Delivering the Sailing Scheme in Keelboats

RYA Chief Instructor of the Dinghy and Windsurfing schemes, Amanda Van Santen considers what keelboating looks like within the RYA training environment and the exciting opportunities it brings…

Teaching the RYA Sailing Scheme in keelboats can be a great way to increase accessibility and open up to a wider audience - especially those who may be interested in day sailing further afield, using it as a stepping stone for sail cruising, or perhaps a great way to still get afloat in cooler climates. Keelboats also provide a lovely way to deliver training on a more stable, dry platform – or at least less wet!

The question: “so what is a keelboat” is often posed to me. It’s an interesting one, and one that’s also not so simple to answer. The dictionary definition - a riverine cargo-capable working boat, or small recreational sailing boat - although an entertaining description, doesn’t really help us understand the actual nature of a keelboat. However, it does help to convey the wonderful level of diversity that can be found across the many different types. 

There are a whole range of boats, characteristics and considerations to take into account when looking at keelboats, so how do we decide what’s appropriate for conducting RYA training? This can be reasonably complex, initially due to the many different types and characteristics of boats available, but we also have to look at their suitability for the RYA Sailing Scheme, the instructor training provided to those who deliver the courses, as well as considering external factors such as restrictions or legislations which may govern the waters we wish to use. 

Types of keelboat  

 For a keelboat to be considered under the RYA Sailing Scheme it needs to have suitable characteristics to enable delivery of the required elements of the syllabus, as well as having a waterline length of under seven metres. Vessels above this size are more likely to fall under the realms of the RYA Sail Cruising Scheme, however there are some anomalies to this, such as traditional designs like Norfolk Broads boats, which require separate approval. 

Some of the more typically used boats within the RYA training environment are the Hawk 20, Colgate, Sonar and Squibs, and more recently ‘sports boats’ such as SB20, J/80, RS Venture and Hunter 707.

Consideration should be placed on the boat’s original design and characteristics, alongside intended use and environment. For example, ‘sports boats’ are generally designed for high performance sailing and racing, with a noticeable emphasis placed on increasing speed through powerful sails and a sleek hull. This is usually at the expense of accommodation and comfort, an important difference and factor to that of a more traditionally built cruising vessel.

Check out its bottom

 A keelboat’s increased stability and comfort is generally due to a weighted keel or ballast within the hull of the boat, often leading to a concept called ‘self-righting’.

A boat with ‘self-righting’ ability is designed and able to right itself to an upright position after a knockdown or capsize. However, it’s important this doesn’t lead to the assumption that a boat is therefore self-sufficient, or would prevent man-overboard scenarios.

On keelboats where the weighted keel is designed to be lifted or retracted for beaching, towing or storage, any failure to properly secure the keel or centre plate in the down position may affect its ability to recover from a knockdown, compromising the safety of those aboard. Put simply, if a retractable keel that is essential for the stability of the vessel is not properly secured in the down position, an unintended gybe or knockdown may result in the keel retracting, increasing the likelihood of a full inversion and potentially complicating recovery.

Careful consideration should therefore be placed on ensuring full understanding and knowledge of any boats used and the correct rigging procedures. 

Safety cover provision

As with all craft operating under the sailing scheme, keelboats are required to follow the minimum safety boat requirements. It is important to ensure that the safety boat assigned is capable of carrying the entire crew of the keelboat.

The only exception to this is when a keelboat satisfies the criteria to operate independently, without the need for safety provision. For RYA Training to approve this operation, supplementary information evidencing self-sufficiency will be required. Areas of consideration may include: recovery from knockdown, swamp test results, ballast ratio and stability information, as well as operational compliance with any local regulations such as additional instructor qualifications, boat coding or licensing requirements. 

If your centre wishes to gain recognition to deliver the RYA Sailing Scheme in keelboats, or to operate a keelboat without dedicated safety cover, please refer to the keelboat flowchart on the Training Support Site. The flowchart contains information on suitable vessels for course delivery and assessing the suitability of a vessel operating without the provision of dedicated safety cover. 

When a safety boat is required, it is important to ensure correct risk assessment and staff training has taken place and is appropriate, covering any additional aspects of a particular vessel. For example, increased risk of entrapment or specific rescue techniques required in the event a keelboat with a lifting keel is knocked down and inverts. 

Personal equipment

Personal equipment needs careful consideration depending on the students and their abilities, the type of keelboat and the operational areas in which it is being used. Generally, as with dinghy sailing, the use of buoyancy aids would be recommended, though through careful consideration and risk assessment, life jackets may be deemed more appropriate in some environments, particularly where craft are in less sheltered water or where the mobility of sailors may be an issue.

Operating area

Your operating area may need you to fulfil specific and additional requirements to those for RYA Training Centre recognition, such as local licensing specifications, higher qualifications to be held by the skipper, or vessels needed to be certified for commercial operation. 

Exciting opportunities

We are seeing an increased use of keelboats within the training environment, as well as social racing, providing opportunities for training centres and sailors alike...

Paving the way

The British Keelboat League (BKL) has provided an exciting pathway for keelboat sailors, as Steve Dean, RS Keelboat Manager explains: “In a nutshell the BKL consists of seven qualifying regattas across the UK where teams represent their club, with the top two teams going through to the final. The key is that the boats are provided and at the majority of the events you’ll find a fleet of RS21s rigged and ready for competitors – you just need to #RockUpAndRace. It’s sprint racing so each race is no longer than 15 minutes, giving you plenty of opportunity to recover from a shocker!

“These events are for all abilities, there are some very good sailors, however this gives a chance for crews that may not have sailed a keelboat before to join in the fun!”

The league has created accessibility, removing many of the barriers, attracting lots of dinghy sailors who may not previously have considered a keelboat, as well as joining the gap and providing a route to carrying on sailing for those who have taken an RYA training course. 

Steve concludes: “The British Keelboat League is a fantastic way to create a goal for students to aim for once they have worked through the RYA syllabus. Centres can even use the league as encouragement by running sessions with the aim to select a team – both adult and youth.” 

The future of the British Keelboat League will rely on venues with fleets of keelboats continuing to deliver these events and those like them, such as match and team racing.  Pay for play racing is increasing nationally and is a great way of attracting new sailors to clubs and centres - we see this will be a large growth area in the near future.

Reigniting a passion 

RYA Coach Assessor and Windsurfing Trainer, Ali Yates has over 20 years of teaching experience, but freely admits her enthusiasm for getting afloat herself had dimmed. However, this all changed when Royal Anglesey Yacht Club advertised a women’s keelboat day: “I rallied some girls together and we went and had an absolute ball!” she explains.

Although less physical than windsurfing, Ali was still surprised how much of a challenge it was, and just how exciting. “It was a really friendly and encouraging event, with lots of banter in the bar afterwards providing a fun debrief and opportunity for sharing lots of learning,” she continued. 

Being new to the area, the opportunity also provided Ali with an introduction to the sailing club and the social scene has been really important to her. “It’s been a long time since I have been so excited at the thought of going sailing whatever the weather,” she says. “I have loved the challenge of learning how to get the most out of a very different boat and being out on the Menai Strait is always something special.”

Enthused by her experiences, Ali has reintroduced keelboat sailing courses at Plas Menai, offering all of the RYA National Sailing Scheme courses in their J80s. For the centre, this has increased accessibility to get afloat, as well as providing an opportunity for people to cross disciplines and broaden their sailing experience. Ali says it’s also a great early and end of season option for getting people afloat - wrapped up warm of course! – lengthening the season considerably. 

For more information about the courses in the National Sailing Scheme, please click here.  To gain RYA recognition for delivering the scheme using keelboats please contact  

RYA Wavelength May 2020