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Rudder Vs Tiller: An Expert Comparison in 2023

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson


For any boater, being able to identify boat components is very important. It helps them to control the vessel easier and handle different situations while cruising efficiently. However, there are many parts that are frequently mistaken for each other, for instance, rudder vs tiller.

If you are looking for an article that compiles a precise comparison of tiller vs. rudder, this is the perfect place for you! In this post, we will provide detailed information to answer, “What is a tiller on a boat?” and delineate other distinctions between a tiller and rudder.

Moreover, other tips on distinguishing a vessel’s rudder and tiller will be highlighted so you and other boaters can have a better understanding of this topic. Continue reading to learn more!

An Overview of a Rudder and a Tiller


1. The definition of a tiller

A tiller is a lever handle located in the stern of a boat used to guide the boat. In its most basic form, it is a long piece of metal or wood attached to a shaft, while the rudder is mounted to the opposite end of this shaft and submerged. This design is used in smaller vessels, like fishing boats, and is particularly suitable for trolling.

Large contemporary boats with tillers are becoming less common, although reconstructions of historic wooden ships frequently have them. Tillers were extensively utilized in the past thanks to the level of control they provided.

In bigger crafts, tillers are long pieces of wood, aluminum, or other robust material coupled with a basic mechanism and linked to the boat’s rudder beneath the water.

In some cases, rudders located on the vessel’s transom can be directly attached to the tiller. In terms of operation methods, despite their look, tillers function equally in smaller and larger boats.

2. An introduction to a rudder

A sailboat’s rudder is one of its target structures. Whenever the boat goes through waves, the rudder creates friction on one side and alters the boat’s direction. Rudders are operated by a tiller moving side-to-side or by a helm as well as a sophisticated connection system. Rudders are sensitive and are often flush with and shielded by the keel.

Rudders are attached to vessels through a shaft or a hinge. The rudder is always positioned behind the sailboat in the water.

However, some rudders have a section of their construction visible above the water level. Rudders that are not visible above the waterline are normally located beneath the stern and are operated by a lift shaft that drops through the boat’s bottom.

Rudders come in a variety of designs, and differing models might result in a performance distinction. Some structures improve control and handling, while others improve other elements of boat capability, such as speed. Certain boats can have multiple rudders.

Tiller Vs. Rudder: The Main Differences


A boat’s rudder stretches into the water from the place where it hooks on the transom, or it can be located beneath the boat. The tiller, on the other hand, is the lever moving from side-to-side to cause the rudder to turn.

A rudder is a vertically oriented blade that serves as a foil. Rudders are made of a variety of materials, such as wood, aluminum. carbon fiber, or fiberglass. The rudder’s position as water travels over it influences the boat’s course. Meanwhile, the tiller acts as a lever to guide a boat by turning the rudder.

The rudder(s) on many motorized sailboats are hidden beneath the hull. The tiller is attached to a post in this arrangement. The post is fastened to the rudder and is installed underneath the boat.

While steered the tiller is shifted slightly to the opposite direction in which you wish to travel. It doesn’t take much time to become used to utilizing a tiller, and if you’ve ever traveled with an outboard engine, you must have already used one.

Functions of a Rudder

Rudders function by obstructing the movement of water. When rudders are kept parallel, they have little effect on the boat. When you move the rudder to one side, the boat’s direction changes.

When the rudder is moved at a certain angle, hydrostatic pressure develops on the side with the smaller angle, pushing the stern towards to the side with lower pressure. Since the stern rotates in one way, the bow moves in the opposite direction, allowing the boat to steer left or right.

Tiller Steering’s Features

A tiller can be an alternative to the wheel, which is now the norm for boats. However, because of the benefits they provide, tillers are still often utilized on smaller vessels.

Tillers provide a far better level of control than wheels. The shift in direction is performed much faster when guiding the boat with a tiller, thanks to the direct changing of the rudder through the shaft. This is extremely handy for positioning the vessel in certain locations, as is often necessary when fishing.

At lower velocities, tillers are more precise than wheels. Because of this benefit, trolling engines are usually used in conjunction with a tiller. Utilizing a tiller rather than a wheel also allows for additional storage capacity on a vessel, which is useful for fishing.

While tillers are common for fishing, these boat components still have some drawbacks. It is difficult to manage a tiller at high velocities, especially when the vessel is large.

Because of the increased demand for faster watercraft, the wheel, together with its improved control and steering at greater speeds, became the norm for boats. Tillers, on the other hand, are still effective in some settings and will most likely be trusted for a considerable period of time.


Identifying rudder vs tiller is crucial as it helps boaters to control their boats easier. In fact, understanding these two vessel components will provide boaters the essential knowledge and skills to handle various boating scenarios.

Therefore, we hope that the above information will assist you to distinguish rudder and tiller easier, making your sailing journeys safer!

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