What is a Skeg on a Boat?
Ian Fortey Updated on February 15, 2023. In Boatsby
The skeg is part of the keel of a boat that extends to protect the rudder and propeller while also keeping the boat on a straight path. If you’ve never seen the skeg or, rather, had it pointed out to you before it may be hard to picture in your mind without a little help. Also, the function of the skeg may be hard to fully understand without seeing it and having it broken down a little, so let’s dive into what the skeg is, where it is and how it performs its function.
Where is the Skeg Relative to the Boat Motor?
If you have never had the skeg pointed out for you before then take a look in the photo right here and see where we have it labeled. The skeg is like a little shark fin located on the underside of the outboard motor, right under the propeller. The skeg acts like a rudder for high performance boats and improves the boat’s performance as a result
What Does the Skeg Do?
The skeg is shaped like a fun or rudder because it acts as such when your boat is in motion. When a skeg is in good working order, it keeps your boat running on a straight and even path. When you need to turn your boat, it makes the maneuver smooth and easy. If you didn’t have a skeg, the action of trying to turn would put a lot more stress on your motor and your prop and, over time, that could cause your motor to burn out a lot faster. Vessels like bass boats really need a lower unit skeg for directional stability when you get the boat on plane.
A functional skeg helps you get up to plane more easily. This is especially noticeable at lower speeds, because of the way it cuts into the water and, again, keeps you going straight and smooth through the water.
On smaller boats especially, not having a skeg can make steering all but impossible sometimes. Your prop can be spinning away but without a skeg to actually maintain the direction in which you’re trying to steer, things could get messy and dangerous quickly and the boat could potentially move almost uncontrollably.
More importantly, a skeg is there to protect your propeller. Imagine what happens if you hit some extremely shallows or run aground without a skeg. Your propeller is going to be the lowest point of your motor and it will take the brunt of the abuse before the rest of your boat ever makes contact. If you hit sand, stone, coral or anything else with your props spinning at full speed, you could potentially destroy the prop and your motor as well. The skeg extending below protects the prop from that damage and the costly repairs that will come with it.
A skeg, especially an aluminum one, can get busted up pretty badly when this happens but replacing or fixing a skeg is, in general, quite a bit cheaper than doing the same for a prop.
What Happens if You Have a Broken Skeg?
If your skeg has been broken there are a couple of options for dealing with it. They can often chip or dent when they hit things and there’s a chance it will still be able to perform properly in that case. However, if a chunk bends right out of shape or breaks off, you can still potentially fix it with a little welding and hammering things back into shape.
If the damage is too severe then you may need to invest in a replacement skeg. You can buy replacement skegs online or from boating supply stores. They’re not all that expensive and there are also walkthroughs that show you how to fix and replace them as well, so you could potentially replace it yourself if you’re confident in your repair skills.
Depending on the motor, repairing or replacing the skeg can be a tricky proposition, however. Some are exceptionally hard to fix and even repair shops may find themselves having a difficult time with it.
It’s possible to operate a boat without a skeg. You may have seen some old outboard motors and especially trolling motors that don’t have skegs on them at all. This tends to work better with boats that operate at lower speeds and are easier to control as a result. Faster boats definitely benefit from the stability a skeg provides.
What is a Skeg Guard?
Replacing or repairing a broken or damaged skeg is always an option, but you can save the hassle by installing a skeg guard ahead of time if you want to. Several companies make skeg guards but you should look for ones made from something like 18 gauge – 316 marine grade stainless steel. Some also have reinforced edges to add extra protection. They can be easily installed and don’t require welding, which is a nice and convenient touch as well.
If you have minor skeg damage, like a few dents and scrapes, you can install a skeg guard on the damaged skeg. The skeg guard works to reinforce its integrity and prevent additional damage as well, which is another great feature for you as a boat owner.
If you’re debating whether you need a skeg guard, I’d lean towards getting one. A factory oem skeg is usually aluminum which isn’t up to the challenge of running aground on rocks. A stainless steel skeg guard can handle a lot more abuse and save you the time, money and trouble of trying to deal with fixing or repairing it as a result.
The Bottom Line
The skeg on your boat is like a small keel on the bottom of your outboard. It helps protect your propeller from damage and also helps ensure your boat steers straight and true when you’re underway. It can get damaged fairly easily if you run aground in shallow water so you may want to invest in a skeg guard to reinforce it and keep both the skeg and your motor safe.