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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Monday, January 13, 2014

Inside Steering: Get Out of the Rain, Silly!

Click on image for unobstructed view.

Get out of the rain, Silly!
-- Mom

Inside Steering

Despite years of good advice from Mom, I spent years sitting in the cockpit, at the tiller, in the rain. Now that I'm a nominal grown-up, I tend to apply a stronger term to myself than 'Silly'.

Pure laziness. One of our mentors showed us the general principal during our first year afloat. When I finally got around to setting it up a couple of years ago, it took all of an hour. 


The basic principle is that a single line pulls against springy tension supplied by the opposed bungee. When relaxed, the tiller is pulled hard over, toward that bungee. When tensioned, it can be fixed anywhere, all the way to hard-over on the pull side. Given this range, we can perform any (steering) maneuver from shelter.

Loops at the tiller cleat (or ball... see tips, below) are very quick to engage and disengage. Thus you can kick the system 'out of gear' at a moment's notice.

The bungee in the pull line acts merely as a shock absorber.

Less friction in the system makes the pull lighter, and fine tuning easier. 

We use a caribiner on a grommet at the pull-side corner post, fairleads and a copper plumbing elbow glued in place as a bulkhead through-lead (angle it slightly upwards, inboard to keep rain out... it can be corked for extremes or winter storage). These choices mean we have to turn and face aft to pull comfortably (easing out is easy). Consider reducing friction (see Tips, below).


As a bonus, a slight variation converts it to a lashing system:

The long bungee can be replaced by a line with an eye-splice (loop) in one end. Loop goes over the tiller cleat. The tail rounds the corner post and affixes, mid-line, with a rolling hitch (Scouts call this a 'taut-line hitch'). This can be adjusted to fine tune the lashing position.

The pull line is set up a bit 'up' (to windward) from center balance position, and the rolling hitch is adjusted to pull to balance.

So lashed, SLACKTIDE will sail herself for hours on all points, so long as waves are relatively small. Then we have to babysit the tiller for the occasional deviation, when we're kicked out of balance (lashing at a balance point isn't 'self-steering'). Just slip off one or both loops, adjust course and reset.

KISS, cheap and reliable enough!


CAUTION: The boat may be steering herself, but she's NOT watching where she's going! That's still our job! Keep an adequate lookout at all times.

  • Substitute blocks or HMD for reduced friction. If you want to get tricky, a wheel or lever at the inside station can supply mechanical advantage.
  • Substitute a bungee with ball termination for tiller cleat loops on long bungee and lashing lines... tension can be micro-managed by wraps of this line, anchoring ball under nearest horn of cleat. None to a few turns covers quite a range in small, half-turn steps.
  •  Make sure that easy seating, adjacent to the tiller is possible... this may require elevating the tiller, slightly, to let lines clear your lap. Installation will vary according to cockpit layout.
  • Lashing may not work as well for boats with fin keels... the problem is low tracking. Consider a drogue to enhance track steady, and whether it's worth it... another system may be advisable.
  • Splicing bungee to line is tough going... seizing with small stuff works well and looks salty.
  • Where possible, run the pull line as much out-of-the-way (close to walls or corners) as is feasible... don't want to trip over it, and a line on a deck can roll and pitch you.


  1. Some years ago, I spend 2 and a bit years working on a boat yard. This was were I learned that a boat MUST have a wheelhouse! Mid term, the boat yard burned down. There was still work and I spent one winter working in a boat with a wheelhouse. I was the lucky one, the other guys worked outside, rain or shine... Me, I was nice and snug (and smug...) in my wheelhouse, with heater, all winter. Oh and I had control of the kettle too!!!

    1. Hi Joel,

      Small pleasures, small pleasures... who would deny us these?

      Dave Z

  2. Posted on behalf of JOHN:

    Hello Dave,

    Do you have any suggestions for a simple tiller control system that can be controlled from multiple points? The system you proposed sort of does that (outside at the tiller, and inside within the pilot house), and may work just fine on your particular boat. But here is the potential problem that I see.

    If you're at the tiller and you hook up your control line, how do you keep it in position while you enter the pilot house and secure it? And there might also be the reverse problem. If you are in the pilot house and you wish to resume helming at the tiller, do you release the internal control line, and risk the boat heading off course before you can get out to the tiller? Of course, you can just go out to the tiller and slip off the bungie loops, but then the next time you wish to go back into the pilot house the control line is still secured at its previous location, so if you re-attach the bungie loops you may drive the boat off-course until you can get inside to re-adjust the control line.

    Now, your boat may be so small that you can easily hold the control line outside while reaching through the companionway to secure the control line inside the pilot house. But that would be a unique case, maybe, working just for your particular boat. So I was wondering if there was a more general way to control a tiller control line from multiple helm stations (two, three, four?) where you could adjust the control line from any helm station, independent of which help station you were last using?

    I've heard of some boats having a whip staff (a vertical tiller), connected by lines to the tiller, to control the rudder. Don't know if that could be employed, somehow, in a multiple helm-station approach.


    1. Hi John,

      To get to or from the tiller, we just pre-center the control line (cleat position marked on line). Normally, it's still in that position from the previous use, having slipped off the bungees before taking over the steering.

      From shelter to tiller should be a leisurely stroll on any boat that steers under lashed helm (unless, of course you're steering toward disaster, in which case it's a scramble).

      From tiller to shelter, likewise, especially if you can fine-tune the set from the tiller before leaving it (rolling hitches or ball-and-bungee at the tiller cleat both work).

      RE Multiple Stations... Permanently installed whipstaffs are an easy way to do it. Wheels a little less so, but may have advantages in some situations.

      Personally, I'd still like them controlling a tiller, and easily dis/mountable for fail-safer reasons.

      Keep in mind that either can be oriented longitudinally (along a gunnel, say) as well as transversely.

      I've never used such a system, so I'm not sure what might trip you up. Most that I've seen don't have the opposed bungee, but rather a taut lead to both sides of the tiller. Can't see why the bungee wouldn't work, and maybe save some trouble.

      In general, though, the bigger the boat, the less funky the gear set-ups can be. The system I present here is a funky monkey, and may well have limits where larger forces become involved.

      Good luck!

      Dave Z