What Is Sailboat’s Centerboard And How To Use It


For you to enjoy sailing safely, a vertical appendage at the lower part of the sailboat’s hull is necessary. Depending on how big your sailboat is, it may feature either a fixed keel or a centerboard. Smaller sailboats feature the sailboat centerboard while the bigger boats have the fixed keel.

If you are just getting started with sailing, you may not be familiar with the vertical appendages. In this article, we will be focusing on the sailboat centerboard.

What Exactly is the Sailboat Centerboard?

Generally, you will find the sailboat centerboard on sailboats whose size does not exceed 15 feet. The majority of sailboats whose size exceeds 20 feet feature the fixed keel. This is not always the case considering that some sailboats whose sizes range between 12 and 25 feet have either a fixed keel or the sailboat centerboard.

The sailboat centerboard is a retractable keel pivoting out of a slot available on the hull. To raise the sailboat centerboard, all the sailor has to do is pull a line. The line swings the centerboard into its trunk/case, available along the sailboat’s center.

The retractability of the centerboard allows it to be raised when sailing in shallow waters. Additionally, the retractability makes it possible for sailors to get rid of the unnecessary friction (drag) when the centerboard is not useful.

Some sailboats feature a daggerboard. The daggerboard is a long and straight board, usually inserted by hand into a slot and then lowered down through the hull into the waters. While the daggerboard and centerboard designs may differ, they both have the same functions.

The primary function of the sailboat daggerboard is to ensure that the sailboat does not get blown sideways by the wind, from any side. By countering the lateral forces from the sails, the sailboat centerboard keeps the sailboat moving in the required direction, other than downwind.

A secondary function of the sailboat centerboard is to help right small sailboats in the case of a capsize. When righting the sailboat, the sailor usually stands on the centerboard while holding the boat rail and leaning back, at the same time. This often levers the sailboat upright.

How to Use the Sailboat Centerboard

New sailors often lower the sailboat daggerboard the moment they are in deep enough waters and leave it down throughout the whole sailing trip. As mentioned earlier, the daggerboard or centerboard is capable of increasing the sailboat drag. This generally slows you down. To avoid being slowed down unnecessarily, after you wear your sailing hat, understanding when to use the sailboat centerboard is crucial.

How and when you use the sailboat centerboard is largely dependent on your points of sail. Below, we have different points of sail and how to use the centerboard at each point:

Close Hauled

This is as close to the wind as you can get. The sailboat centerboard is most needed when you are at this point of sail. This means that, if after grabbing your sailing jacket you notice that you will be approaching the close-hauled point soon, you should ensure that the sailboat centerboard is down fully.

Broad Reach

At this point of sail, you will be heading a bit further downwind. On top of reefing your sailboat to match this point of sail, you will need to lower the sailboat daggerboard only slightly. As a general rule, you should consider lowering the board for only one-quarter down.

Beam Reach

If you end up at this point of sail after wearing your sailing boots, you should have an easy time on the waters. It is generally the easiest and fastest point of sail. The wind will be on the sailboat’s side (beam) and you will be sailing with the sails only out halfway. At this point, you should have the sailboat daggerboard or centerboard down halfway to three-quarters.


At this point of sail, the wind will be directly behind you. While steering can be quite tricky, you won’t have to worry about the wind blowing the sailboat sideways. Therefore, using the centerboard will be unnecessary. At this point, the sailboat centerboard should be completely raised.

If you have just invested in sailing sunglasses and you are looking forward to your first sailing trip, controlling the sailboat centerboard may not be very easy for you. If you find that you are having issues with controlling the board at the varying points of sail, you can mark the control line or the top of your centerboard with pieces of tape to indicate the varying board heights. This should make it possible for you to quickly position the sailboat centerboard.

What Should You Do If You Are Sailing Solo?


If you like to go sailing solo, you may find adjusting the centerboard now and then quite taxing. In some instances, it may be impossible. You can reduce your workload by lowering the sailboat daggerboard down completely when you are heading to the wind. This should allow you to concentrate on managing the sails and steering the sailboat.

When turning off the wind, allow the sailboat centerboard to stay down until you reach the new course and trim the sails. Then, you can go ahead and position the sailboat daggerboard appropriately.

If you are not alone, your team can help you with handling the sails and the board. They can raise the sailboat centerboard fluidly in gradual steps through the turns.

Globo Surf Overview

The key to having a good sailing trip is understanding what the different sailboat parts do. If you would like to keep your sailboat moving in the right direction and not just downwind, you have to use the sailboat centerboard or daggerboard.

Keeping the board down at all times is not always the ideal option. In some instances, you will need to raise the sailboat centerboard to reduce the drag, which often slows the sailboat down. The guidelines in this article show you when and how much to raise the sailboat centerboard at varying points of sail.

More Sail Reviews:


  1. Sailboat Rudder, Adjustable Centerboard and Daggerboard Positions, Working-the-sails.com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!