A Guide to the Rudder Tiller
There are as many types of rudder tiller combinations as there are different types of boats and ships. From those approved only for yachting regattas to those enjoyed by recreational boating and fishing, the rudder and tiller combination allows boaters and sailors to navigate seas, lakes, and rivers with precision and skill.
A ship’s rudder tiller is actually two distinct parts with connected purpose and design. The rudder is an underwater device that allows a boat to change direction as it moves forward or back. It is often attached to larger boat hulls with hinges along the ship’s stem, but it can be easily disconnect from smaller boats and raised out of the water for beaching. The rudder is usually flat, and helps channel the flow of passing water, allowing the boat to turn in one direction or another. The tiller is the lever attached to the rudder through which a helmsman or boater can turn the rudder and the boat. By pushing or pulling directly on the tiller, the person steering the boat can shift its path in the opposite direction.
Rudder Tiller History
Compared to the long history of shipping and boating, the rudder tiller is actually relatively new innovations. In ancient times, large ships were actually steered with sets of rowing oars or steering oars. Individuals would man large oars that stuck out either side of the ship and by pulling on one side or the other, navigate the waters. This could interfere with sails, wasting a great deal of energy. In the first century AD, however, rudders that worked in conjunction with sails were becoming common. Typically tiller arms were attached to steering posts or steering wheels for great precision in navigation.
To successfully use a rudder tiller to steer the boat is not difficult, but it often requires a bit of practice. At first, a tiller can seem a bit counter-intuitive. To turn a boat left or toward its port side, the tiller must be pulled or pushed in the opposite direction, to the right. To turn starboard or toward the boat’s right side, the tiller must be pulled left. Sailors are taught the phrase “Tiller Towards Trouble” so they remember how the rudder tiller works. A tiller can also help create or increase drag through the rudder by moving the tiller rapidly back and forth; this can slow the boat down or simulate brakes.
Materials and Design
Originally all rudder tillers were made of wood like the ships they were attached to. Today, the rudder and tiller can both come in a variety of materials and different designs, often stainless steel, brass, or bronze like the rudder tiller parts here. Some wooden boats still employ a simple wooden rudder tiller that can easily be lifted out of the water for beaching. Many yachts and racing boats must have their rudders conform to a number of regulations to ensure fair sailing. It is important to seek out strong materials, so that the rudder will not break if it comes into rough waters. Boaters should look also for strong and flexible hinges and pivots to allow for easy and precise navigation.
Successful rudder tiller use requires practice, a steady hand, and hardy equipment. As they determine a ship’s ability to steer and navigate calm and unsteady waters alike, having a well-maintained and strong rudder and tiller combination is of the utmost importance for safe and enjoyable boating.