Designer Ian Farrier provides various options for the steering possibilities for the F39. Unfortunately none of these meets my needs.


There are two kinds of sailors. Those who like tillers and those who like wheels.  First of all there is the choice for tiller or wheel. Just like everything else to do with boats, the wheel/tiller debate is highly subjective. Both systems have their own pro’s and con’s. I always had boats with tiller steering. For me this alone is a good reason for a change. One of the advantages of a tiller, the simplicity with only a few moving parts, is not going to work in the F39 centre cockpit. Like the wheel steering a tiller also needs some kind of mechanical transmission to the rudder stock.

Then there is the aspect of space. The tiller devides the cockpit in a starboard and port part. In this rather small cockpit this compromises access to the coveted space under the dodger. The wheel on the other hand devides the cockpit in a fore and an aft part. The helmsman has is own part of the cockpit. I love that more than a sweeping tiller. Standing behind a wheel while maneuvering in close quarters is more comfortable than with the tiller between the knees. So, for me enough reasons to go on with a wheel.

Now what size? A wheel with a size small enough to walk along is not what I want. In that case I would have bought a sports boat 😉 So as big as possible which turned out to be 900 mm. at a height of 800 mm.

As now these basic questions have been answered the next step is the most difficult one. The decision about the transmission system. Roughly there are four basic types:

Cable or rope steering – in my opinion too prone for faults so not for me;
Hydraulick steering – no rudder feel, also not for me;
Transmission steering – sound and good rudder feeling;
Rack and Pinion steering – sound and straight forward.

I prefer one of the last two systems with first choice the rack and pinion system. At this time the rack and pinion system is subject of study. Some photos and thoughts in the steering study page.


10 Responses to Steering

  1. how much drag (energy) will be required by the autopilot to function using the rack and pinion vs hydraulic?

    • Fram says:

      I don’t know Geoffrey, I have not examined the hydraulic option.

      • Dorian Meid says:

        When using a wheel I would also recommend hydraulics. The more common systems use non return valves which blocks all feedback from the rudder. I think you prefer a pump without non return valves, so you get some force feedback from the rudder. The amount of feedback you get depends on the wheelsize and the ratio wheelturns/rudderangle.
        When you want to combine that system with an autopilot you need a special check valve, so either the autopilot or the wheel is working. With the non-feedback helm pump autopilot and wheel can work at the same time.

  2. Dorian Meid says:

    Henny, I hope you don’t perceive me to be always the one to put your decisions into question. It is very interesting for me to get to know your thoughts I just want to add a few of mine. Regarding the Tiller/Wheel discussion I’m not sure myself which way to go, but one thing I know: I want to have a comfortable steering position with a good overview. I’ve sailed on boats with wheels and boats with tillers and no boat with a single wheel gave me the comfy sitting position to steer.
    I’m very happy that you are ahead and I can benefit later from your experiences.

    • Fram says:

      No problem Dorian, I always appreciate your thoughts. I have the experience of steering a F36 with a tiller and I’m just a little dissapointed about the feeling. May also be a result of the large size of the boat. But my most and irrational reason is a change after 40 years or so on boats with tillers

  3. Mattijs says:

    I was wondering about your reasoning behind disqualifying rope steering. Without having made a detailed comparison, rope seems to be used on most if not all modern racers, it is simple, strong, and easy accessible for maintenance whereas rack and pinion is dependent on quality of castings, difficult to access in order to check or maintain and specific sparen are needed in case of malfunction.

    Offcourse I may be missing something and look forward to hearing your views.


    • Fram says:

      Hi Mattijs, of course cable steering is a commonly used system, but in my view more prone to failures. All components are under heavy load and it is not easy to maintain a zero tolerance. Transmission or rack&pinion systems are just more sturdy and you find these in the more high end yachts. I cannot endorse your statement about the cable steering in modern racers. Finally, the routing of a cable steering system in my boat is not easy. O well, none of these systems (exept maybe hydraulics) is easy on this boat due to the distance between wheel and rudder (3m) and the aft cabin in between them.

  4. itznu says:

    In my limited experience, hydraulics are more sturdy and maintenance free than they seem like they would be.

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