Tiller v Wheel steering. Why

I’m curious to know what the reasons are for wheel steering on cruising boats, particularly cruising boats under 50ft?



To me they seem to add unnecessary weight, complexity, reduced space, reduced seating options and clog up usable cockpit area.



I’ll admit, my 42fter is tiller steered, and I love it. Under Autopilot or at anchor I can fold the tiller up and use the additional real-estate, and when sailing, with the tiller extension, I can steer from almost anywhere and I have great feel. However, to my surprise, nearly everyone who comes aboard comments on the lack of a wheel and asks why I don’t change from tiller to wheel and my answer is ‘why would I?’



Hence my question. I’d love to know the opinions of the masses

 

Streetwise

Super Anarchist
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Lake Champlain
I enjoy tiller steering with my sportboat, but there is something about being able to sit in the far corner of a boat and just have your fingertips on the wheel in a nice displacement keel boat.

I also think in a cruising environment, a mid cockpit tiller skipper blocks off more space than a back-of-cockpit wheel skipper takes.

 
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Road Runner

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Earth
From the design side of things working for several builders and involved with design the reason is simple. People ask for it. One of the reasons that some ask for it is that you can let go of a wheel much easier then you can let go of a tiller. For example. You are cruising with the family, you just left the dock by yourself. You are powering down the channel and you want to retreave your fenders and docklines by yourself. A little wheel lock on and just go do it. A tiller your boat would instantly turn if you let go of it in this situation. Granted autopilots correct this but they are added after the fact. So I would say that safety is probably the leading reason why they are asked for. Builders just try and comply with what the customers want. Racing designers try and keep it light and cruising designers don't really care about the weight.

 

ronin

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Salish Sea
you can let go of a wheel much easier then you can let go of a tiller. For example. You are cruising with the family, you just left the dock by yourself. You are powering down the channel and you want to retreave your fenders and docklines by yourself. A little wheel lock on and just go do it. A tiller your boat would instantly turn if you let go of it in this situation. Granted autopilots correct this but they are added after the fact. So I would say that safety is probably the leading reason why they are asked for.
sorry, but I quite disagree. a device as simple as the Tiller Tamer (Davis Instruments if I remember correctly) does the exact same job for a tiller. it can be locked down completely to keep the tiller exactly where you want it. I installed it on my tiller boat and after getting comfortable with it I have used it extensively for situations that may require reaching beyond the reach of the tiller or leaving the cockpit entirely. they're pretty cheap too. I think I bought mine for less than 25 bucks. it works great

after having been a "wheel snob" for a while (why in heaven's name would someone want a crude and antiquated stick in their cockpit ?) I've made a pleasant return to an affinity for the tiller. it gives me a feel for the rudder better than any wheel ever could. after all, it's a direct connection. I can feel vibrations that can give tons of information on what the boat is doing, from how well the boat is trimmed, to something as simple as knowing there's kelp wrapped around the post. sure, these are all personal preferences, but that only shows that one isn't necessarily better than the other

however, one thing you'll never get with a wheel? that lovely baseball bat-to-the-gut swing when reversing inattentively and having the unattended tiller come back to smite you :mellow:

 
however, one thing you'll never get with a wheel? that lovely baseball bat-to-the-gut swing when reversing inattentively and having the unattended tiller come back to smite you :mellow:
A-huh, now there^^ is a good reason for a wheel. I once had to back my boat up through 4 knots of current in a narrow inlet with my 20m mast lying on the deck, and yes, it certainly focused the body and mind!! :wacko: Shes beautifully balanced going forward, but a monster at speed in reverse. After that incident there was a big note-to-self - do not back up at any speed over 2 knots, just dont

 
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roverhi

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Kona, HI
 

I just got rid of the wheel on my current boat. It was the first wheel I'd had and thought I could learn to live with it, NO WAY. Found it way more tiring to steer for long distances than a tiller. With a wheel, it's all hands and forearms to steer and tiring if the wheel is the least bit heavy. With a tiller, you can use a much wider range of muscle groups to steer so is not as tiring. Forgot your gloves on a cool day and the stainless wheel sucks the warmth out of your fingers. If it's the least bit wet out, the wheel will not only freeze your hands but the spokes will whack your fingers good when they slip on the wet wheel.

 

The brake didn't work well when I needed it despite replacing the lining material. Boat has a pretty fierce wx helm and the brake wouldn't hold the wheel in position it when the speed got much above 5 knots. Also took too much time to crank down or let off the brake. The distance between the wheel and mainsheet made me nervous around the bridges in SF Bay. Lived in fear that I'd lose control of the boat when I tried to dump the main in a gust. Can steer a boat with a tiller between your legs, leaves both hands free to grind the jib in or sheet the main. Pendulum Servo vanes may be inhibited at slower speeds by the inertia/drag trying to turn the wheel. With a tiller, P/S systems will steer the boat if it will sail. On my curent boat (Pearson 35) the Monitor vane would not steer the boat below 4 knots of boat speed. Had to ditch the Monitor and go with an auxiliary rudder system to get light air performance. Should have dumped the wheel and stayed with the Monitor. The wheel adds unneeded complexity and prone to failure parts to what could be a dead simple steering system. Ever seen a tiller steered boat with provision for an emergency Wheel??

 

andyxs

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I think it is because you can sit/stand behind the wheel looking forward, it is easier on the neck, A few of the more prolific offshore sailors in my club at home have quite bad necks from twisting their body looking forward all the time whilst the boat is pitching around, Inshore tiller, offshore wheel, I prefer tiller but then I am young.

 

Zonker

Super Anarchist
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Mechanical advantage. A tiller is a simple lever and is cockpit space constraints make it hard to have a 8' long tiller, which is required on a big heavy displacement boats. A wheel has more mechanical advantage by virtue of the ratio of the sprocket diameter to wheel rim diameter.

For example - say the center of effort of the rudder is 1' aft of the rudder and your tiller is 6' long (pretty long for a tiller). Mechanical advantage = 6:1

If your wheel is 46" in diameter and the sprocket is 2" diameter, the advantage is 46 / 2 = 23:1. You lose a bit back on the quadrant but it's radius is close to the distance from center of effort of rudder to the rudder stock. i.e. a 8" radius quadrant and 1' to center of effort the mechancial uhh disadvantage is 8" / 12" = 0.75:1 Net might be 0.75 x 23 = 17:1

 

alphafb552

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Fryslan boppe!
Mechanical advantage. A tiller is a simple lever and is cockpit space constraints make it hard to have a 8' long tiller, which is required on a big heavy displacement boats. A wheel has more mechanical advantage by virtue of the ratio of the sprocket diameter to wheel rim diameter.

For example - say the center of effort of the rudder is 1' aft of the rudder and your tiller is 6' long (pretty long for a tiller). Mechanical advantage = 6:1

If your wheel is 46" in diameter and the sprocket is 2" diameter, the advantage is 46 / 2 = 23:1. You lose a bit back on the quadrant but it's radius is close to the distance from center of effort of rudder to the rudder stock. i.e. a 8" radius quadrant and 1' to center of effort the mechancial uhh disadvantage is 8" / 12" = 0.75:1 Net might be 0.75 x 23 = 17:1
But then of course this works both ways, in that what you gain in mechanical advantage, you lose in sensitivity! And in any case, on a properly designed and well trimmed boat, the rudder loads shouldn't be so excessive as to need such a leverage...

For the rest, I find that a wheel sort of locks you in place way at the back of the cockpit, unable to do anything else but steer...

 
Mechanical advantage. A tiller is a simple lever and is cockpit space constraints make it hard to have a 8' long tiller, which is required on a big heavy displacement boats. A wheel has more mechanical advantage by virtue of the ratio of the sprocket diameter to wheel rim diameter.

For example - say the center of effort of the rudder is 1' aft of the rudder and your tiller is 6' long (pretty long for a tiller). Mechanical advantage = 6:1

If your wheel is 46" in diameter and the sprocket is 2" diameter, the advantage is 46 / 2 = 23:1. You lose a bit back on the quadrant but it's radius is close to the distance from center of effort of rudder to the rudder stock. i.e. a 8" radius quadrant and 1' to center of effort the mechancial uhh disadvantage is 8" / 12" = 0.75:1 Net might be 0.75 x 23 = 17:1
I cant disagree with the maths, but a balanced rudder coupled with correct trim should leave the helm as light as a feather.

My 4ft long tiller is finger-tip light in 25knots of blow and if i start getting windward helm, its a sure sign some ease is needed and vice versa.

 

kent_island_sailor

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A tiller long enough to steer my boat in any kind of weather would take up the whole cockpit. I love where my wheel is all the way aft - I can sit on the high or low side depending on what I want to see.Before I had an autopilot I would rig the tiller to steer in the rain from the forward end of the cockpit under the dodger if I was motoring. It would be hard to sail the boat that way with people in the cockpit because the tiller would be whacking everyone behind me. The traveler is right ahead of me and the jib sheet winches are in easy reach too. Besides, the wheel gives me a place for artistic expression :)

As for sensitivity, between Edson and C&C they did a great job. I can pretty much feel every little burble on the rudder. One day I'll have to rig the tiller with the steering cables off and compare.

wheel1.jpg

 
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SemiSalt

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WLIS
There are some cruising boats I've seen with tillers that are too short. They are mostly European boats such as the Dufours in the 27/28 range. The cockpits are too short for a long tiller. They should have had a wheel, but it was probably too expensive.

In cruising boats like the Pearson 30, the tiller sweeps the cockpit. Not a popular feature.

 

Jackdaw

Super Anarchist
Wheel vs. Tiller?

After we all agree we could move on to front wheel drive vs rear wheel drive!

Blue J is tiller and Kestel is wheel. They BOTH have absolute advantages that cannot be discounted. Its a question of personal priorities and use patterns.

For me the tiller its the ease of single handling (sitting and proximity to other stuff), and feel. Nothing like being plopped on the windward rail, tiller extender in hand. You can feel the water on the rudder.

For the wheel, first the advantage of the brake and autopilot. Nothing to attach. I've used all manner of tiller tamers, and they all are a PITA. A big advantage come in racing/aggressive sailing. First the driver had HIS office, a place he stays out of the speed teams way. And the other is being able to steer from anywhere. Normally I'm highside with the gang, but at marks I'm often low. Or I'll stand on the transom in the middle to get a good look around.

Now I have a buddy with an Express 37 with a tiller and he loves it. Hell, I love it. And I know he secretly loves our wheel too.

 

SailAR

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I keep trying to talk my buddy into converting his Contessa 35 from wheel to tiller. In that boat, I think it would open up a ton of usable space. Same goes for the Concordia's I've sailed on. Tiller is so much nicer for that layout. There are certain some boats that are opposite in terms of usable space. Frequently traveler location helps determine that. I can't really see a J120 with a tiller, the layout wouldn't work well and the X-332s I've seen with a tiller doesn't work well either, just not enough room.

I also like the mechanical simplicity... It seems that for extended cruising and passagemaking most people end using Otto vonHelm a lot, so gaining cockpit space is even nicer.

 

Soñadora

Super Anarchist
This

Nothing like being plopped on the windward rail, tiller extender in hand. You can feel the water on the rudder.
is one reason I like tillers.

And on a small boat with an outboard, it's hard to beat the maneuverability. .

But for a boat like mine (which was offered with a tiller) I'll take a wheel.

 
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