What Is The Handle Used To Steer a Boat? | LakeWizard

The steering handle or wheel is the same for boats and ships. If you are a boat enthusiast, you might wonder about the name of a handle used to steer a boat.

Learning how your boat works can be exciting, especially if you own one. Apart from the engine, one of the most exciting parts of the boat you may want to learn about is the handle or wheel. The wheel is what you can control to direct and navigate your boat through the water.

A handle used to steer a boat is called the steering wheel, the helm, or even the tiller for small outboard motorboats. The helm is on the starboard side of any boat or ship; this is something that boat manufacturers have stuck to since the beginning.

A boat's steering wheel, which connects to the rudder, allows the skipper or helmsman to adjust the craft's course. Some contemporary ships lack a wheel entirely, instead opting for a toggle that changes the rudder direction through remote control.

The steering mechanism of a boat can be complicated to grasp, especially if you want to know the different parts and how exactly they work. To help you with this, we have put together information relating to the steering mechanism of boats and ships below.

Table of contents


What Is a Tiller and How Does It Work?

When you turn a boat, you use the tiller to move the rudder.  The easiest way to control a boat is with a rudder and tiller combination. You will find tillers on both powerboats and sailboats.

Many rudders and other parts of the steering mechanism must be in the right place for it to work right. If you have a tiller or wheel, you can connect these more complex steering mechanisms to it, too. If the boat has two or more rudders, some of them may have tillers, and some may not. However, very few boats have both.

When you use a tiller instead of a steering wheel, it's the other way around, and it takes some time to learn. The steering wheel turns in the direction that you want to go so that you can drive. On the other hand, you move the tiller opposite to the direction you want your boat to go.

The size and type of schooner or pram you have do not matter; both have and require a rudder. The distinction between the two is just how they turn the boat's rudder and steer. Prams use the tiller for steering. On the other hand, a schooner is likely to use a big wheel to specify its course.

What Are the Various Boat Steering Systems?


Paddling was the most elementary way to steer a boat. This steering mode was the only way for people to steer boats and ships long ago. Paddling requires a lot of strength from the user to get the boat moving faster. It was difficult to move against the current, even if it was small.


Next up were the oars as a method of steering and propelling boats and ships. Again, this steering method needed a lot of strength. Using oars was more efficient when you compare them to paddles. However, oars had the same problems and challenges as paddles.

The evolutionary development of boat design then brought about the long oars. Boat designers attached the long oars to the stern of big boats and gave them the ability to steer the crafts. The mechanism is bulky and inefficient and was used for a long time before discovering rudders. This mode of steering still had most of the problems as its predecessors.

It was not ideal for speed and the maneuverability of the large boats and ships.

Tiller and Rudder

The major jump forward came in around the 21st century when a steering design was a combination of the tiller and a rudder. With this advancement, the tiller became the main mode of steering the boats. This method evolved, but the basics and operability were still the same.

Today, despite most boats and ships using modern steering wheels, many world sailors love the simplicity of the tiller steering system, even when it comes to big sailing crafts. The main reason is that tiller steering is not as susceptible to challenges. It’s straightforward, and simple to repair.

You will find aluminum, wood, carbon fiber, and wood tillers. You can make a tiller from any stiff and durable material. Self-steering systems attach extensions and pins to the tiller for better control.

What is the Name of the Steering Wheel on Boats?

The ‘ship’s wheel’ is the name of the steering wheel in boats, just as is the case with modern ships. Similarly, it is at the ship’s helm area. The ship’s wheel also controls the rudder.

In most films and literature, the name of the steering wheel on a pirate boat or ship is the helm. It is a derivation of the Viking phrase “the helm,” which is a verb meaning “to steer,” that is, “to helm the boat or ship.”

How Does the Steering Wheel Work?

In contrast to traditional steering wheels, today’s wheels don’t have wood pokes. The steering wheels use complex modern gear mechanisms to operate a ship. Current steering wheels can be electric, electro-hydraulic, or hydraulic gear systems. Nonetheless, the basic operating mechanism of the steering wheel remains similar in all types.

Generally, when you perform steering operations, the mechanism’s gear system is in charge of transmitting the generated torsional force to the stock of the rudder, which then turns the rudder.

The hydraulic pumps in the gear system use electrical or hydraulic means to create the hydraulic pressure. This hydraulic pressure is responsible for the movement in the steering gear system, which triggers the turning of the rudder. The hydraulic pumps in most ships are either Axial or Radial piston hydraulic pumps.

What Does the Steering Wheel Tattoo or Symbol Mean?

There's no question that things often have a steering wheel symbol or a tattoo. Some people see this symbol as a way to remember the time they spent on their ship.

As its name suggests, people see the helm as a symbol of direction. They think of this when they think of this.

The world can be bumpy and scary. However, no matter what happens, we will always be left with a choice.  We have to figure out how to get through these tough situations independently.

To many people, this tattoo or symbol gives them a sense of where they're going.

What Are the Other Parts of a Ship?

Apart from the wheel, there are other parts of a ship. Most of these are parts you know or hear their names, especially in film or literature. Here are other parts of a ship besides the helm;

  • The Mast: This is perhaps one of the most visible parts of the ship. This is because you can see the mast from far away. It is a towering pole that is part of the deck of a ship and holds up the sail.
  • The Stern: This is the rear area of any boat or ship. It is opposite the ship’s bow.
  • The Bow: This is a word that most sailors use to mean the front area of any boat or ship. It’s the space where people enjoy themselves.
  • Starboard: This is the right portion of any ship or boat. It is the area where you will find the helm and steering wheel of all ships.
  • Port: This is the opposite of starboard. It is the left portion of the boat or ship.
  • The Boom: While the mast rises vertically, the boom goes horizontally across the mast. Its main purpose is to extend the lower part of the mainsail.
  • The Mainsail: The name is self-explanatory. It’s the key sail of any ship, and it attaches to the mast and boom. It is responsible for driving the boat in the direction of the wind.