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jbarros 05-15-2003 10:56 AM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
I get alot of ideas easily, some of which are stupid, mostly in the concept of KISS. I dont like anything on a boat to be more complex than it needs to be, because I''m mechanicly inept, and like to be able to fix things simply. but sometimes the ideas I hold are naieve, or based on incorrect information. Alot of you here have been responsible for my learning, and I thank you.

I liked skeg hung rudders for ease of mainenance, but found out that on some designs, they''re more effective if they''re towards the middle of the boat. Ok, I can deal with that.

I liked twin keels so the boat could rest in tidal''s, but found out how it affects sailing performance. Ok, I can deal with that.

my next question is tiller vs wheel. I like the simplicity of the tiller.I like that there''s very little inbetween to break, I like that it always gives you great feedback, but I still see people going to wheel stearing, in fact, I see alot of people doing it. I understand it on a larger boat, as the leverage you''d need for a tiller for a 50 would be rediculous, but on a 27? a 25?

other than the habit of it being like a car, what are the advantages of a wheel over tiller for small boats? What am I missing?


-- James

DuaneIsing 05-15-2003 12:38 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?

On a smaller boat, I cannot see any advantages of a wheel over a tiller, except that the tiller will seem (to some) to be more intrusive in the cockpit. I think the wheels are generally more of a pain, personally.

Think of the feel and the simplicity/reliability you are gaining by using the tiller...

Just my $200 (2 cents adjusted for marine use) ;-)


Sailormon6 05-15-2003 12:57 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
Two justifications come to mind for having a wheel rather than a tiller on a smaller boat. First, when the tiller swings back and forth across the cockpit, it reduces the amount of usable cockpit seating space. The wheel increases usable cockpit space. Secondly, the wheel is more comfortable and convenient than the tiller. The wheel can be locked on course quickly and easily, you don''t usually get arm weary when you steer with a wheel, and you can wheel-steer from a greater variety of positions.

I retired recently, and have been looking at boats, and have found that a fair number of boats in the 35-40 foot range use tillers. They seem to be mostly full keel, blue water boats, that are well balanced and track straight, and probably don''t generate much tiller pressure. I assume the owners liked the simplicity of the tiller for long distance cruising. A tiller on that type of boat would seem to me to be desirable, but I think I would prefer a wheel on a big fin keel boat.

Stede 05-15-2003 02:53 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
Duane, You''ve got to be kidding. With a wheel / binnacle post you can install one of those teak drink holders on it to hold your cold beverage ;^) Once that''s installed, the possibilities are endless. You can hang all kinds of stuff off of it.Cameras,hats,binocs,GPS,fishing tackle,etc.Plus you get a compass on top of it all. Once you wrap a 12 volt power cord or two around it to feed the GPS,etc.,it''s like having a marine Christmas tree that you can also sing around if you want. How can you compare all of that with a stick? ha!ha!ha!

Jeff_H 05-15-2003 03:42 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
This is a topic that used to be a frequent topic of discussion on this BB. There are a lot of opinions on this topic but there is no one universally right answer here. My take on this is that tillers have more feel and less friction than a wheel. They are more direct and so allow a quicker response and a more linear response. Because of that it is easier to get higher performance out of a tiller on a smaller boat (say under 40 feet or so).

They generally have less mechanical advantage than a wheel and so on a boat with large helm loads; a tiller will require more strength to steer. On a modern fin keel/ spade rudder boat, the steering loads tend to be lighter and so the mechanical advantage of a wheel is not as necessary. In the case of a boat with high helm loads such as a traditional boat with a keel hung rudder, a tiller is more tiring. In the case of a boat that is well balanced, a wheel (because you not only have to move the rudder but also overcome friction) is more tiring.

I personally like a tiller. I find that by using a tiller extension it is easier to move around and see the trim of the sails, make adjustments or find a comfortable position to sit. I find it tiring to have to hold my arm out to reach the wheel rather than to just sit with the tiller extension sitting on my knee. I do a lot of single-handing and strongly prefer the ability to have a tiller extension within my reach almost anywhere in my cockpit.

I find that it easier to use shock cord to pretension the tiller to hold a course than it is lock off a wheel which can only hold a fixed position rather than flex as the loads increase allowing the boat to "find its own balance".

Tillers work well on modern boats up to about 40 feet. Wheels work better on larger boats and heavier boats because the loads are greater. Autopilots used to better for wheel steered boats but now can be purchased in equal quality for both wheel and tiller steering. Wheels involve a mechanical system, which in my book is just one more thing to maintain and to break. I hate crawling under the cockpit by way of a cramped sail locker, hanging upside down to rerun a steering cable that has jumped the quadrant. That seems to happen less with more modern wheel steering systems but it still happens.

Tillers seem to be more preferable for coastal cruising while offshore cruisers seem to prefer wheels. Mass production boats of all sizes seem to show up with wheels these days. Specialized boats seem to show up with tillers.

Tillers swing through a bigger area of the cockpit but wheels permanently occupy a bigger area of the cockpit and are a pain in the butt to get around. Tiller can be tilted out of the way when you get to port; the binnacle for a wheel can support tables and the like. Binnacles give you something to hold onto in a seaway.

Some people feel that wheels are more nautical or shippy. Others think that wheels on small boats are an affectation like the guy who wears a captain''s hat.

In the end, it comes down to what you feel most comfortable with. Each has their proponents and advantages. For myself I strongly prefer a tiller and I am thinking of converting my 38 footer back to a tiller to make it easier to single-hand.


jbarros 05-15-2003 03:43 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
so basicly it''s just space, and stearing effort?

Is a boats ability to stay on track without someone at the helm realy affected greatly by the type of steering device? my little signet doesnt stay a course too well, but my friends newport''ll stay in a straight line for quite a while (longer than we''ve ever gone) with no one paying any attention to the tiller. I suppose we should get an autohelm at some point... hrm..

-- James

Silmaril 05-15-2003 06:02 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
The simplicity of a tiller is one of it''s great advantages. Also, I have found that many wind driven self steering gear work better with a tiller. Probably due to the lower steering resistance that a tiller has as a system compared to a wheel system. My 37'' has a tiller, and as Jeff mentioned, once in port, just lift it out of the way and viola, a bigger cockpit. I have also installed an Autohelm tiller pilot, which helps me do a great deal work single handing with no worries.

One thing that is annoying is the torque steer from the prop wash while under power. Part of the increased "feel" you get with a tiller. It was one of the main reasons I installed the Autohelm, for those days when you have to "make time" with the iron wind.

I have sailed boats as big as 43'' with a tiller, but at that point, the length of the tiller was so great to give you the leverage required, it reduced the overall ability to maneuver.

I learned on a tiller over 35 years ago, and it seems like second nature to me. However, if you are not comfortable "stick steering" wheels might make more sense.

As far as the balance thing is concerned, I don''t think "tiller vs wheel" affects it much. That is more to do with the overall design. How close the end result came to the designers ideal. If all the variables come together just right, wind, waves, trim, hull and rig, the result is that wonderful feeling when "She sails herself".

I wonder though, in this day and age of CAD/CAM and finite element analysis, can the design''s projected "lead" come closer to reality and be less left to chance? But that might be a subject for a different thread.

IMHO, a tiller is what makes sailing different from driving a power boat. It helps me feel more "one" with the boat and sails. I can feel changes in trim, wind, and that elusive balance more readily with a tiller.

All that said, if I was offered a free Swan 45, I wouldn''t turn it down because it didn''t steer with a stick.

thefantasea 05-15-2003 09:12 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
Although I love the tiller on my C30, when that free Swan that you don''t want comes along, I''ll be glad to accept it in your place.

I''ve got about 16 years on the "stick" but that is now coming to an end. I just acquired an Irwin 38'' CC that is equipped with wheel steering. Wish me luck.

bayme 05-26-2003 05:04 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
Wheels make non-sailing passengers happy!

In a perfect world all of our friends/spouses/co-workers/relatives/etc. would be great sailors - but we don''t live in a perfect world.

I have sailed with tiler boats that bash peoples knees and require gymnastics to get out of the way while tacking. Tiller extensions make the situation worse.

Wheels inhabit a fixed position that is easy to stay away from. Let your non sailing guests sit fore or aft of the wheel, don''t heel too much, and they will have a great day on the water.

This may not seem like a good reason to have a wheel, but then again you may find this compromise makes all the difference in keeping a me! :)

jbanta 05-26-2003 06:06 PM

KISS? or ... why a wheel?
I guess I am a purist. I will keep my tiller and my boat and just know that I will be single handing most of the time. Then the wind is up I love the feel of power in that tiller. I love the contol I feel there. That and it is a KISS not near the operational hassels a wheel conversion would cause not to mention the money. I tiller is THE clasic way to steer a boat and I have decided that I really like it.

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