Loss of Steering

Top 5 Tips for Emergency Steering

An emergency tiller is an important back up to have on board.

  • Stow the tiller in an easy-to-grab spot while at sea.
  • Ensure everyone on board knows where it is and how it fits together and operates.
  • A sea trial in a calm, relaxed situation is the time to test the emergency tiller.
  • If the opportunity arises, try it out in heavier weather, it may prompt a redesign.
  • Think about other back-ups, in case you lose your rudder,  like running a drogue… read on…

Emergency Rudder

An emergency rudder can be rigged by running a drogue* aft. The set up of this system will depend on the configuration of your stern. The diagram below shows a vessel towing a drogue from the aft port winch. Along the towing line, another line is hitched on (using a Prusik Hitch, or use a steel ring, or shackle with three lines leading from it), that leads to the starboard winch. To steer in a straight line, the starboard winch must be utilised until the drogue is towing amidships. To turn to starboard, pull the starboard line tighter until the drogue is on the starboard side. To turn your vessel to port, loosen the starboard line and allow the drogue to hang off the port winch. (When a Prusik hitch is under tension it does not slip. It is also known as the Triple Sliding Hitch.

Your drogue must have enough drag to counteract the force of the sails. This will require some work and adjustment to achieve the correct balance. Changing sails or reefing may cause unbalance and the necessity of further adjustments.

*If you do not have an ‘off the shelf’ drogue, use a tyre (a tyre is a good alternative to purchasing a drogue), a steel bucket (holds better if tied through the holes in the bucket, rather than the handle) or even fenders will help. Perhaps even a mattress – anything to create drag. The trickiest part will be tying the chosen ‘drogue’ sufficiently well so it copes with the tremendous forces while being dragged through the water.

Balancing your sails to steer

This is great with open water and time (and practice). We’ll cover this in detail another day, but briefly: ideally if the wind is hitting each sail with the same force the sails should steer the boat. But as soon as the sail plan changes so the handling changes.

What could you use in this emergency situation?

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