IMO opinion there are 3 key issues to be considered when assessing the helm position on a cat:
This includes not only the ability to see as close to 360 degrees around the boat as possible for the purpose safe navigation/observations of sea state, but also a view of the sails
in order to assess sail trim. An elevated helm can be helpful with respect to both of these with one proviso: even with a high-cut clew/foot on the genoa
, the view to leeward is often obstructed by the headsail.
Twin aft helms provide the best possible view of the trim of both the headsail and the main and, by moving from one side to the other, permit
a relatively unobstructed view both to leeward and windward, particularly on boats with a high-cut genoa
. They are also the best for docking
, where one can helm from the side approaching the dock
and then, exspecially when sailing short-handed, have easier and quicker access to the dock
once along side.
Bulkead mounted helms with a window above the helm seat provide as good a view of sail trim as a raised helm and, if the genoa has a high-cut foot and clew, virtually 360 degree visibility without moving from the seat. They also provide easier/quicker access to the dock than a raised helm, once alongside.
In summary, the best helm position for performance sailing/docking is no doubt twin aft helms. The best/easiest for navigation
is the bulkhead-mounted helm with a high-cut headsail. The worst for navigation/docking is generally the raised helm.
Protection from the elements:
The worst here is typically twin aft helms, where the helmsperson is situated far aft where they can be subject to rain, winds and sun without protection. What is more, they also place the helmsperson at direct risk in the unlikely event of breaking seas from the aft quarter. Fans of these helms point out, however, that when offshore
, one is typically sailing under autopilot
. If you are nearshore and want to get racey, however, they have the aforementioned advantage in terms of observing sail trim. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of protection from the elements, these helms clearly suffer when the going gets rough.
Raised helms typically provide a folding enclosure with canvass and plastic windows, although depending on the design, access to the helm can be difficult and unprotected in heavy/wet conditions.
Bulkhead mounted helms have the easiest/safest/best protected access from the companionway
: this can be particularly important if one needs to communicate with crew who are below, or make occasional runs to the nav station in order to use a single
, or check the weather fax, etc. Bulkhead mounted helms also suffer less from movement than raised helms - this can also be important in heavy seas.
Finally, some bulkhead mounted helms have the ultimate in weather protection if they are equipped with a solid dodger
with a solid windshield - some with windshield wipers. Consider the Antares
44, the Solaris Sunstream 40, and various early Catalacs and Prouts, to name a few.
Communication with crew/acess to crew quarters:
Here the raised helm is at a distinct disadvantage. While this is not especially important in good conditions, as already mentioned it can be critical if the helmsperson is required to go below to arouse offwatch/sleeping crew in a criticial situation.
In the end, a purchaser needs to consider their own priorites. For a shorter helmsperson, give some consideration to an adjustable, single pedestal
helm seat with an adjustable foot rest. These were the norm a few years ago and, while the current
dual fixed bench seats are rather convivial in nice conditions, they do not allow for height adjustment. What is more, they can allow excess movement/sliding if the boat is rocking from side to side in heavy conditions. IMO the helmseat should brace the helmsperson, rather than requiring the helmsperson to brace him/herself when the going gets rough.