AskDefine | Define keel

Dictionary Definition



1 the median ridge on the breastbone of birds that fly
2 one of the main longitudinal beams (or plates) of the hull of a vessel; can extend vertically into the water to provide lateral stability v : walk as if unable to control one's movements; "The drunken man staggered into the room" [syn: stagger, reel, lurch, swag, careen]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl enm kele, from etyl non kjǫlr.


  • a UK /kiːl/, /ki:l/
  • Rhymes with: -iːl


  1. A large beam along the underside of a ship’s hull from bow to stern.
  2. Sometimes, a rigid, flat piece of material anchored to the lowest part of the hull of a ship to give it greater control and stability.
  3. Something similar to chalk or crayon used to mark pavement.

Derived terms


beam along the underside of a ship’s hull
  • Czech: kýl
  • Dutch: kiel
  • Finnish: köli
  • German: Kiel
  • Italian: carena, chiglia
  • Latin: carina
  • Old English: ceol
  • Portuguese: quilha
  • Spanish: quilla
rigid flat piece of material giving a ship greater control and stability
  • Dutch: kiel
  • Estonian: kiil
  • Italian: deriva
  • Norwegian: kjøl
chalk or crayon to mark pavement



  • /kel/|lang=nl

Etymology 1


  1. throat
Derived terms


Etymology 2


  1. gules, the blazoning term for the color red




keel (plural keeled)


Extensive Definition

In boats and ships, keel can refer to either of two parts: a structural element, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap.

Structural keels

A structural keel is a large beam around which the hull of a ship is built. The keel runs in the middle of the ship, from the bow to the stern, and serves as the foundation or spine of the structure, providing the major source of structural strength of the hull. The keel is generally the first part of a ship's hull to be constructed, and laying the keel, or placing the keel in the cradle in which the ship will be built, is often a momentous event in a ship's construction--so much so that the event is often marked with a ceremony, and the term lay the keel has entered the language as a phrase meaning the beginning of any significant undertaking.
The keel contributes substantially to the longitudinal strength and effectively local loading caused when docking the ship. The most common type of keel is the 'flat plate keel', and this is fitted in the majority of ocean-going ship and other vessels. A form of keel found on smaller vessels is the bar keel. The bar keel may be fitted in trawlers, tugs,etc.. and this is also found in smaller ferries.
Where grounding is possible, this type of keel is suitable with its massive scantlings, but there is always a problem of the increased draft with no additional cargo capacity. If a double bottom is fitted the keel is almost inevitably of the flat plate type, bar keels often being associated with open floors, where the plate keel may also be fitted.
Duct keels are provided in the bottom of some vessels. These run from the forward engine room bulkhead to the collision bulkhead and are utilized to carry the double bottom piping. The piping is then accessible when cargo is loaded.

Hydrodynamic keels

Non-sailing keels

The keel surface on the bottom of the hull gives the ship greater directional control and stability. In non sailing hulls, the keel helps the hull to move forward, rather than slipping to the side. In traditional boat building, this is provided by the structural keel, which projects from the bottom of the hull along most or all of its length. In modern construction the bar keel or flat-plate keel perform the same function.

Sailboat Keels

In sailboats, keels use the forward motion of the boat to generate lift to counter the lateral force from the sails. Sailboats have much larger keels than non sailing hulls. Keels are different from centerboards and other types of foils in that keels are made of heavy materials to provide ballast to stabilize the boat. Keels may be fixed, or non-movable, or they may retract to allow sailing in shallower waters. Retracting keels may pivot (a swing keel) or slide upwards to retract, and are usually retracted with a winch due to the ballast. Since the keel provides far more stability when lowered than when retracted (due to the greater moment arm involved) the amount of sail carried is generally reduced when sailing with the keel retracted.
There are several types of fixed keels including: full keels, fin keels, winged keels, bulb keels, and twin keels or bilge keels among other designs.
Types of non-fixed keels include swing keels and canting keels. Canting keels can be found on racing yachts, such as those competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. They provide considerably more righting moment as the keel moves out to the windward-side of the boat while using less weight. The distance from the weight to the pivot is increased, which generates a larger righting moment.


The word "keel" comes from Anglo-Saxon cēol, Old Norse kjóll, = "ship" or "keel". It has the distinction of being regarded by some scholars as the very first word in the English language recorded in writing, having been recorded by Gildas in his 6th century Latin work De Excidio Britanniae, under the spelling cyulae (he was referring to the three ships that the Saxons first arrived in).
Carina is the Latin word for "keel" and is the origin of the term careen (to clean a keel and the hull in general, often by rolling the ship on its side). An example of this use is Careening Cove, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, where careening was carried out in early colonial days.


See also

keel in Bulgarian: Кил (корабоплаване)
keel in Danish: Køl
keel in German: Kiel (Schiff)
keel in Esperanto: Kilo (sxipo)
keel in Spanish: Quilla (náutica)
keel in French: Quille (bateau)
keel in Indonesian: Lunas
keel in Italian: Chiglia
keel in Hebrew: כיל (כלי שיט)
keel in Georgian: გემის კიჩო
keel in Lithuanian: Kilis
keel in Dutch: Kiel (schip)
keel in Japanese: 竜骨 (船)
keel in Norwegian: Kjøl
keel in Low German: Kiel (Schipp)
keel in Polish: Stępka
keel in Portuguese: Quilha
keel in Romanian: Chilă
keel in Russian: Киль
keel in Finnish: Köli
keel in Swedish: Köl
keel in Chinese: 龙骨

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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