The story of Dove II (below) got us thinking about what we would do if our steering failed, resulting in either the helm doing nothing or getting jammed. What you should do depends largely on where you are, and the cause of the failure. Luckily, it’s quite a rare occurrence.

Experienced offshore voyagers consider the successful steering of a boat without a rudder to be one of the most demanding feats of seamanship. Faced with the challenge, some crews abandon ship. However we’ve also read success stories where yachts have been steered hundreds of miles safely to harbor. How do they do that?

If your steering fails, there are five likely causes:

Your helm becomes unresponsive…
  • The rudder stock has failed; usually resulting in the loss of the rudder blade completely.
  • The blade has detached from the stock. Due to the positive floatation of the blade it may still be pressed up against the stock, or, if you hit something, it may have detached completely.
  • You’ve suffered a steering mechanism failure; which could be the breaking of steering cables, gearbox or quadrant failures.
Your helm jams…
  • Something is wrapped around your rudder; fishing nets or line being the usual suspects. Removing them can be tricky.
  • Your rudder bearing(s) have been damaged.

What do you do?

If your helm becomes unresponsive you can try to fit your emergency tillerRead about how to do it and watch this guy(he gets to the point at 42 seconds).

Otherwise it’s time to rig yourself a makeshift steering device. Yachting Monthy produced a great article (and video) where they tested three approaches: sail only, a jury rudder and drag steering. Read about it here.

There are some off-the-shelf solutions as well, find out how they fared: Oceansteer and the Gailrider Drouge.

Prevention is better than cure as they say, in this article Wayne Canning suggests some really good check and maintenance tips.

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