about $30,000 to the construction cost of a 45 foot catamaran.
  • Dagger-boarded cats are not a good idea for bare-boat chartering because bare-boat sailors run aground a lot. Even if they are told to raise the dagger-boards when they are not beating, they forget which results in broken daggerboards. Charter sailors do not care about performance, so there is no sense offering them a costly option they will likely break.
  • Daggerboards that are not carefully installed by a professional shipyard can rattle in their trunks. This is annoying. A well built cat will not have this problem.
  • If you are not a careful navigator and operate near shallow waters with your daggerboard(s) in the down position and plow into a hard reef at high speed, you will do serious damage to the bottom of your boat. While most daggerboarded cats have mini-skegs to protect the rudders and saildrives from a grounding, a high speed collision with a reef could do major damage to the bottom of your catamaran.
  • Daggerboard trunks take away a modest amount of interior room from the inside of each hull.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT DAGGERBOARDS

  • Daggerboards are for racers only. Not so. I am convinced this myth is propagated by builders who do not offer dagger-boards due to their cost.
  • Daggerboards are complex to operate. Not so. Unless you are sailing upwind they are always in the raised position. When you sail upwind you simply uncleat the boards and let them drop. To raise them you simply pull a few turns on a winch. It is easy to operate daggerboards.
  • You cannot beach a daggerboarded cat. No so. A properly built daggerboarded cat is easily beached and indeed can beach much closer to shore. The entire bottom of a well built daggerboarded cat is solid fiberglass.
  • Since high volume production catamaran builders must sell nearly 50% of their yachts into bareboat charter, it is not surprising that none of their models have daggerboards. At the present time there are just four production builders of daggerboarded cats: Catana, Outremer, Sud Composites, and Dolphin. There are of course a wide range of custom and semi-custom dagger-boarded cats on the market, particularly in New Zealand and Australia.
  • For the most part, daggerboards are preferred by serious offshore voyagers who insist that their catamarans sail upwind swiftly and as high as a monohull. They also want a catamaran that is considerably faster than a monohull on all points of sail, not only because they enjoy sailing fast, but because it is safer.
  • We sell a lot of used catamarans at The Multihull Company. Most of them have keels. As for me, if given a choice, a dagger-boarded cat is my preference. But I am a true enthusiast!

About Phillip Berman

Phillip Berman is the founder of The Multihull Company and a lifetime catamaran sailor and racer. He sold the firm to his longtime colleague and friend Will Miller in 2021. Today, Berman is a senior broker for the firm. Berman grew up racing Hobie Cats in California in the late 1960’s and published his first... Read More

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