What Is the Difference Between a Centerboard and a Leeboard

Sailing enthusiasts and boat aficionados often come across various terms related to the anatomy and functionality of sailing vessels. Amongst these terms, the centerboard and leeboard hold significant importance. While both serve similar purposes of improving a boat's stability and maneuverability, they differ in terms of structure and design. Centerboards, characterized by their symmetrical shape along the boat's axis, aid in maintaining balance and reducing sideways drift. On the other hand, leeboards tend to possess an asymmetric design, ensuring increased efficiency in generating lift in a particular direction. Understanding these distinctions is essential for sailors to make informed decisions regarding the type of board most suitable for their specific sailing needs.

What Is the Centerboard on a Sailboat?

A centreboard or centerboard (US) is a retractable hull appendage which pivots out of a slot in the hull of a sailboat, known as a centreboard trunk (UK) or centerboard case (US). It’s main purpose is to provide lateral resistance or stability to the sailboat while sailing. By adjusting the depth of the centerboard, sailors can optimize the boats performance in different wind and water conditions.

The shape and design of centerboards can vary depending on the type of sailboat and it’s intended use. They’re commonly made from wood, fiberglass, or metal, and can range in size from small daggerboards on small racing dinghies to large and heavy centerboards found on cruising sailboats.

To operate a centerboard, a sailor can use a winch or a manual system to raise or lower it as needed. When sailing upwind or in light winds, the centerboard is usually lowered completely to increase lateral resistance and prevent the boat from sliding sideways.

In addition to providing stability, centerboards also help with steering. As the sailboat moves through the water, water flowing around the centerboard creates a lateral force that helps keep the boat tracking straight.

How to Properly Balance the Centerboard With Other Sail Controls for Optimal Performance

  • Make sure the centerboard is fully down before starting sailing.
  • Adjust the tension of the centerboard control line to control the amount of lift or drag the centerboard provides.
  • Tighten the centerboard control line to increase lift and improve upwind performance.
  • Loosen the centerboard control line to decrease lift and improve downwind performance.
  • If you experience too much weather helm (the boat wants to turn into the wind), raise the centerboard slightly to reduce lift.
  • If you experience too much lee helm (the boat wants to turn away from the wind), lower the centerboard slightly to increase lift.
  • Regularly check the centerboard position while sailing to ensure it remains in the desired position.
  • Experiment with different centerboard positions to find the optimal setting for different wind and sea conditions.
  • Combine proper centerboard control with other sail controls such as the mainsail and jib to achieve optimal overall performance.

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This fixed position of a daggerboard allows for increased stability and efficient lift, especially in heavy winds. On the other hand, the leeboard, also known as the bilgeboard, functions uniquely by being mounted to the side of the boat, offering lateral resistance and preventing leeway. The distinction between these two types of boards lies in their different positioning and the specific purpose they serve in enhancing the sailing experience.

What Is the Difference Between a Leeboard and a Daggerboard?

The key difference between a leeboard and a daggerboard lies in their position and adjustability on a boat. While a daggerboard is designed to be set in a single perpendicular position relative to the hull, a leeboard or bilgeboard can be located off center. This means that a leeboard can be adjusted to a certain degree, allowing for more flexibility based on wind conditions and sailing techniques.

In terms of construction, both leeboards and daggerboards are typically made of lightweight materials such as fiberglass, wood, or carbon fiber. They’re intended to reduce the lateral movement of a sailing vessel and improve it’s stability in the water. However, the way they’re attached to the boat differs.

Daggerboards are usually built within a slot in the hull of the boat, allowing them to be raised or lowered as needed. This can be done manually or with the use of a hydraulic or electric mechanism. On the other hand, leeboards are externally attached on the side of the hull, usually near the waterline. Their position can be adjusted by sliding them up or down along a track or pivot point, which provides some flexibility in their deployment.

Both serve the important purpose of enhancing a boats stability and lateral resistance in the water.


The centerboard on a ship, also known as a drop keel or sliding keel, is a retractable keel located midships. It can be lowered to increase lateral resistance and prevent sideslip. In contrast, a skeg is a sternward extension of the keel, often seen on boats and ships with a centrally mounted rudder. The term also applies to the lowest point on an outboard motor.

What Is a Centerboard on a Ship?

Org/wiki/Skeg)—also commonly known as a stern keel—is a fixed structure, typically found at the aft end of a boat or ship, that helps to stabilize the vessel and improve steering control. Unlike the centreboard, the skeg remains in a fixed position and can’t be raised or lowered.

The purpose of a centreboard is to provide additional stability and maneuverability to a boat. By lowering the centreboard into the water, the surface area in contact with the water increases, resulting in greater resistance to sideways movement. This is especially helpful when sailing against the wind or in strong currents, as it prevents the boat from drifting off course.

When sailing at an angle to the wind, known as a “close-hauled” position, the wind exerts a sideways force called “leeway” on the boat. By adjusting the depth of the centreboard, sailors can minimize this leeway and maintain a straight course.

Smaller boats often have a retractable centreboard that can be easily lowered or raised manually. Larger sailboats may have a heavier and more complex centreboard system that can be operated hydraulically or electrically.

It allows sailors to sail closer to the wind, maintain better control in challenging conditions, and optimize both speed and direction.

Types of Centerboards and Their Construction

Centerboards are commonly used in sailing to provide lateral resistance and stability to a boat. They come in various types and construction depending on the design and purpose of the vessel.

One common type is the daggerboard, which is a long, narrow, and retractable board that pivots from the hull. It’s usually made of wood, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, making it lightweight and durable.

Another type is the swing keel, which is similar to the daggerboard but swings horizontally rather than vertically. It’s often made of lead or iron for added weight and stability.

Additionally, there are fixed keels that can’t be retracted or swung. They’re usually made of solid materials, such as lead or iron, and are permanently attached to the hull.

Finally, some boats use a combination of a centerboard and a ballast keel for optimal performance. This allows the boat to adjust it’s center of gravity while maintaining lateral resistance.

In summary, centerboards come in different types and construction materials depending on the boat’s intended use and design, with options such as daggerboards, swing keels, fixed keels, and hybrid systems available.

Source: Centreboard – Simple English Wikipedia, the free …


While centerboards are symmetric and provide lift equally in both directions along the boat's axis, leeboards are often asymmetric, enabling them to offer more efficient lift in one particular direction. This crucial dissimilarity allows sailors to optimize their sailboats' performance and maneuverability based on prevailing wind conditions and desired course. Understanding the nuances and advantages of these two appendages is fundamental for sailors seeking to harness the full potential of their vessels while out on the water.

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