13 Popular Sailboats with Retractable Keels (Lifting Keels)

Interested in lifting keel sailboats? Can't blame you, if versatility and mobility are what you are looking for, these are hard to beat. We have put together a list of 13 great ones, so whether you are in the market for one, or you just wanna look around, look no further.

Esse 330
Hunter 22
Catalina 22
Norseboat 21.5
Parker 235 Mini Cruiser
BayRaider 20
Feeling 326
Gunfleet 43
Alubat Ovni 365
Southerly 42
Super Seal 26
Beneteau Oceanis 30.1
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Let's look at these in more detail, you are in for a treat!

For those of you who might not have heard about lifting keels, here is what that's about and why you might want to consider one.

A lifting keel sailboat is one that can retract its keel into its body. That results in, chiefly, minimal draft and secondly, a few other perks. It does come with its drawbacks though, let's have a look.

Lifting Keel Advantages

-The minimal draft is a big one. The ability to not having to care much about how much water is below you is a big one for some. If you sail in Croatia you might be shaking your head now, but people living along the east coast of England for instance, quite like these, because of the large sandbanks and muddy shallows that are plentiful in the area. Lake sailors will also know the value of a shallow draft.

-Then there is the matter of putting the boat ashore for winterization, repairs, or transport. No more tall structures and heavy-duty cranes, things just got several feet easier.

-If you happen to run aground, getting off of the shallows is as easy as just lifting the keel and sailing away, no more towing or waiting for high tide.

-And then there is anchoring, the ability to be close to shore can come in handy.

Lifting Keel Disadvantages

-Since it's not a fixed structure, it has to have a mechanism for lifting and lowering the keel. That means more moving parts, i.e. more chance for breaking and more maintenance. The lateral force exerted on the keel is significant, so the housing may suffer.

-You will have fewer keel options to choose from, for instance finding a bulb keel among these is rare.

-There have been cases of leakage through the housing structure as a result of there having to be a moving part in the hull.

-The purchasing costs are likely to be higher.

So now that we've simultaneously excited you and scared you off, let's see what the retractable keel sailboat market has to offer.

Esse 330

The naval engineer Josef Schuchter has a boatyard on Lake Zurich, so it only makes sense that he would come up with a retractable keel design. Shallow parts of lakes shouldn't be off-limits to those interested.

Although he focuses on fast, sporty pieces, the Esse 330 is more aimed towards pleasure, with the ability to stay on it overnight. It still performs great, its higher stability as a means of having the trips more comfortable, doesn't come with many performance compromises.

If you lift the keel, the overall draft goes down to 1.5 meters, which is not that striking, but a boat made with Swiss precision has to make it on our list.

Oh, and it comes with an optional electric drive. Neat.

Hunter 22

Bearing the full name Marlow-Hunter 22, this sailboat was built in 2010 and gained quite some popularity since. Two people can sleep on it, but the cockpit space has been favored at the expense of below-the-deck space. It is a daysailer after all.

Thanks to the interior space sacrifice, five people can fit on it quite easily.

Now for the important part - if you lift the keel, you will get from the original 107 cm to some 30 centimeters of draft only, which gives you access to just about anywhere.

Given its small size and the retractable keel, it is easily trailable, so if you have the space in your garage and around $30 000, it can be yours even if you don't live by the water.

And by the way, the popular 1981 Hunter 22 has nothing to do with this boat. The 2010 Hunter was based on the 2003 Hunter 216 design, so although it is easy to confuse these two, they aren't of the same origin.

Catalina 22

Staying with the 22 ft size, here is another one easy to trailer. The salon space is enough for four people to sleep in, so although this is an obvious daysailer design, the occasional overnight stay won't be an issue. There is even enough space for a portable potty. Ew.

If you lift the keel up, you will end up with circa 50 centimeters of draft, which is not bad at all, especially considering it goes all the way to 1.5 meters if dropped down.

At some $23 000 it is cheaper than the Hunter above, but that's just Catalina's standard of providing affordable boats.

With nearly 10 square meters of sail area you won't be breaking speed records with this one, but the point here is an easygoing enjoyment, rather than anything else.

Plus you'd be joining the large Catalina family, so in case of the need for spare parts or service, these won't be hard to find.

Norseboat 21.5

This one is a sturdy little soldier. Her smaller sisters have completed many long-distance passages, so don't let the size confuse you, it is a seaworthy creature.

All the while being trailable, partly due to the size, partly to the retractable keel that allows circa 45 centimeters of draft, when taken up, partly due to the foldable mast.

It's a stylish looking boat that is available in all wood construction, though most of the times you will encounter the fiberglass variant. The inspiration in the olden days is apparent, but when it comes to the construction and materials, it is a modern project.

It theoretically sleeps four, so aside from being a daysailer, it will let you stay overnight. Yes, all of the crew has to get along pretty well, as privacy is not a thing here, but if you have a bunch of friends that can tolerate each other in relatively tight places, look no further.

Parker 235 Mini Cruiser

Trailerable, of course, retractable keel, absolutely, ideal for a weekend sailor. What more, performance isn't sacrificed here, as is the case with these small boats oftentimes. The long waterline, plus the deep keel with a low center of gravity give it more speed and handling capabilities than you wouldn't expect from a boat of this character.

It has a draft of nearly 1.4 meters when the keel is down and 30 centimeters when it's up, and because of its wide body with a relatively flat bottom, you can sit it on a beach and not worry it wouldn't stay upright.

Expect it to sleep two people, if the overnight stay is needed. The space below the deck is more than what you would expect from a boat this size. The designers tried to make it as roomy and practical as possible, which shows, because you get a little heads compartment and even a small kitchen corner.

And last but not least, it comes with a custom-built trailer, which takes a lot of your worries away.

BayRaider 20

Now, this is an interesting one. It's a ketch, a two-masted design, which isn't that common with boats of these sizes. So expect to get a few second glances when sailing this one, it looks unusual. Another nice feature is its ballast tanks, so if you are looking for speed, and don't mind sacrificing some stability, empty them, and for a calm outing, fill them up.

It's a versatile little boat that will act both as a forgiving cruiser and a relatively fast dinghy. It even comes with a spinnaker. Its engine is not a classical outboard hanging from the back, but an inbuilt one, contributing to the already elegant look. The sail area is a generous 17 square meters.

You can sleep on it, though the cockpit was favored over the under-the-deck space. And since it comes with a bimini of sorts, you can spend a whole weekend on it regardless of the weather.

As for the keel, expect 1.4 meters when dropped down and 25 centimeters when up.

Of all the boats mentioned so far, this would be my choice for a small, weekend lake boat. It is towable, of course, and according to the manufacturer, getting her up on the trailer takes ten minutes, with a single person.

All in all, this boat has been designed as a convenient pleasure cruiser, with practicality in mind.

Feeling 326

So far we have mentioned quite small sailboats, let's now go slightly up in size. Feeling 326 is a full-size cruiser with two cabins, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It sleeps six people and it feels like something you could spend a week on without any hassle.

This is partially thanks to the trend of wide beam cruisers that offer an impressive amount of space. Six people won't have to bump into each other on this boat during dinner, since the seating area below the deck is way more than you would expect from this boat. It comes with some performance drawbacks, but you don't get on this boat to race anyway.

When you drop the keel down, you get some 1.6 meters of draft, which is not that much, but given the beam, this boat is stable anyway. Expect some 63 centimeters of draft after pulling the keel up.

It is overall designed for looks, comfort, and convenience. That being said, it could still defend its place in a 'racer-cruiser' category.

Gunfleet 43

Up in size we go again. Away from the weekend boats, to proper holiday cruisers. In this one, you will get twin rudders, kevlar reinforced hull, and a nearly 2.7 meters deep liftable keel that goes to 1.37 meters when taken up.

It is a center cockpit design, so you will have to be careful with that boom over your head, but sails will be closer to reach, you get a nice, easily accessible sunbathing platform at the back and consequently a lot of space for a large aft cabin.

Below the deck, you will have as much space and amenities as you would expect from a 44-foot boat with an $800 000 price mark. It is a semi-custom project, so you can personalize it to your liking. If a classical well-performing cruiser capable of providing enough comfort for living on it is what you are looking for, this might be for you.

Alubat Ovni 365

If you dislike the price of the Gunfleet above, let me drop it down to $100 000 with this one. As the name suggests, it has an aluminum hull which it doesn't hide - you'll be able to tell just by looking at it.

It's an expedition yacht that has been called the Land Rover of the sea. The sturdy hull paired with the shoal draft achievable by lifting the keel enable it to go pretty much anywhere, regardless of the sea conditions or water depth.

It's a boat for the more experienced who are looking for tough journeys. It is obvious just by looking at it that it was made for practicality, while design and weekend sailor's comfort quirks have taken the back seat. Just the way explorers like it.

Southerly 42

Almost 2.7 meters of keel that can turn into just a touch above 80 cm with the press of a button. Indeed Southerly has made its name for making lifting keel boats, their idea being creating a classical offshore cruiser that can serve just as well in shallow places.

Mission accomplished, I'd say, this boat has surprisingly good performance, partially thanks to its generous sail plan. It features twin rudders, but this is mostly to compensate for the rudder's shortness - a feature that allows the boat to sit on a sandy beach without the rudders being taken off.

The interior usually features two cabins with the aft one being as spacious as you could expect from a 42 footer. A neat angle of the salon roof windows means you will see where you are headed when standing indoors, a feature not often seen on modern cruisers of this size.

The architects seemed to go for a low-stress design that can be handled by a small crew and takes you wherever you feel like going.

Super Seal 26

Back to smaller sizes. And we are starting with a fast one. Super Seal 26 is a well-performing racer-cruiser, with a 45 percent ballast ratio, which is impressive on its own and even more so in a lifting keel sailboat.

How the hell did they achieve this, you ask? Well, the ballast sits on the bottom of the hull, not on the keel itself. This makes it easy to lift the keel, but of course, has a slightly negative influence on the righting moment. At the same time, 45 percent is 45 percent so you shouldn't have stability issues.

Below the deck, you will find the compromises that you could expect from a performance-oriented smaller boat, such as a 170 cm headspace. Other than that, you will find a cabin, heads, kitchen, and generous dining space.

Oh and by the way, if you come across this boat being called Parker 27, know that it's an improved facelift with tuned up features. Its production went all the way to the 1990s, so if you like this one and seek a newer boat, Parket 27 might be for you.

Beneteau Oceanis 30.1

Yep, surprisingly, Beneteau offers a swing keel on this one as well. It comes as an optional feature, so if you are up to some “sailing along canals and rivers”, as Beneteau themselves name it, you could.

Two full-sized cabins and nearly 2 meters of headroom make this a comfy liveaboard. And of course, as is Beneteau's custom, it will spoil you with all the little luxuries that come with the brand's focus on user-friendliness.

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

And sure enough, if Beneteau has it, so does Jeanneau. Its newest 2020 Sun Odyssey 410 has a swing keel as an optional extra too. It enables the boat to have a draft of 1.37 meters, which really is nothing for a boat this size.

At the same time, with this waterline length and keel down, you can expect a solid performance from this cruiser.

Below the deck, we will find what we would like to see on a Jeanneau, no surprises there. Great useability, space, comfort, and ergonomic are a must on these boats, but that's no news.

Conclusion

In the end, it's up to you how you want to play this. Whether your goal is convenience, or the ability to explore places previously unreachable, swing keels are an option. Be aware of the drawbacks and make sure you understand what this design means for handling, but don't be afraid of it either. Technology is progressing and if swing and retracting keels were a scary chapter in the past, trust that things are evolving rapidly.

Fair winds!


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