What is a boat helm?
Whether you’re an experienced sailor or just looking to get on the water for the first time, understanding the parts of your boat is essential. What is a boat helm? Well, it is a crucial part of any sailing vessel. It’s what allows the captain to steer and control the boat; without it, sailing would be impossible. But what exactly is a boat helm? How does it work?
In this blog post, we’ll be breaking down all about boat helms so you can learn more about your vessel and how to operate it properly.
The helm of a boat
The first thing to understand about the helm is that the part of the boat controls the vessel – this is the position on every boat where it is steered. The helm of a ship is where the steering wheel or tiller is located, and from this point, the operator controls the boat’s direction. It’s important to note that the helm is not just a physical location but also refers to the overall steering system of the boat.
Several different boat helms are available, each with advantages and disadvantages. Tiller helms are typically found on smaller boats, such as sailboats or dinghies. They consist of a long handle, or tiller, attached to the rudder, allowing the operator to steer the ship. This type of helm is simple and easy to use but can be challenging to navigate in choppy waters or strong winds.
On the other hand, wheel helms are more commonly found on larger boats and are like the steering wheel in a car. They are more comfortable to use and offer better control in rough waters, but they can be more difficult to install and maintain.
Joystick helms, also known as pod drives, are becoming more popular in recent years and offer a more intuitive and easy-to-use option for boaters. These are great for manoeuvring in tight spaces but can be expensive to install and maintain.
Features of a boat helm
Regardless of the type of helm (as there are different helm designs), all boat helms have a few key components that work together to steer the boat. These include the steering wheel or tiller, the steering cable or steering mechanism, and the steering quadrant or steering gear. The tiller or wheel is the part the operator uses to control the boat’s direction.
The steering cable or mechanism connects the steering wheel to the rudder, allowing the operator’s inputs to be translated into movement. The steering quadrant or gear is the part that connects the steering mechanism to the rudder, allowing the operator to control the angle of the rudder. Some boat helms may have other components, such as steering knobs, pumps, and indicators.
How a boat helm works
The basic helm definition is that the skipper uses the steering wheel or tiller to control the angle of the rudder, which in turn controls the boat’s direction. The rudder is a hydrofoil located at the stern of the ship, and when it is turned, it creates a force that causes the boat to change direction.
Multiple helm positions
With multiple helms on a boat positioned across the boat or ship, such as the flybridge, the cockpit, and the main salon, the boat is steered from different locations depending on the situation.
Not only does this provide more flexibility and manoeuvrability to an operator, but it also provides increased safety and redundancy in case of any failure with the main helm.
Having multiple helms of the boat also enables various operators to be on the helm at once. This can be incredibly beneficial when navigating larger boats – allowing for increased safety, communication and coordination between operators.
Additionally, additional helms allow for easier manoeuvring in tight spaces or dockside locations where precision is vital.
Advanced steering techniques and systems
In addition to the basic helm systems, advanced steering techniques and strategies can be used to improve the handling and performance of a boat. Autopilot systems, for example, can automatically direct the ship based on pre-set course or GPS coordinates, allowing the operator to relax and enjoy the ride.
Power steering systems can also make it easier to steer the boat, especially in rough waters or when manoeuvring in tight spaces. Electronic systems, such as joystick controls, can offer boaters a more intuitive and easy-to-use option.
Helming a boat
A helmsman is a highly-skilled individual tasked with taking the helm and piloting a boat. This includes adjusting course as needed, utilising wind and currents to their advantage, and maintaining a steady speed based on conditions.
At the same time, they must remain vigilant in ensuring everyone onboard remains safe–monitoring any possible hazards and potential danger spots like shoals or sandbars. It’s also necessary for the helmsman to know navigation rules and regulations to stay clear of collisions with other vessels or objects.
The instrument panels around the helm can vary depending on the type and size of the vessel, but some common ones include the following:
- Compass: This navigation tool helps the operator determine the boat’s heading.
- Speedometer: This instrument measures the boat’s speed through the water.
- Tachometer: This instrument measures the engine’s RPM.
- Fuel gauge: This instrument shows the level of fuel in the tank.
- Voltmeter: This instrument measures the electrical system’s voltage.
- Water temperature gauge: This instrument shows the temperature of the water.
- Oil pressure gauge: This instrument shows the oil pressure in the engine.
- Depth sounder: This instrument measures the depth of the water beneath the boat.
- GPS: This electronic navigation tool uses satellites to determine the boat’s location and speed.
- VHF radio: This communication tool allows the operator to communicate with other boats and coast guard stations.
- Engine control: This is a set of levers or buttons that allows the operator to control the boat’s engine.
- Alarm systems can include alarms for low oil pressure, overheating, and other critical systems.
- Trim tabs: These are small control surfaces located at the stern of the boat that can adjust the boat’s edge and improve handling.
Navigation equipment and essential features
Finally, some helms come with integrated navigation equipment such as GPS systems or depth finders. This equipment can help captains quickly locate their destination or avoid shallow waters without having to look away from the helm for too long. Additionally, they can provide important information such as wind speed and direction.
A boat’s helm is one of its most essential components, allowing you to easily steer and control your vessel’s direction. Knowing what type of helm your boat has will help ensure it performs optimally while keeping you safe out on the water!
Whether you have a rotary wheel style or joystick style helm (or something else entirely), understanding how they work will ensure that every sailing experience is smooth sailing from start to finish!