Tuesday, June 6, 2023

    Why do sailboats have large steering wheels?

    Sailboats are an incredible invention of human ingenuity that have allowed us to navigate the vast oceans for hundreds of years. Their unique design and use of wind power make sailing an exciting and unforgettable experience. However, one particular feature that seems to stand out on sailboats is the large steering wheel. Many people wonder why sailboats have such a big steering wheel, and for that, we need to delve deep into the history of sailboats.

    Traditionally, sailboats were steered using a tiller. It is a simple piece of equipment that extends off the stern of the boat and connects to the rudder. The helmsman would either stand or sit at the stern of the boat and use the tiller to change direction. However, the main issue with the tiller steering system was that it required a great deal of effort and steering accuracy from the helmsman.

    As sailboats got larger and more complex, the tiller became an even more problematic method of steering. The additional weight of the boat and the forces that come from the wind made steering difficult, and helmsman needed to adopt a more powerful control system. Around the 18th century, the use of ropes or chains to control the tiller became popular, but it still didn’t solve the problem of excessive steering effort.

    To solve this issue, sailors designed and installed massive steering pumps that offered a greater mechanical advantage against the ship’s rudder. These pumps, also known as helms, are a type of mechanical device that increases the torque needed to steer the boat. The helms reduce the effort required by the helmsman, making it easier to steer sailboats effectively.

    In recent times, the advent of hydraulic steering systems has the simplified steering process and made it easier for helmsmen to control even the largest of sailboats. The hydraulic system still relies on a massive steering wheel, but the actual force needed to turn the wheel is reduced due to the mechanical advantage of the hydraulic pump.

    Sailboats have a large steering wheel to increase the mechanical advantage of the steering system. The helmsman can then turn the wheel with less effort, even under the effects of strong winds and heavy ocean currents, to control the boat effectively. Although the tiller steering system is still used on smaller sailboats, the large steering wheel with hydraulic assistance has become the norm today. It offers an efficient and comfortable way to steer the boat and create a smooth sailing experience.

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