Boating enthusiasts may have noticed a common theme across the majority of boats on the water: the helm or steering wheel is almost always located on the right-hand side. While this may seem like a minor detail, it’s actually a significant factor in the design and function of a vessel.
The placement of the helm on the right-hand side of the boat is not just a tradition, but it also serves a practical purpose. Historically, boats were designed with oars or paddles on the right side, and the person steering the vessel sat on the right-hand side of the boat to have a clear line of sight. This position also allowed the steersman to use their dominant hand (usually the right) to control the rudder or oar.
Later, with the introduction of motorized boats, the position of the helm on the right side remained the same, even though there was no longer a need to use oars or paddles. The reason for this has to do with the torque from the engine, which causes the boat to list to the left or port side. The location of the captain on the starboard, or right-hand side, helps to counteract this natural tendency and keep the boat stable.
In addition to the practical reasons, there are also some cultural and historical reasons why the helm is located on the right-hand side. In many cultures, the right side of the body and objects associated with it are considered more powerful or sacred. For example, in medieval Europe, the right side was considered the “good” side and associated with the Christian concept of righteousness.
In modern times, there are still some variations in boat design, with some vessels featuring a center console or a helm on the left side. However, the vast majority of boats still follow the traditional placement of the helm on the right side.
The helm of a boat is located on the right-hand side for practical reasons related to the use of oars and the torque from a motor, as well as cultural and historical associations with the right side. Regardless of the reason, understanding the placement of the helm is an important part of boating safety and operation.