In boats and ships, the term keel can refer to either of two parts: a structural element, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap. As the laying down of the keel is the initial step in construction of a ship, in British and American shipbuilding traditions the construction is dated from this event. Only the ship's launching is considered more significant in its creation.
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 performs the same function. There are many types of fixed keels, including full keels, long keels, fin keels, winged keels, bulb keels, and bilge keels among other designs. Deep draft ships will typically have a flat bottom and employ only bilge keels, both to aid directional control and to damp rolling motions
In sailboats, keels use the forward motion of the boat to generate lift to counter act the leeward force of the wind. The rudimentary purpose of the keel is to convert the sideways motion of the wind when it is abeam into forward motion. A secondary purpose of the keel is to provide ballast.