I was curious about Keeled vs Non-Keeled canoes and found This very informative, especially the long post by JackFlash. Good info when shopping for a canoe. Thought I'd share with my gear head friends here.
A regular writer for "Canoe" magazine wrote an article about 30 years ago about canoe (hull) shape. He said that the aluminum canoe had set canoe design back about 50 years. Grumman made aluminum canoes after the war, and they put in a strip down the middle to bring the two halves together...and put a keel on it. Grumman also made that canoe wide for its length...made it more "stable". Alumacraft copied their shape, with a little less rocker.
Something not mentioned in this discussion about keelless boats not tracking as well...if the bow paddler does not have the paddle vertical, every stroke they take is pushing the canoe sideways, and the stern paddler has to overcome that. Make sure your bow paddler has the paddle as vertical as possible, and that they draw it back parallel to the centerline of the canoe, not the gunwale. Drawing back parallel to the side of the canoe also pushes the canoe sideways.
I've been canoeing for half a century, most of it in aluminum canoes. I still have the first canoe I ever owned, a 17 ft Michicraft, weighs a ton and has a flat bottom and a keel. I've had a lot of good times in that boat. Since then we've acquired some Royalex and Kevlar boats and I was pleased with how fast and light they were. I'm also pleased with the way they handle.
I've never understood the big deal about the keel. OK, it's a necessary structural part of the Michicraft, but I never missed it on any subsequent canoes. They all track OK.
On our recent trip we had Bell Kevlar canoes, and the first time to use them. Great craft in my opinion, but my 69 year old dad absolutely hated them - he's a Grumman aluminum keel man at heart!
We had problems the first day out, first off having dad in the honorary rear position of the canoe was a mistake. He can still paddle okay, but I was completely overpowering him in the front and didn't realize it. Dad was expending nearly all of his energy just trying to keep the canoe going straight, and he couldn't keep up with that. I ended up cantering my paddle in the front and using offset pulls to keep us on course as best I could from the front.
After hearing dad curse the kevlar all day I decided to solo the next morning to check out the canoe. So on a morning glass lake in a lite fog I launched and paddled around the lake by our campsite. Man I can understand the allure of a keel free design! That canoe just moved wherever I wanted to turn it. Sure you have to use a bit more power on your J stroke than a keeled design, but it's worth it. And with a light Canadian stroke I didn't have to put much effort into keeping the course straight at all.
Dad's still a fan of the keeled Grumman in his back yard, but I think the rest of us were sold on the keel free design. It really comes down to personal preference and experience. A beginner might get more enjoyment from a keel that helps you track straight, but eventually experience and finesse will probably cause you to favor a keel free design.