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What Is the Steering Wheel on a Ship Called? (Correct Name)

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

what is the steering wheel on a ship called

Have you ever wondered what is the steering wheel on a ship called? It’s tricky as there are various terms for it. It’s either called the boat wheel or the ship wheel. Today, most people simply refer to it as the helm. Some call it a toggle, tiller, or console part for steering.

However, there’s only one steering wheel ship meaning: a part of steering mechanics that complete the helm. It changes the rudder’s direction in the water as the ship goes in another direction.

For a better understanding, aside from the boat steering wheel name, read on.

Facts About the Ship’s Steering Wheel


1. Its Location

Without the interference of customization, the ship’s steering wheel is on the starboard side or the right side. As you know, the port side on the left is where unloading takes place.

The steering wheel on the right side is favorable to right-handed sailors. They can operate the ship naturally and conveniently. This has been the practice since ancient times and even in wars.

The right hand controls the ship while there’s a weapon on the left hand. It’s the basis as the majority of the human population is right-handed.

2. Being a Symbol

The print or form of the steering wheel can be seen in many instances. It’s worn as a tattoo or added on patterns and logos. It may have a meaning to people who chose to use it.

Some of them are retired sailors who still cherish their lives at sea. Others utilize this steering wheel on a boat despite the control of the vessel being done by the helmsman. You can see a steering wheel as a decoration oftentimes.

It can also be a symbol that manifests a life of a person who goes through challenges like the unexpected roughness of the sea. In the past, the wheel on a ship was used as a solar sign. History will additionally tell you that it’s the symbol of leadership and management based on its function in the ship.

3. The Steering Wheel on a Pirate Ship


The steering wheel on ships, deck boats, sailboats, pontoons, and other vessels is usually called the helm. How about the pirate ship steering wheel name? There’s no difference as it’s also called helm. The same term is used in film and literature when referring to a pirate’s ship.

The word ‘helm’ is derived from a Viking word that means ‘to steer’, which is equivalent to ‘to control or steer the pirate’s ship’.

Steering Wheel on a Ship: Terms and Appearance


Apart from being aware of the ship’s steering wheel name, it’s normal to be curious about its appearance.

1. The Helm

In modern maritime, the helm is a steering wheel and it’s rare to directly label it as a ship’s wheel. Even though modern people generally use a helm, you can find it in different forms. This is where you consider its proper name. You’ll find the round or traditional steering wheel and a console or toggle.

A wooden steering wheel has the standard design, which you can find among the traditional wheels. It’s round, made of sturdy wood, and added to smaller vessels. Moreover, this tool allows the sailor to maneuver the craft without leaving the top deck. To change the direction, the sailor turns the wheel and the rudder follows.

The design of the classic steering wheel comes with 8 or 6 wooden spokes. Depending on the configuration, you may also find wooden wheels with 10 spokes. These spokes are held together by a square hole in the center.

It’s where the axle moves around. There’s a spindle connected through a barrel and it reaches out to the tiller chain. To complete the system, there are sheaves and pulleys under the ship.

The operation of the traditional steering wheel is fairly straightforward. A bit of modification is done on the modern version but the premise remains unchanged.

Upon seeing the wooden steering wheel, some would think of pirate movies and ships used in the past. It’s a big wheel on a ship that needs the strength of two men to be moved.

The steering wheel of the past can’t be underestimated as it’s an advanced innovation. It can even compete with the present hydraulic and engineering abilities. No one can tell if there will be discoveries in maneuvering ships that will only be through a few control steps.

2. The Modern Steering Wheel


While it’s mentioned that the traditional steering wheel is capable of letting the ship cross the open sea, a huge wooden body is not always the ultimatum for functionality. Due to modernization, electronics are incorporated with mechanisms to ease the captain’s tasks.

The modern steering wheel is smaller; some are even smaller than the ones on vehicles.

Although the massive size of the wheel is reduced, the vessels work as expected and they’re even faster and stronger than before.

The Systems of Steering Wheel on a Ship

To make the steering wheel work properly on a ship, support is given by the steering gear. It can only happen if the three requirements are based on classifications and rules set by society.

  • The steering gear should be able to steer to 35 degrees from starboard or port and vice versa. It’s expected to have a steady head-on speed for the maximum, uninterrupted rpm-rated shaft. The summer load waterline should stay in the maximum suggested time frame of 28 seconds.
  • In the part of the rudder, it’s expected to have a turning capability of 15 degrees from starboard and port or vice versa. This movement should be accomplished within a minute while the ship is moving at half of its maximum speed.
  • Replacements for major control systems and power units must be available onboard so there will be no interruption when system failure happens.
  • An emergency generator is essential to power the steering gear system. It’s connected to the emergency power supply.

The most commonly used steer gear systems are hydraulic and electro-hydraulic. They’re both powered by hydraulic pressure, but the former is purely mechanical while the latter is activated by electric motors. The advanced electro-hydraulic gear system is commonly seen on ships nowadays.

Hydraulic pumps are the reason why these gear systems work but still, the main control of steering actions leans on the helm or the steering wheel. Furthermore, the gear system creates a torsional force that is sent to the rudder for activation.

Other Types of Steering Gear Systems

1. Ram Type Steering Gear

Though this system is costly, the construction is favorable so many ships have this. The principle of its operation is akin to the work of a motor engine driven by hydraulic pumps. Four hydraulic cylinders are attached on both sides. They’re linked to a hydraulic pump that provides them motion to turn the rudder stock.

It’s common knowledge that the rudder stock is vital to the whole arrangement of steering gear of ships. It causes the rudder’s reaction, which is guided by the hydraulic pumps.

2. Rotary Vane Steering Gear

This system has a housing where the two vanes rotate, and it has four chambers. The different pressures that fill the chambers compel the vanes to rotate. You can experience some advantages when using this system like less weight, smaller space requirement, and lower installation cost.

Summing It Up

What is the steering wheel on a ship called? You don’t only learn the answer to this question but also everything else about the helm or steering wheel.

Although advancements were made on this part of the ship, the mechanism is the same to allow the ship to move smoothly and swiftly. But manually steering the wheel is not required these days due to hydraulic pumps and electronic devices.

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