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What Is a Tiller Outboard Motor Tiller Steering System?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

what is a tiller outboard motor

Have you ever wondered how people maneuver their boats without a steering wheel? Would it surprise you to learn that all they need is a simple device known as a tiller? Newbie boaters assume that water vessels have a steering wheel. They often ask, what is a tiller outboard motor tiller steering system?

You will find this article advantageous if you think the same way. Not only will you learn what a tiller is. You will also know how it works, operates, and the benefits of using this system.

Let us start.

Tiller Outboard Motor Steering System: What’s It?

A tiller is nothing less than the handle or lever that connects to a small boat’s rudder. It is tricky to find large ships with a tiller because it would take an enormous amount of force to control the lever.

Hence, a tiller motor steering system is an outboard engine with a lever for maneuvering the watercraft. You can see this steering system in boat motors with no more than 15 horsepower. Examples of water vessels that use this system are Jon boats, bass boats, and other small fishing craft.

Sailboats also use a tiller steering system. Even though some of these watercraft types do not have engines, they still have rudders for maneuvering in the water. Since a tiller connects to the rudder, you can pilot your sailboat in any direction using only the tiller.

How Does a Tiller Outboard Motor Steering System Work?

As mentioned, a tiller connects to the rudder, similar to how your car’s rack and pinion system links the steering wheel to the axles. When you turn your steering wheel to the right, the wheels also turn in that direction. It allows you to move your car in any bearing you want.

A tiller boat motor works the same way as a crucial component of the outboard engine. Moving the lever also turns the moor in the intended direction. However, the boat’s movement is always opposite the tiller’s direction. For example, if you shift the tiller to the right, your boat will turn to the left.

It can be challenging at first, especially if you are more familiar with vehicle steering systems. It would be best to understand how this system works to navigate the waterways safely without incident. As a rule, shift the tiller in the direction opposite where you want to go.

How Do You Operate a Tiller Steering System?


Operating tiller handle boat motors can be tricky to the uninitiated. I should emphasize its contralateral movements when steering. Hence, you must shift the lever to the right to turn the boat to the left and vice versa.

One thing you can do to remember this is by unlearning your driving habits. If you want to turn your car to the left, you will steer the wheel to the left. If you pilot your boat, shifting the tiller to the left will maneuver your watercraft to the right.

So, right is left, and left is right. Easy, right?

Here is a video from Boats.com about operating a tiller steer boat motor. You might want to watch the video to understand how to use this steering system.

You now know how to maneuver your boat using a tiller steering system. Let us consider its other functions.

You might want to check your boat’s tiller if it comes with a rotating ring. This component serves as the motor’s speed controller. You can increase the boat’s speed if you twist the ring one way and decelerate if you turn it the other way.

Most manufacturers put markings on their tillers to know which one is for acceleration and deceleration. I recommend studying the manual to learn to operate your watercraft safely.

Some brands also have tension adjustments and an extension handle in their tiller motor systems. I suggest checking the product user’s guide to operate these components effectively.

What Are the Benefits of a Tiller Outboard Motor Steering System?


A tiller outboard motor steering system is perfect if you are an avid angler, an adventurous thrill-seeker, or a casual sightseer. I know you also like to learn how such a system can benefit you.

  • You will have more space in your boat.

Steering wheels on boats require a console similar to a car’s dashboard. It also has multiple connections running from the watercraft’s center section to the outboard motor. These components take up space. And if your boat is not large enough, you are better off with a tiller steering system.

You can place your tackle boxes, containers of live bait, and other fishing gear right in your boat’s stern. You will still have plenty of space for you and your buddies to have fun in the boat’s front and middle sections. Having several passengers is also a breeze with a tiller system.

  • It is effortless to control and maneuver.

Although some boaters prefer a steering wheel, many love the simplicity and excellent maneuverability of tiller systems. It is one of this system’s most significant advantages over other types of boat steering. Its maneuverability and control are exceptional at low speeds.

You will never strain when turning, even with one hand. Changing speed is also never an issue. The lever already integrates an accelerator/decelerator mechanism. Some boats also have detailed gauges to make your water adventures more fun.

  • It is hassle-free to operate.

The only downside to operating a tiller steering system is its contralateral direction. Turning the boat right requires shifting the lever to the left. It can take some time before you acclimatize to this distinct characteristic. Hopefully, you will know the difference when driving your car.

It should be effortless to operate the tiller system once you learn its contralateral movements. You can maneuver your boat anywhere with one hand while keeping an eye on obstacles in the water.

  • You will never fret about its maintenance and repair.

Modern tiller systems are part of the boat’s outboard motor. It has a simple design with few areas that can malfunction. The system’s straightforward design makes it easy to maintain and spot troubles. Repairing it is never an issue, regardless of your DIY skill level.

Troubleshooting a tiller outboard motor is also hassle-free. Beginner boat owners can fix any problem as efficiently and effectively as professionals and seasoned boaters. Not only does it translate to improved cost-savings, but it also builds the boat owner’s confidence.


Now you know the answer to the question, what is a tiller outboard motor tiller steering system? A tiller is a handle or lever that connects to your boat’s outboard engine, allowing you to steer and maneuver it safely in the water.

Tillers are effortless to operate, control, maintain, and repair. Moreover, they give you more space in your boat. They make excellent control mechanisms for small vessels, such as fishing and recreational watercraft.

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