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Old 16-10-2005, 19:38   #1
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wheel vs. tiller steering

What are the pros and cons of tiller vs. wheel steering on boats up to 30' ? On boats from 31 - 38' ?

Thanks....,Scott

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Old 17-10-2005, 00:13   #2
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It's generally held that on smaller yachts there is little room for a decent sized wheel - and they can look very silly - and usually take away from the overall look of the vessel.

A wheel and pedestal will also take up cockpit space - which is why they are usually best suited on a larger vessel.

Hower, a tiller will always give a helmsman better 'feedback' from the rudder than a wheel ever could, and is usually more responsive.

Finally, a tiller can get tiring if you've any excess weather helm or the yacht is not balanced.

Hope this helps

JOHN
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Old 17-10-2005, 12:14   #3
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This is a topic that used to be a frequent topic of discussion on this BB. There are a lot of opinions on this topic but there is no one universally right answer here. My take on this is that tillers have more feel and less friction than a wheel. They are more direct and so allow a quicker response and a more linear response. Because of that it is easier to get safer and higher performance out of a tiller on a smaller boat (say under 40 feet or so).

Tillers generally have less mechanical advantage than a wheel and so on a boat with large helm loads; a tiller will require more strength to steer. On a modern fin keel/ spade rudder boat, the steering loads tend to be lighter and so the mechanical advantage of a wheel is not as necessary. In the case of a boat with high helm loads, a tiller is more tiring. In the case of a boat that is well balanced, a wheel (because you not only have to move the rudder but also overcome friction) is more tiring. On small boats wheels become far more tiring because of the greater friction and the need to hold your arm out.

I personally like a tiller, especially on a boat under 40 feet. I find that by using a tiller extension it is easier to move around and see the trim of the sails, find a comfortable position to sit or adjust course. I find it tiring to have to hold my arm out to reach the wheel rather than to just sit with the tiller extension sitting on my knee. I do a lot of single-handing and strongly prefer the ability to have a tiller extension within my reach almost anywhere in my cockpit.

I find that it easier to use shock cord to pretension the tiller to hold a course than it is lock off a wheel which can only hold a fixed position rather than flex as the loads increase allowing the boat to “find its own balance”.

Tillers work well on modern boats up to about 40 feet. Wheels work better on larger boats and heavier boats because the loads are greater. Autopilots used to better for wheel steered boats but now can be purchased in equal quality for both wheel and tiller steering. Wheels involve a mechanical system, which in my mind is just one more thing to maintain and to break. I hate crawling under the cockpit by way of a cramped sail locker, hanging upside down to rerun a steering cable that has jumped the quadrant. That seems to happen less with more modern wheel steering systems but it still happens.

Tillers seem to be more preferable for coastal cruising while offshore cruisers seem to prefer wheels. Mass production boats seem to show up with wheels these days. Specialized quality boats seem to show up with tillers.

Tillers swing through a bigger area of the cockpit while sailing but wheels permanently occupy a bigger area of the cockpit and are a pain in the butt to get around. Tillers can be tilted out of the way when you get to port; the binnacle for a wheel can support tables and the like. Binnacles give you something to hold onto in a seaway.

Some people feel that wheels are more nautical or shippy. Others think that wheels on small boats are an affectation like the guy on a daysailor who wears a captain’s hat.

In the end, it comes down to what you feel most comfortable with. Each has their proponents and advantages.

Jeff
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Old 17-10-2005, 16:25   #4
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Nice Review of Wheels vs. Tillers

Nice review of wheels vs. tillers.

One related question: my main experience with diesels has been on boats with wheels and the throttle and shift lever on the binnacle. For maneuvering in a tight marina, it was nice to have everything together.

On 30 - 40 foot boats with tillers, I've noticed that some tillers are quite long in the cockpit, and sometimes the throttle and shift controls are far forward in the cockpit, even under the dodger, etc. To my wife and I, it seemed that manipulating the controls while managing the tiller would be more of a challenge, or does it just seem that way until one is experienced?

Thanks!

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Old 17-10-2005, 16:59   #5
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when we went looking this time, i considered tiller and wheel. to be honest, the tiller was more for what i thought was best for my son, who is still learning and has not driven a 30 foot, 12 ton boat. no question that you become a better sailor if you spend time on a tiller.
i have spent more time on tiller than wheel, but i never felt comfortable in the way i had to grip any tiller extension, so if we were going upwind with intent, and sitting outboard, it felt awkward to me. downwind with a tiller, helmsman has to be forward. definitely better performance and a must for anyone racing up to 30, maybe 35 feet because of the quick response to feather through or max a small wind gust or shift.
on a cruiser, i do think a binnacle with controls up within reach is a real plus. i think a wheel is easier and, if you have the touch, you can get good feedback on the rudder. while the helmsman is trapped behind the wheel, positioning running lines and winches aft makes it easy to do all but reef from behind the wheel, and lets others move around as they will without being in the way. i am comfortable sitting out and reaching to the side of the wheel to drive. i can tack without moving out from behind the wheel. when i need to adjust other lines - "auto" is also right on the binnacle as well.

so for my 10 cents -
racing = tiller, cruising = drink holder.

capt. lar
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Old 17-10-2005, 18:30   #6
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Never heard of sheet to wheel steering. Wheels are OK, but I'm just saying...
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Old 17-10-2005, 21:16   #7
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Exclamation Food for thought

Can the second mate handle a tiller?

If not, is there an auto pilot?

And, If not again, the wheel's the best choice on anything over .........well, 34 IMHO

There has been other discussions on the subject. Click on the search box above and type in the words "wheel and tiller"
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Old 17-10-2005, 21:45   #8
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Delmarrey,
Good point. Although, my wife has pulled 2 watches in moderate winds on a 55' Q boat with a tiller, and we got into some snot qith our 40 footer that I had to take the wheel. Really depends on the boat. A 5 year old could handle the tiller on my 28 foot cutter in 25kts.
I do agree with your overall size rule. I would go you one better and say that a wheel on anything under 30' is just dumb.
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Old 17-10-2005, 23:31   #9
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tiller all the way.

To paraphrase the Motown hit by Edwin Starr, Wheels, uh, what are they good for, uh, .....absolutely nothing!!!

I hate wheels. Grab ahold of one on a dark, cold and stormy night and watch it eat your fingers. I find them way more tiring to steer than a tiller. Even on a boat with a heavy weather helm, they are way tiring than standing trying to hang on to that frigid piece of steel. Feel, there ain't no feel in a wheel.

Really think that there are a lot of people getting into sailing later in life or from a power boat background and think anything that moves should be steered by a wheel. They haven't come up through the ranks of small boats and felt the control and sensitivity of a tiller. Also think there is a lot of pure snobberyl to a wheel, after all, have you seen a Hinckley with a tiller. Listen to the way people brag about them in there for sale ads makes you wonder whether they are selling a boat or an Edson. Same type of people who will pay three times what a shirt is worth simply because it has some idiot riding a horse with a mallet embroidered on it and then the shirt doesn't even come with a proper pocket.

I've made a single handed passage from SF to LA in 3 1/2 days with a tiller steered boat that could only politely be called heavy on the helm. Never had a problem with being tiresome though 72 hours without sleep left me a bit wierd. Have sailed other boats with wheels on short overnight sails and been totally
exhausted by the lack of feel and fighting the backlash of the wheel as it beat my fingers into pulp as the boat pitched into the swell. The wheel made what should have been a short enjoyable overnight sail into a torture session.

As the mechanical advantage of the wheel increases, the feel decreases. Hard to have one with the other. If you don't have much mechanical advantage your my suffer from the wheel beating you to death. Lot's of mechanical advantage and it's like sailing with a guaranteed unbreakable, 6 mil. prophylactic. Ever wonder why the wheels always have that fancy bit of rope work on one spoke, it's 'cause they can't tell whether the wheel is pointing, north-south or at the moon without it.

Wheels add unecessary additional mechanical problems to the simplicity of a tiller. How many boats have been lost because their wheel steering went tits up when it really counted. Just talked with a friend who is talking of selling his super whizbang toy filled cruiser and giving up sailing because of all the bad feelings and animosity generated by a failing hydraulic steering system on a passage from Australia to Fiji.

Most wheels are stuck way the hell and gone back in the max spray area of the boat. Just love to get nailed by icey water when I'm forced to drive. Probably has something to do with keeping the rest of the cockpit available for deck apes. Maybe that's why the rich and famous hire Kiwi's to drive their boats, they are crazy enough to stand back there and take it. So much nicer to be tucked up under the dodger as you beat into a late season NorEaster when steering with the tiller.

I'm a fan of wind powered self steering. Simple, mechanical, no electrons and no pollution. The direct connection of the tiller to the rudder, with its inherent lack of friction, makes those simple airborne systems work like a charm. Not necessarily the case when even a super powerful pendulum servo vane has to do battle with the friction inherent in a wheel. People claim that wheels take so much less energy to steer. How much of that energy is eaten up by useless resistance. Autopilots are probably becoming so popular is they deal with the inherent friction of the cables, sheaves and sprockets of typical wheel system with brute force. Of course if you go with an A/P, you have to add all the expense of feeding it's voracious electrical needs. Additions that can easily cost many times more than the A/P.

As far as single handing, a tiller makes it so easy. You can steer by straddling the tiller and use your legs to steer. That leaves both hands free to work the sails, the engine controls, make up dock lines or even grab a beer.

About the only good thing about a wheel is in port. Actually it's not the wheel but the pedestal. You take the wheel and throw it overboard but use the pedestal to mount a table. Is handy to have that table for drinks and pupu's in the cockpit. Of course you can still have a table with a tiller, it just isn't as easy to set up.

Ah!! and then there's the inside steering station. Hope I don't ever get so decrepit that I have to turn into that kind of pseudo sailor. When I feel an overwhelming need for an inside steering station, the trawler people will have an answer.

If you feel you have to have a wheel, have at it. For me, I'd rather use the boat unit or two of expenditure for something useful like an extra sail, self-tailing winches, radar or an extra year of cruising.

Aloha
Peter O.
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Old 18-10-2005, 03:46   #10
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don't hold back

ROVERHI, don't hold back, tell us what you really think of wheel steering.

This leads to my next question: Say I find a great boat for my needs and it has a wheel but I'd prefer a tiller, How much trouble and expense would it be to convert it to tiller steering?

Scott

P.S. if one were looking for boats already with tiller steering , he would be severly limited in his search since the vast majority use wheels.
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Old 18-10-2005, 04:15   #11
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It very much depends on the boat. Some boats are set up with an emergency tiller connection that lends itself to easy adaptation to a tiller. Other boats and especially mid-cockpit boats, are set up in a way where conversion is impossible.

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Old 18-10-2005, 05:46   #12
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well, with a 31 footer with a wheel, i guess i'm off to the boat owner's hall of shame. jeff - where can i get one of those captain's caps - i think i'll get the greek one -
capt (retired) lar
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Old 18-10-2005, 11:29   #13
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Wow, that was interesting Peter. I do agree with you on some points, but I do want to comment on a few other points, just so as owners with these systems don't panic.
Firstly hydraulic stearing and it's reliability.-- Designed correctly for the size of vessel, and (like any thing on board), well maintained, hydraulic steering is one of the safest, reliable and easily maintained steering systems there is available. It is the eaisest system to "modifiy" with auto pilot and additional helms and what ever. Negative-- yes you lose the "feel" you have with a tiller, but any system that gives you a mechanical advantage over a tiller, loses feel(as you acurately stated).
For a large cruising boat, Tiller is close to impossible to control. And for a Pilot house, well also for a cruising boat, it's nice to have a place of refuge in real nasty weather. I like the Term Bob Bitchin uses, --"The Storm room". It's a good term.
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Old 18-10-2005, 12:07   #14
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While I agree with Alan that a properly maintained hydraulic system should be as reliable as most systems, they are quite expensive to maintain properly, and in most cases where failure mode is a cylinder seal failure, they are almost imposible to repair offshore. I would not say that it is the easiest wheel steering system to add an autopilot to by a longshot. The short tillers used for a rack and pinion type system allow an extremely easy autopilot ram installation.

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Old 18-10-2005, 12:52   #15
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The rack and pinion steering systems are mechanically the most efficient for steering. The only drawback is that, like all mechanical systems OTHER THAN HYDRAULIC the autopilot must drive the whole gear system thereby detracting from optimum efficiency.

Most of us are myopic when considering the "real world of technology". Hydraulic systems are not only ubiquitous they are VERY reliable and easy to maintain. Virtually all sailboat complaints addressing hydraulics are based upon poor quality of design, installation, choice of brands.

Consider the everyday exposure that most of us have. When have you ever known anyone to put up with a leaky hydraulic brake or steering system on a car? NEVER! What expense have you had to maintain them? Zero in most cases! Yeah, of course after about 200 thousand miles you have to rebuild the master cylinder or wheel cylinders. Not bad service, I would say.

For years the Austrailians have had hydraulic steering systems (I saw my first one in 1978) that were "perfect" in that sailboats could opt for the pumps without checkvalves so that you could push on the rudder and the steering wheel would rotate with the push. One REAL advantage here is that there is essentially ZERO backlash in the system. Such a zero backlash system is GREAT when a hydraulic pumpset for the autopilot is installed. Very small incremental corrections are made to the rudder with very low battery drain.

A rebuild kit for a Hynautic ram costs about $25-$35 weighs less than an ounce and packs in a space 2 inches in diameter by 1/2 inch or so. It is relatively easy to install at anchor, obviously you need to be prepared with the correct tools which are not great. If those ram seals need to be replaced you have plenty of advance warning and so can pick your place of opportunity.

The reality is that only a small part of the real world is using cable steering, the vast majority is hydraulic. All commercial reliable construction and marine commercial equipment is hydraulic, why do you think that is?
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