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Thread: Small boat wheel steering

  1. #1
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    Default Small boat wheel steering

    I've only had small boats, under 30 feet, and thus only the tiller helm.

    But I was aboard a thirty-footer the other day where the captain had rigged up what he called single line steering, that being a wheel inside the cabin connected to the tiller. Gotta say, it was pleasant to helm protected from the elements.

    But the wheel helm (at the rudder post or thereabouts, not necessarily inside the cabin) is rarely seen on boats this size.

    My question: is this because of tradition, or of the cost, or of restricted space for such set-ups. Or just because it might look a bit wanky?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    As far as I know, it's mostly for cockpit space - as a tiller can be flipped up out of the way.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    I'll give this one bump in hope. Otherwise I'll just have to google it myself :-0

    PS: thanks to Garret for the reply; maybe that's all there is to it anyway.
    Last edited by Asap; 03-19-2017 at 09:24 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    A tiller is more simple, cheaper, and gives a more direct "feel" to the helm. Because it's less complex, it's less likely to break. On a smaller boat, it's lighter. And did I mention it's more simple and cheaper?
    Heute ist so ein schöne Tag...

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    I opted for wheel steering on the redesign of the Sapphire 27 as otherwise the tiller swept the whole cockpit when sailing, even though of course it can be hinged out of the way when not in use. It is more complex however. But easier on the helmsperson on long watches. And if sailing with family and/or friends it does give the helmsperson a clear space to control the boat from and tend the headsails, regardless of any mayhem that might be happening in the cockpit.

    With a counter stern (even a short one like the Sapphire 27) the rudder stock tends to be further forward, so a breakup of the cockpit in two sections often makes sense.

    Cheers -- George

    To be truly free to live, one must be free to think and speak.

    A C Grayling

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    For smaller boats, tiller steering provides the ability to move the majority of the ballast -- the helmsman -- around the cockpit, particularly with a tiller extension. If you have to run forward briefly to adjust sails or set an anchor or whatever, it is a shorter dash aft to reach a tiller extension. And wheel steering, like yoke line steering, turns/pulls opposite to tiller steering, and having guests man the helm will often result in some initial excitement. Don't ask me how I know this.
    "The enemies of reason have a certain blind look."
    Doctor Jacquin to Lieutenant D'Hubert, in Ridley Scott's first major film _The Duellists_.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    A big plus for wheel steering is the mechanical advantage that it gives the helmsman, giving a lighter touch to the helm. This is entirely unneeded on a small boat. I've always looked at a wheel on a boat much less than 30' to a bit of an affectation.
    Schooner captains love to get blown offshore!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Mimi Rose (32', 8 tons) has a wheel at the aft end of the cockpit that is of the rack and pinion type. This type of wheel provides very good feedback, similar to a tiller and leaves the cockpit quite open both in harbor and under sail. It also gives you more mechanical advantage than a tiller which is great when it really pipes up. It's less complex than either worm gear or cable driven wheels. Downsides would be increased cost, some loss of lazarette stowage, increased complexity (vs tiller,) harder to rig sheet-to-tiller type steering, catching sheets on the spokes occasionally, etc. When I bought Mimi Rose seven and a half years ago, I was originally intending to convert her to tiller steering. I learned to love the wheel instead. If I was building my own boat, I'd probably go with a tiller on a boat this size just for the simple reason of cost and reliability. If I did choose to install a wheel, though, it would definitely be of this type.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Thanks to all for the responses; some handy thoughts there, very useful. And Thorne, yes I do like your hat. How much do you want for it?

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering


  11. #11
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Seems to me the main advantage of a wheel is to be able to stand square on, both eyes scanning the hemisphere ahead, good vision of the rig, easier on old arthritic necks and hips etc. But in both images above, the wheel is placed in a way that brings none of these advantages; the helm would seat himself more or less as he would were it a tiller instead of a wheel.

    I suppose in #8 the cockpit is clear of the tiller, which may help, and in #9 I suppose the wheel makes for a lighter helm, but neither seem to offer what I'd see as the main advantage - and that is a single, forward looking helm station.

    In a small thirty footer though, I imagine a wheel is plonked in the middle of the cockpit would prove a major obstacle for line handling and be more trouble than it is worth. My friend's inside helm though, via a line to the tiller, still seems useful (though he hasn't much of a view of the rig).

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Ah, #8 only shows one way to use the helm. You can sit on the teak access hatch directly behind it if you wish to face forward squarely. Not my favorite position as cabin top and mast mean that there's more visibility to either side. Much easier to see ahead and equally importantly sail trim from the sides. Some of the folks who sail her like sitting back there, though, so long as the heel angle is moderate. If you really liked it there you could make a U-shaped seat for comfort when heeling. Another thing we do when motoring through lobster pot or reef strewn waters is to stand beside the wheel facing forward with one arm locked around the gallows for safety. Steering by foot. Not recommended if in a seaway or wakes are present. Best visibility, though. Personally, I hate cockpit pedestal wheels. They take up a ton of space, pull you toward the center where visibility is often poor, and usually lack any good feedback. I have had neck problems in the past, though, so I can understand that. I resolved mine through yoga, tai chi, and deep tissue massage. I also shift myself between sides of the boat even if on the same tack for hours or days. Keeps my neck happy.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    The difference between wheel and tiller is much like the difference between power steering and standard steering on a car. With a tiller, you can "feel the road." There is a pretty direct connection between your hand and the waves. The mechanics of a wheel amplify the muscles of your arm to make it easier to move the rudder, but all of the linkages dull the "feel of the road." I prefer tiller steering, but I also love sailing big boats. You don't see too many 50 footers with a tiller...I've learned to live with, and even like wheel steering. I've also sailed wheel equipped small boats where my only thought was "Who was the idiot who thought this boat should have a wheel."

    Yes, I have sailed small boats that were appropriately wheel equipped...the exceptions that prove the rule, but I've never seen an Opti with a wheel. One must weigh the added expense, complexity, and weight against advantages. Everybody is going to have their own idea of when a wheel is appropriate. Some people will be very wrong.
    Schooner captains love to get blown offshore!

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Always scratched my head about those yachts with a wheel that one sits in front of, rather than a pedistal mounted one in front. Seems to be a US convention, rather than European. Worst is the Weekender, a pastich of a boat. Would be far better with a tiller.
    Obviously it works better on a larger boat and is mechanicly sound with rack and pinion. Just, in this day and age, things can be worked out a bit better.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew2 View Post
    Always scratched my head about those yachts with a wheel that one sits in front of, rather than a pedistal mounted one in front. Seems to be a US convention, rather than European. Worst is the Weekender, a pastich of a boat. Would be far better with a tiller.
    Obviously it works better on a larger boat and is mechanicly sound with rack and pinion. Just, in this day and age, things can be worked out a bit better.
    Rack & pinion takes a little getting used to, but once accustomed, I found I liked it a lot. Great feel & keeps the wheel out of the way.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Small boat wheel steering

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew2 View Post
    Always scratched my head about those yachts with a wheel that one sits in front of, rather than a pedistal mounted one in front. Seems to be a US convention, rather than European. Worst is the Weekender, a pastich of a boat. Would be far better with a tiller.
    Obviously it works better on a larger boat and is mechanicly sound with rack and pinion. Just, in this day and age, things can be worked out a bit better.
    I don't think it is a US convention. Our 1926 Lee Bawley had an Edson worm steering and you generally stood in front of the wheel – or stood on deck and steered with your foot. The advantage of the worm gear was that there was no feedback – a big advantage on a hard-headed boat like that – else one would have needed relieving tackles on the helm in any weather at all. The box containing the worm gear was too big to sit on comfortably, and anyway that was a pretty exposed position in any weather.

    Corista, 26 tonner, that we built in 1952 also had Edson worm gear steering and, again, you mostly were in front of the wheel. Because she had a sad tendency to get pooped in a heavy following sea, the owner had the cockpit largely decked over – so then the steering position was both exposed and uncomfortable!

    And lots of older boats (mostly 40'+) had worm steering, or rack and pinion steering, where you stood in front of the wheel.

    Feedback is great in a well balanced sailboat – but lots of older more traditional boats were anything but well balanced and needed relieving tackles or a pin-rail if tiller steered.

    Cheers -- George
    To be truly free to live, one must be free to think and speak.

    A C Grayling

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