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Old 24-08-2015, 11:35   #1
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Moving Helm Position Off Center

Hey folks. Just musing here, and wondering about the general consensus on the topic of off-center helm positions on cruising sailboats.

The reason for musing is because on our center cockpit cutter, the 'traditional' steering pedestal/binnacle/engine controls and wheel take up a lot of the center space in the cockpit. what should be a large enough space becomes quite small, and getting around the wheel is a pain in the ass.

I was aboard a nice 42' cutter the other day, and their helm was well off to port, mounted on the aft face of the cabin. The cockpit was roughly the same size as ours (on a 5' shorter boat); but felt huge compared to ours. Space for a table and leg room and all! Their steering is hydraulic though, compared to cable for us.

I know there are many production boats with dual wheels - I'm not going that way or wondering about that. I'm wondering about the pro's and con's; and general observations from experience, of being off center for all of your steering under sail and power.

Clearly you end up with a favored side for docking, but most boats have that anyway due to prop walk. And also clearly you'd be on the low side on some tacks, high on the opposite... but is that a big deal? Racing yes... I always want to look down the leeches of the sails, but cruising when you're 90% of the time on AP anyway?

seems to me the advantages in terms of cockpit space, proximity to cabin-top winches, ability to duck under a dodger, ease of wheel mounting (there's a wall there already!), safety (no need walk aft in the cockpit, or to climb up on the cockpit seats to get around a wheel) and reduced exposure, ability to see instruments more clearly, etc. might add up to be compelling arguments for ditching the trad centerline, aft-third-of-cockpit location for most steering.

thoughts from the experienced folk out there?


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Old 24-08-2015, 11:43   #2
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

IMO, moving the wheel off center is a great idea for the yachts where you are either motoring or on autopilot.

It's already done in many catamarans and many motor-sailers with a wheelhouse.


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Old 24-08-2015, 16:08   #3
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

Also the French built Amel has an offset wheel up on the forward bulkhead of the cockpit.
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Old 25-08-2015, 06:43   #4
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

Purchasing a folding steering wheel might be a cheaper way to improve cockpit space when at anchor or docked.
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Old 25-08-2015, 07:47   #5
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

It'll work even worth cable steering. Just different lengths for the cables. The helm station should be where ever you want it or needed it.
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Old 25-08-2015, 07:50   #6
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

Would a smaller wheel work?

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Old 25-08-2015, 10:53   #7
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

The OP doesn't tell us the size of his boat, but by implication of the 41 footer comment I assume it is smaller than that.

In my opinion wheel steering is a silly affectation in boats under 40-ish feet for the very reason that it totally ruins the back porch for any purpose other than helming. I could live - I do live - without the "feel" that a tiller gives you. But I'll prolly convert in a season or two.

In a centre cockpit boat you may not have much of a choice, but you could, I suspect, rig a tiller if the boat has cable steering. Heck, you could even rig a whipstaff :-)! I might add here that I loathe hydraulic set-ups. As MySaintedMother taught me: "If you can't fix it with your sheath knife and a bit of cod line, don't go to sea in it!"

As for the location of the wheel on the centerline, that's strictly a convention that arose from considerations of ease of installation, viz that the tiller attached directly to the rudder post. Modern big boats have two wheels so you can use the one to weather depending on your tack. In any boat I've ever sailed, tiller AND wheel, you automatically position yourself to weather of the wheel/tiller so you can see what you are doing.

As always, there is a compromise involved here. I might like the extra space in the backyard so much that I would put up with having to helm from the down side of the ship on occasion. If you are under power (as we are a lot of the time in my waters) it really doesn't make any difference where the wheel (or the tiller) is located.

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Old 25-08-2015, 23:17   #8
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

All our previous cruising boats had center steering positions and we wondered about this issue before purchasing our Amel 53. Three years later and we have found no downside to it at all, just makes perfect sense in terms of functionality. Also allows you to build a really decent helmsman seat which is a real plus for ocean crossings.
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Old 26-08-2015, 00:49   #9
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

What a relief that someone else also came up with this idea!
Our Bavaria 44 has two steering wheels and they are huge! Steering is heavy too, but that is not the main issue here. Getting in and out of the water (or from the quay) is cumbersome and moving around the cockpit table is awkward.
So I took the port steering wheel off and this is a great and simple improvement. At starboard, I have all the controls so when mooring or docking I must be there anyway. While cruising I am on AP as mentioned before. Still need to take a glance every few minutes of course.
Until now I have no regrets, although the bare pedestal looks silly. Next step is to take the chain away to lessen the steering effort. Or could this lead to uneven forces deep down? Please comment on this issue! Of course, I keep the wheel for a next owner...
Still I can't understand why this is not done more often.
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Old 26-08-2015, 02:44   #10
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Re: Moving Helm Position Off Center

And put it under the hard dodger like mine, (my wife loves it too).
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