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Thread: Boat's steering wheel on the right, because ...

  1. #1
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    http://www.startribune.com/stories/389/4078416.html

    The Minneapolis Star Tribune, in the FixIt column for today (linked above for the couple of days it will be active) says:


    Q Why are boat steering wheels and controls on the right side rather than the left side?

    A Boat propellers turn clockwise. Hulls used to be designed in such a way that when there was torque on the prop, the right side of the boat would rise up. The wheel was put on the right so the weight of the fishermen would counteract that.

    This is not a problem with modern hulls, but the design stuck. Racing boats usually have the wheel on the left, like cars.

    From http://www.straightdope.com
    After I finished laughing, I wondered if it was possible for them to have been correct. Since steering on the starboard side has been around since ... well, since it was the steerboard side, long before there were propellers, it seems unlikely.

    That it's because of the starboard to starboard passing rule is continuing the tradition, not establishing why the tradition exists.

    Any ideas?
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  2. #2
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    Just a guess--

    Since most folks are right handed, wouldn't one want the steer-board on the right side, to allow steering with the stronger, dominant arm?

    Tidmarsh

  3. #3
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    Talking

    Perhaps the "original" design engineer was Capt. Ron...........blind in the left eye!

  4. #4
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    As I remember it has to do with the boat on your stabad has the right of way and you steering from that side of your boat will see him sooner, the boat aproaching you from your port has you on his stabad, so he "should" give way to you...

    All this means diddly squat when the other guy is bigger...

    G

  5. #5
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    Darn it, I've been passing 'port-to-port' for years, thinking I was doing the right thing.

    Better go have a discussion with my OUPV instructor.
    "Simple minds discuss people, Average minds discuss things, and Great minds discuss ideas".

  6. #6
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    (pure speculation)

    I'd always thought that this, like everything else afloat, started with working boats.

    example: lobsterboats always have the helm and hauler on the starboard side, so the typically right-handed lobsterman can more easily hook the float.
    We must go too far in order to know how far to go. Yeah.

  7. #7
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    Before steering wheels of any kind there was the whipstaff system of keeping a vessel on course.
    Whipstaff was on Starboard. I imagine the later folks just went with flow but...big boats/vessels/ships had steering station on center line for many years. Nowadays I don't know where the hell the wheel is or even if a wheel is used anymore! Last fishing vessels I was associated with had 'joggle stick' controls one set in the pilot house, more or less to starboard and, another set out on the starboard wing of the 'portugese bridge'.

    [ 09-07-2003, 10:42 PM: Message edited by: Dave Fleming ]
    "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"
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  8. #8
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    The vikings had a steering oar fixed to the right side of the boat, since then called "steerboard" (starboard) and so they had their back turned to the left side of the boat which is the reason to call that side "backboard" (larboard).

    Perhaps that is the reason most boats have their steering-wheel on "steer-board".

    [ 09-08-2003, 07:03 AM: Message edited by: martin schulz ]

  9. #9
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    Racing boats usually have the wheel on the left, like cars.
    Many of the more enlightened countries in the world actually have the wheel on the right side for cars as well. Countries like New Guinea, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland... etc.

    Having the wheel on the right also makes for much better emphasis when giving someone the finger - again, the dominant right arm can be used to good effect.

    Ian

  10. #10
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    Originally posted by igatenby:
    - again, the dominant right arm can be used to good effect.

    Ian
    Thats true. I have been working out my left upper arm, especially triceps and biceps to have casually hang out of the car when cruising by a couple of nice chicks, but my right arm is still better defined - how I wish I could hang my right arm out of the car

  11. #11
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    Where else would you have a wheel....in a car or boat ????? [img]smile.gif[/img]
    Try to work out what the marketing guy wants you to do then do precisely the opposite.

  12. #12
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    If you have a chance to get on a fairly small boat with a big slow turning prop with tons of torque, you will find that the boat wants to heel to port. It's real and makes steering difficult if you ignore the prop torque. Early powerboats were mostly like this so the tradition got started. Modern high-RPM, small diameter and fast turning props don't show much of this tendency and the wheel can go to either side.

    There may be some validity to the other reasons brought up, but this is how it got started. I put my wheel on the starboard side but don't think there is much torque from my prop.

    Pilots and single engine aircraft designers must always be aware of this torque. This what killed most pilots of the GeeBee racers that were mostly engine and prop and very little wing area.
    Tom L

  13. #13
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    Originally posted by Tom Lathrop:
    If you have a chance to get on a fairly small boat with a big slow turning prop with tons of torque, you will find that the boat wants to heel to port.
    Only if the shaft/prop is turning clockwise. Then the stern will move to starboard turning the whole boat to port. If the shaft/prop runs counter clockwise the situation is the other way around.

    So that can not be the reason for installing the steering on the starboardside.

  14. #14
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    Originally posted by martin schulz:
    The vikings had a steering oar fixed to the right side of the boat, since then called "steerboard" (starboard)
    This is the answer. And since they didn't want to have the steerboard hit the wharf, they would port on the other side. So the right side of the boat was where the steerboard was located, and the left side was the side you put to port when docking, hence, starboard and port.

  15. #15
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    I think that the wheel is on starboard for the reason that it allows the helmsman to work the engine controls with the right hand. A quick look at a ships bridge will show that the engine telegraph is normally to the right of the helmsman except in large-crew ships where the engine controls were handled by another watchstander or officer. On a boat, it is impractical to have the engine controls unsupported in middle of the cockpit or have another work them, so they were mounted on the side to the right so the right hand could work them. The wheel just followed. I also think that the choice of port/starboard may have something to do with the steering wheels of cars,i.e. giving the person something familiar, which of course is related to which side of the road you drive on.

    This is from David Feldman's book "When Do Fish Sleep", from his "Imponderables" series of books...
    So how did this left-right division start? All historical evidence indicates that in ancient times, when roads were usually narrow and unpaved, a traveler would move to the left when encountering another person on foot or horse coming toward them. This allowed both parties to draw their sword with their right hand, if necessary. If the approaching person were friendly, one could give the other a high five instead. Military policy, as far back as the ancient Greeks, dictated staying to the left if traveling without a shield, so that a combatant could use his left hand to hold the reins and need not brandish the sword or lance crosswise, risking the neck of the horse.

    Richard H. Hopper, a retired geologist for Caltex, has written a wonderful article, "Why Driving Rules Differ," the contents of which he was kind enough to share with Imponderables readers. Hopper believes that the custom of mounting horses on the left-hand side also contributed to traffic bearing left. In many countries, pedestals were placed alongside the curbs of the road to help riders mount and dismount from their horses. These approximately three-feet-high pedestals were found only on the left side of the road. Long before the pedestals were erected, horsemen mounted and dismounted on the left, probably because their scabbards, slung on the left, interfered with mounting the horse; the unencumbered right leg could be more easily lifted over the horse.

    Until 1300 A.D., no nation had mandated traffic flow. But Pope Boniface VIII, who declared "all roads lead to Rome," insisted that all pilgrims to Rome must stick on the left side of the road. According to Hopper, "This edict had something of the force of law in much of western Europe for over 500 years." The movers and shakers of the French Revolution weren't excited about having a pope dictate their traffic regulations. Robespierre and other Jacobins encouraged France to switch to right-hand driving. Napoleon institutionalized the switch, not only in France but in all countries conquered by France.

    Why did the United States, with an English heritage, adopt the French style? The answer, according to Hopper and many others, is that the design of late-eighteenth-century freight wagons encouraged right-hand driving. Most American freight wagons were drawn by six or eight horses hitched in pairs; the most famous of these were the Conestoga wagons that hauled wheat from the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania to nearby cities. These wagons had no driver's seat. The driver sat on the left-rear horse, holding a whip in his right hand. When passing another vehicle on a narrow ride, the driver naturally went to the right, to make sure that he could see that the left axle hub and wheel of his wagon were not going to touch those of the approaching vehicle.

    In 1792, Pennsylvania passed the first law in the United States requiring driving on the right-hand side, although this ordinance referred only to the turnpike between Lancaster and Philadelphia. Within twenty years, many more states passed similar measures. Logically, early American car makers put steering wheels on the left, so that drivers on two-lane roads could evade wavering oncoming traffic. Although Canada originally began driving on the left-hand side, the manufacture of automobiles by their neighbors to the south inevitably led to their switch to the right. Although Ontario adopted right-hand driving in 1812, many other provinces didn't relent until the 1920s.

    Great Britain, of course, stayed with the ancient tradition of left-side driving and not just out of spite. Their freight wagons were smaller than Conestoga wagons and contained a driver's seat. Hopper explains why the driver sat on the right-hand side of the wagon:

    "The driver sat on the right side of the seat so that he could wield his long whip in his right hand without interference from the load behind him. In passing oncoming wagons, the drivers tended to keep to the left of the road, again to be able to pass approaching vehicles as closely as necessary without hitting.

    In passenger carriages, the driver also sat on the right, and the footman, if there was one, sat to the driver's left so that he could quickly jump down and help the passengers disembark at the curb."

    Needless to say, a coachman wouldn't have felt quite as secure sitting to the right of the driver. Every time a right-handed driver got ready to crack the whip, the coachman would have had to duck and cover.

    The British built their cars with the steering wheel on the right because their wagons and carriages at the time still stuck to the left side of the road. Their foot controls, however, have always been the same as American cars.

  16. #16
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    Originally posted by martin schulz:
    </font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Tom Lathrop:
    If you have a chance to get on a fairly small boat with a big slow turning prop with tons of torque, you will find that the boat wants to heel to port.
    Only if the shaft/prop is turning clockwise. Then the stern will move to starboard turning the whole boat to port. If the shaft/prop runs counter clockwise the situation is the other way around.

    So that can not be the reason for installing the steering on the starboardside.
    </font>[/QUOTE]Oh yes it can Martin, Most all of the boats that I have come in contact with have the prop turning clockwise from astern. Moving forward at speed, there is practically no steering turning moment. Talking about heeling moment here, not turning moment. The torque I referred to is about the longitudinal CB of the boat and is real enough when you experience it.
    Tom L

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