Tiller or wheel? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 42 Old 09-10-2008 Thread Starter
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Tiller or wheel?

Which do you like and why? I am thinking on a 27-30 footer. Also, is it practical (or desireable) to add wheel steering to a tiller equiped boat?


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post #2 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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you can add a wheel to a boat that has a tiller. My boat is a 26 ft that has wheel steering that was added by some previous owner who convertered it from tiller to wheel steering.

I guess there are pro's and con's to each. Some people prefer a tiller because there is a different feel to it. My wife never really got the hang of pushing the tiller the opposite way you want to go, so she does better with a wheel.

A wheel does seem to take up some space from the cockpit, so that may be a consideration depending on the size of the cockpit and beam. It also gives us something to grab onto when climbing around and a place to hang a drink holder.
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post #3 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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This is a topic that used to be a frequent topic of discussion on this forum. 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). I consider most wheel steering installations so slow responding and so restrictive of movement around the cockpit that they are dangerous on boats under about 30 feet ans see them as an affectation one rather than an asset on boats this size.

Tillers 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 generally is not as necessary. In the case of a boat with high helm loads, 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, find a comfortable position to sit or adjust course. 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 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 small boat sailor 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.
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post #4 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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I had a wheel on my Catalina 27.. I would have preferred a tiller. Beyond 30 I think a wheel would be better.

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post #5 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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That's funny Jeff! I'll have to add that to my yet uncomplete dictionary of Nautical Terms - "Shippy" n. to be ship like. Funny!

Maybe I just need more Tequila!

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
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post #6 of 42 Old 09-10-2008 Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by capngregg View Post
That's funny Jeff! I'll have to add that to my yet uncomplete dictionary of Nautical Terms - "Shippy" n. to be ship like. Funny!

Maybe I just need more Tequila!
Well, he gets the "most complete answer award"....Thanks Jeff.

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post #7 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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I prefer a tiller. Many boats, even ones larger than 40' are tiller steered. Tillers give better feedback to the helmsman, are simpler with fewer parts to break, easier to rig self-steering or windvanes to, easier to fix generally, and just more elegant IMHO.

This video of an Open 60 shows how it has a tiller.

IIRC, the large trimaran Brossard also uses a tiller system of a sort, as seen in this photo:


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Last edited by sailingdog; 09-10-2008 at 06:43 PM.
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post #8 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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Our previous boat was tiller steered. I prefer the feel when sailing of a tiller. But it gobbles up a lot of space in the cockpit, especially when it has to sweep across for tacks and jibes. If you sail with a family or several crew in the cockpit with you, the tiller can really be a hassle, making boat handling difficult.

Our current boat could be tiller or wheel equipped at the factory. I'm glad ours came with a wheel. It is much easier to "work" the boat without having to maneuver around family members in the cockpit as we used to have to do with the tiller. A T-shaped cockpit foot well makes it easier to move around the wheel and binnacle. All sheets are within easy reach.

Yes, we cannot flip the wheel up and out of the way at anchor as we did the tiller, but I would not trade that convenience for the other features that a binnacle allows: throttle and transmission controls, cockpit table, binocular and cup holders, hand hold/bracing, compass mount, 12V outlets, nav instruments, etc etc. If the wheel really bothers you at anchor, you can get a quick release hub nut and remove it.

If you like to hike out or sit to leeward (like me) while driving, you can even fit a tiller extension to your wheel that will allow you to do this.

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post #9 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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What follows is only my opinion and I don't want to offend anyone, but here goes....

1. I'm neutral. I don't think that it really matters. There are pros and cons to each. If you have boat feel, you can live with harmoniously with each.
2. A wheel IMHO takes up less space while underway. With a tiller, anywhere within the sweep must remain clear at all times, so most of the cockpit and seats are off limits for others. Pierside, it's reversed. A tiller can be raised and stowed out of the way.
3. A tiller is far simpler mechanically, as stated earlier in the post. But a wheel has mechanical advantage and properly maintained, doesn't fail very often. Yes, a tiller can fail, I've seen it.
4. IMHO, very HO, a tiller does not impart a better feel for the boat. While you MAY not feel the water action as readily, I reject the widely held opinion that you can feel wind on the boat better. By the time a change in wind speed or direction translates to movement in the water, the boat has already begun to react and the helmsman is in the position of countering the movement. Someone who truly has boat feel will have first felt the change in wind on their face and in the sails and compensated before the boat has begun to react.
5. Wheels are not slower. The combination of boat mass, and size and shape of the rudder affect how fast a boat will turn. Yes, a wheel may take a couple of seconds longer to go from stop to stop, but I've seen very few cases where that rate of rudder movement was necessary. Those cases were due to improper planning or inattention, in my experience.
6. On boats less than about 28', a wheel looks silly to me. I'd rather have a tiller. Above that, I'm neutral but would probably prefer a wheel for cruising because it's easier to get at the engine controls. To explain - on most tiller boats the engine controls (throttle & shifter) are near the floor on either the port or starboard side. That limits my movement as helsman and I have to stoop down to make changes, so I'm distracted as my eyes and body are taken away from what I'm looking at. With most wheels, the engine controls are right there (or should be).
7. Both wheels and tillers can be mad to look "shippy" (love that word), so I'm neutral
8. Guiletta's wheel is way cool. I want one with the same spoke shape, but in teak.

Just my $0.02..........

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post #10 of 42 Old 09-10-2008
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I've found that most racers like a tiller, while us lazy cruisers like a wheel. I often find myself laying back with a foot stuck in the spokes of the wheel.

More important to me is the balance of the boat. My boat has it's own little "magic spot" where it will sail itself upwind. I don't even have to lock the wheel. It points up slightly in a puff, and down a bit in a lull. It will even track the wind as it bends around a point. Pretty nice for us lazy guys.

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