Which Sailboats Have Lead Keels?

Which Sailboats Have Lead Keels? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 20, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Lead is the most ideal keel material but iron is among the most common types
  • Different keel types vary as well as the material that is used to make them
  • Not many boats use lead keel as the material as it is expensive
  • Lead needs preventative maintenance but not as much as iron

The type of sailboat keel equipped on a boat can make an impact of owning it, especially a lead keel. But which sailboats have lead keels?

Sailboats that have lead keels include the Catalina 385, all of the Tartan Yachts, and the Marlow-Hunter 42ss. Not all boats are equipped with a lead keel and it can make a difference in the maintenance over the years that you or someone else will endure.

In my experience, lead keels are better than cast iron keels. But they each have their pros and cons among the different types of sailboat keels.


Table of contents

Top 10 Boats with a Lead Sailboat Keel

There are various keels that can accommodate a sailboat and they have different materials. A sailboat with a lead keel is somewhat harder to find in comparison to iron due to various reasons. Below are sailboats that use a lead keel.

Catalina 385

Catalina 385
Catalina 385

Catalina has a handful of boats in their lineup that use a lead keel. For this particular model it can be equipped with a wing or fin keel but fin keels are more common. There are other possibilities for a lead keel in production but you would need to consult with the manufacturer beforehand.

Tartan Yachts

Tartan Yacht
Tartan Yacht

According to Tartan Yachts they use a lead keel in all of their sailboats no matter what. They even poke fun at other brands that shy away from the expenses and difficult nature of using lead.

One model to look at for example is the Tartan 365. This is arguably one of their most breathtaking options but all their options will use a high quality lead.

Marlow-Hunter 22ss

Marlow-Hunter 22ss
Marlow-Hunter 22ss

This particular boat brand has evolved a certain model over the years. The Marlow-Hunter 22ss features a lead keel but only if you want it. This is optional upon building it and completely up to the buyer if they do not mind the extra cost.

Cabo Rico 38

The Cabo Rico 38 had 200 boats built starting in 1977 and primarily used cast iron for their keels. However they changed over to using lead instead of cast iron during the last 40 or 50 produced boats. This was due to better performance and the increased popularity of using lead instead of iron.

Yankee 30

Another older boat that used lead in their keels was Yankee. Yankee only made 132 models of the 30 from 1970 to 1975.

But this was during a shortage of materials and prices of quality ones were high. The company unfortunately went out of business because the owner refused to use cheaper materials that were inferior.

Hallberg-Rassy 45

Hallberg-Rassy 45
Hallberg-Rassy 45

A total of 71 models of the 45 were built by Hallberg-Rassy and included a lead keel. This was and still is a popular boat for those that enjoy racers or cruisers. These used a bulb keel and were a popular option for bulb keels on boats during that time.

Hanse 371

For years Hanse has been one of the top sailboat yacht companies with their innovations and designs. They use a combination of lead and iron in their keels which is better than just using entirely iron. This allows slightly cheaper costs for both the consumer and the brand.



J/Boats have created some of the most popular one-design sailboats in the sailing world. They have many options for a lead keel. J/99 is one model in particular that is popular and uses a lead wedge bulb.

Island Packet Yachts

Island Packet Yacht
Island Packet Yacht

Island Packet uses a fully encapsulated lead ballast over the keel. One of their most popular models is the IP 349. This allows it to be attached without any bolts that could potentially come loose over time.

Oyster Sailing Yachts

Oyster Sailing Yacht
Oyster Sailing Yacht

Oyster has some of the best sailing yachts money can buy. All of their boats have lead to some degree in their keels. Their 495 model is a beauty that features a reinforced lead bulb keel.

Differences Between a Lead and Iron Keel

The differences between lead and iron keels might make a big enough impact on the decision to buy a boat with either one. Below are the major differences between the two options and why lead might be the better option for you.

Material Density and Overall Weight

Lead and iron have different weights and densities. Lead keels are much denser when compared to iron and can even be made with less materials since it has more weight.

Iron keels have to use more material in order to compare to the same density. So some boats might use more or less material based on the type of keel material they are using.

Stable Performances

A lead keel is often chosen due to its increased stability while sailing. Since a lead keel has more density it carries more weight that is needed when encountering rough seas.

Iron keels are a great benefit and you should have a keel for your boat. However they are not as crucial to handling rougher conditions in comparison to a lead keel.

Resistance to Corrosion

Both lead and iron keels are susceptible to the elements and potential damage to hitting things. Lead is sturdy if you were to hit something with it and does not rust.

As for iron you must continue to keep it in good shape with proper coatings in order to help prevent rust. These typically deteriorate from within so they may not show signs of wear until you hit something and it breaks off.

Different Types of Keels

There are a handful of sailboat keel types and each one has a slightly different use depending on the boat it is equipped on. They also have different advantages and how it affects the boat while sailing.


Full keels run along the entire length of a boat. So a full keel can be well over 30 feet if the boat is around that same length.

It is arguably the best keel since it offers the best stability. There are many sailors that do not like a full keel due to increased maintenance costs since it is a long keel.


A fin keel is most commonly seen on a racing or cruising boat. These offer smaller surface area but increase speed and stability in a good way.


A twin keel is an older keel type that has two fins that angle down underneath the boat. There is a small keel on each side of the boat for both port and starboard sides. These offer great stability but it doubles the maintenance costs long term if you have to take care of both smaller keels.


A wing keel is great for reducing heel and is primarily found on boats that explore shallower waters. They offer a nice touch of balance and stability for ballast weight.


A bulb keel is the most common keel type that is made out of lead. It is called a bulb since that is what the shape of it looks like. It is the best for adding stability for high performance boats in shallow waters with less ballast. Canting keels are often adjusted here which means they are slightly angled to affect performance.


A lifting keel can be adjusted in real time as you are sailing. These offer an increase in stability whenever you see fit and are used in a variety of sailboats.


These are similar to lifting keels as they can be raised or lowered. They are also called daggerboards but have slight differences. Centerboards are commonly used on sailboats while a daggerboard are used on racing sailboats.

Differences Between Keel Materials

Keels can be made out of various materials depending on the type of boat and keel shape. It also depends on the price and how much the manufacturer is willing to pay and pass onto the customer. The ballast material may also differ a boat does not use a keel.


Lead is one of the best options you can have for a keel material. It is an ideal material since is very durable and has little maintenance in comparison to an iron keel.

If you were to run aground you do not have to worry as much in comparison to other keel materials for damage. However it is more expensive and usually deters consumers or boat builders away from using it.


Steel is an all around type of material that combines a balance between cost and sturdiness. It provides great stability and is durable against long term use.


Iron is less dense than lead but still provides great value for money. They need to be larger in size in order to compete with the same weight that lead provides. These have slightly higher maintenance costs over the long term but not bad if you stay on top of it.


Composite is mainly used in higher end racing boats but there are some boats that utilize this type of keel material. They will often use a blend of kevlar or carbon fiber that is reinforced with resin. These are provide great stability and are strong.


Smaller boats will likely have a fiberglass keel that is a reinforced with a fiberglass cloth and resin. These are a lightweight option and are great for a boat that does not need a lot of weight.


Concrete is mixed with iron waste to help meet budget goals of some boat builders. It is less dense than lead and is a great addition for ballast. This allows you to add more weight and stability without using metals or increasing the cost.


Water is not really a keel type but some older boats use water for ballast instead of a keel. These are usually meant for larger yachts or some cruisers that do not want a keel in their design but need added stability. For ballast materials this is one of the easier methods.

Which Sailboats Have Lead Keels?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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