Join Date: May 2002
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I agree with the pros and cons everyone else has thrown out there on tillers vs. wheels. One thing that I don't think has been emphasized or sufficiently answered is the second part to your question: what about retrofitting a tiller equipped boat with a wheel. I suggest that you will have to be very careful with this one. Some contemporary boats that come factory equipped with wheels have very bad access to the steering gear; imagine how bad your access will be if you pick a boat to retrofit with a wheel that was designed with no thought to steering cables. I have seen some disasterous and outright dangerous retrofitted wheels. On one Catalina 25, the cable runs were done such that it was a wonder they didn't wear through after a few hours. I have even seen a wheel installed on my model boat, an Oday 23. The cockpit sole is not sturdy enough, and there is no access to one entire underside of the cockpit. I am still trying to figure out how they got under there to install turning blocks. Regardless, if the cable slips off on that side, there is no way to get under there and fix it. Just nuts.
On any retrofit, you will be installing equipment that will cause great stress in areas that were not designed to accomodate it. This is not to say that it can't be done; I think Edson makes some model-specific wheel retrofit kits. Hopefully, those would be easier to install and be more reliable. And of course there are boats as mentioned above that came from the factory either way, at least implying that either configuration is safe and practical for that model. In any case, installing a wheel is a big job, so don't underestimate the time and money.
My two cents is that if you decide you want a boat with wheel steering, buy one. Don't mess around with a retrofit unless the boat is designed for it and you are sure you can maintain the new cables and ship an emergency tiller.