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Old 08-20-2001
Contributing Authors
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Tom Wood is on a distinguished road
One big or two small wheels

Could you tell us the advantages and disavantages of a single large wheel as opposed to two wheels on the port and starboard sides?

Tom Wood responds:

My, how boats have changed over the decades. The object of a wheel, of course, is to steer the boat, and this requires that the helmsperson have clear visibility. As the beam on boats became wider over the years, the wheels kept pace by becoming increasingly larger in diameter so that the helmsperson could sit out near the rail. This allowed the driver to see the luff of the genoa, and the relationship between bow and approaching dock.

Wheels eventually became so large that designers had to cut channels in the cockpit floor for them. Some were so tall that they interfered with cockpit visibility and action. And still the beam of the boats kept increasing. The logical answer was to have two small wheels, one on either quarter.


  • The helmsperson can be comfortable.
  • The driver can see the sails and bow.
  • The cockpit is cleaner for action fore and aft.
  • The boat has automatic system redundancy if one steering system fails.


  • Since the steering system is more complex, it is more expensive.
  • The system must be impeccably designed and built to keep friction to a minimum or the boat will be physically hard to steer.
  • There are two steering systems to maintain and repair.

The comments above apply to any mechanical steering system, but not necessarily to dual-station hydraulic installations. Hydraulic steering has advantages and disadvantages that are unique and beyond the scope of your questions.

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