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Paisan 10-22-2004 10:29 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
I learned to sail by racing, and am very biased to a tiller - I like the feel and response with a tiller. I''ve sailed with a wheel as well, but only enough to know there''s a difference - not enough to develop any appreciation for steering with a wheel.

I''m wondering what the trade-off''s are and if I could learn to appreciate the wheel or if I''d regret leaving a tiller, as I''m considering buying up to a bigger boat (30-37'') and many are equipped with wheels.

Any comments on the subject? Thanks.

WHOOSH 10-23-2004 08:41 AM

Tiller vs. Wheel
Paisan, your theoretical 30 footer might weigh 4-5 tons while your theoretical 37 footer might weigh 9-10 tons. In addition, you could be sailing with a semi-balanced blade rudder, a partial skeg rudder (semi-balanced or not) or a barn door rudder with a full skeg. I don''t see how a general opinion about tiller or wheel (the latter offering greater mechanical advantage along with a host of other attributes and compromises) will help you when you begin narrowing down your search.

Better to approach it the other way around: first, which boat...and then, is there even a choice? (Usually there isn''t).


capttb 10-23-2004 07:47 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
Took me a couple days to get used to a wheel, at first everything seems a little backward somehow, really like it now.

Sailormon6 10-24-2004 05:55 AM

Tiller vs. Wheel
I also learned to sail and race with a tiller, and have always felt that I got good feedback through the tiller, but if a tiller was the only way you could race a boat efficiently, you''d see tillers on the big racing boats instead of those huge twin wheels.

Using a wheel is very intuitive. The first time I ever used a wheel, I felt comfortable with it right away, and felt nearly as efficient as with a tiller. Also, I believe the wheel makes it easier to maneuver around the docks and to use spring lines, especially if youíre short handed. For example, when docking, you can secure a spring line, lock the wheel and use the engine to hold the boat in position while you attach the other lines. You can do the same with a tiller if it is set up for it, but itís more awkward. What Iím trying to say is that, when youíre docking a smaller boat, you can just muscle it into position. When youíre docking a big, heavy boat, you need to use the motor to move it into position, and the wheel facilitates that.

Silmaril 10-24-2004 06:47 AM

Tiller vs. Wheel
Tiler vs wheel is a tough answer is "It depends".

As Whoosh pointed out, the design has a lot to do with it. A poorly "balanced" design can hide that a little better with a wheel than a tiller. Cost is also an aspect to concider. You will find that as the boat gets bigger, the ones with a tiller are less expensive. I think many people are afraid of larger boats with tillers. Less of a market for them.

You also have the fact that as the size and displacement of the boat increases, so do the potential loads, necessitating a longer lever (tiller) and you have something that is taking up a good deal of "swing space" in the cockpit. When motoring, propwash can put a great deal of steady torque on the tiller, tiring the skipper if an extended period of motoring is required to get somewhere.

I have sailed on boats as large as 42'' with a tiller, and as I said, a well balanced design is the key there. But in a blow, we would go 1/2 hour stints at the stick to prevent fatigue.

My 37'' sloop has a tiller, is an especially well balanced design, and a joy to sail. I do go out on the race course from time to time, and I think the tiller gives me an edge driving to weather. I also get a kick out of watching some "experienced" sailors eyes go wide when they take the "stick" for the first time on a large boat.

But I damaged my left rotator cuff when I "had to" get somehwere on a cruise, with no wind, and my tiller pilot went on the blink. The steady heavy "helm" from the prop wash on the rudder did me in. (I now have a back-up tiller pilot just in case)

At the dock, or at anchor, I flip the tiller up and out of the way and get a nice uncluttered cockpit. With a wheel, Edson makes a quick release knob that does the same thing.

You also have less to worry about with a tiller, no cables or linkages or anything else to maintain. Less complexity means less to have "Murphy" meddle with. Also less weight in the stern. But wieght can be addresed with the newer composite systems that Edson has on the market.

geohan 10-24-2004 10:38 AM

Tiller vs. Wheel
The steady torque on the tiller during long motoring sessions can be eased with as many bungie cords as it takes to eliminate (most of) the load.

Billpjr 10-24-2004 03:46 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
My opinion...I''ve never sailed a wheel that had the feedback a tiller matter what the system. Tillers give more cockpit space and are simplier to maintain. Overall I feel wheels are good for motoring and tillers for sailing. I think balanced rudder designs are difficult to incorporate into hull designs so the mechanical advantages of wheels are the reason we see so many. I think wheels are given more status by the yacht club crowd too.

My biggest wheel boat was 42''x 18k lbs while the biggest tiller boat was 42''x 24k lbs. I once sailed on a 52'' schooner with outboard rudder and 9'' tiller. The crew had to clear the deck (no footwell) every time we tacked. The boat owner always complained about the tiller and he had shortened it at 9''!

Tiller are my first choice but wheels don''t keep me from buying. Fins and skegs do that.

jbanta 10-24-2004 04:29 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
I have heard alot of talk around about "big boat small boat which is best for learning" In my mind it should be tiller wheel, and the tiller is by far more important for learning than boat size. With a tiller you feel what the boat is doing. Much of that is lost with a wheel. I have sailed my "big boat" 29 foot Lancer tiller steered, and my friends 23 foot Hunteralso tiller steered. Yes the smaller boat gets kicked around abit more bit still it''s that tiller that I feel the boat and there isn''t that much differnt in the way those tillers feel in my hand.

DelmarRey 10-27-2004 07:47 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
I have a 40''IOR design with a tiller. The advantages I have are:

(1) I can turn her on a dime when in tight spots, like in an unfamilier marina.

(2) Most of the time I don''t need the auto pilot. I''ve set up adjustable bungee''s so when she''s on a reach or closehauled I adjust''m up until she sails herself.

(3) I can lift up the tiller when in port or on the hook and have more space in the cockpit.

(4) Less worries about maintenance.

(5) Auto pilot takes less energy.

(6) I can feel the weather helm better and make adjustments. Which makes it sail more efficently.

(1)When backing you can get pinned between the tiller and bulwark. (Don''t ask!)

(2) The Second Mate gets confused when under stress. (Don''t ask!)

(3) When at anchor in rough weather you have to make sure to secure the tiller or it''ll bang back and forth.

(4) Not just anybody can steer the boat.(high points on this one)

One disadvantage to the wheel for me is you can only turn as sharp as the wheel locks allow.
And you have to usually have to go up and around to get in the cockswains seat.

svzephyr44 11-02-2004 05:28 PM

Tiller vs. Wheel
Missing for me in this discussion are two elements:

How much racing vs how much cruising the boat is going to do


How skilled and dedicated to "going to the edge" are your crew.

I have sailed with both tiller and wheel. I would never want a tiller on a boat that I was going to take on a long cruise (defined by me as 12+ hours or longer without a stop.) I would also prefer a wheel when I have unskilled guests aboard. They adapt to it better. For racing, that is another story. Yes, the feel of the tiller tells you a lot more.

A quick check of the 300 sailboats in my local marina indicate that the race boats (around the bouy type, not long distance type) have tillers. Everyone else has wheels. I suggest that is because wheels are much more comfortable for casual crusing. And most people do far more casual crusing than racing. This also suggests that tiller boats that are not pure racers would have a lower resale value than a wheel boat of the same make (e.g. our Catalina 42 MK II.)

Yes it is true that a wheel can obscure sail trim, but if you have some way of knowing amount of weather or lee helm you can trim quire successfully with a wheel. Our autopilot has a helm angle indicator that works even when the autopilot is disconnected. We have used it to learn trim. (We are still doing a lot of learning!) But even a knot tied around the wheel at 0 degrees rudder works quite well.

In summary, I suggest that going fast is much more a function of knowing your sail trim, your polars, and your crew than choosing between a tiller and a wheel. No matter what you can feel in the tiller its all about the trimmers, not the steering (at least not until you reach a level of racing far above mine.)

My 2 cents. Worth what you paid for it!

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