What Is Steering a Sailboat Called?

Steering a Sailboat: What is Helm?

For centuries, people have been using helm to steer sailboats and other vessels, but what exactly is it? In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of helm and how it works as well as its various benefits and drawbacks.

What is Helm?

A helm is essentially a tiller or wheel that is used to steer a vessel, either manually or mechanically, allowing the helmsperson to control the direction and speed of the boat or ship.

It’s an important part of sailing that has been around for centuries, with some vessels using it as far back as ancient Egypt and Greece.

Types of Helm

There are several different types of helms available on the market today, ranging from manual helms such as tiller steering to hydraulic steering systems that are more complex and often used on larger vessels such as cruise ships or cargo ships.

Some helms can also be controlled remotely via radio or GPS systems, allowing for more precise steering even in rough seas.

Functions of a Helm

The primary function of any helm system is to provide the helmsperson with control over the direction and speed of their vessel in order to safely navigate through any given area or situation on the water.

The helm also allows for quick adjustments in speed in order to avoid obstacles or other vessels that may be present in the area, making it an invaluable tool for sailors on any type of boat or ship.

Benefits of Steering with a Helm

Using a helm provides many advantages to sailors, most notably improved safety due to its ability to quickly adjust direction or speed in order to avoid obstacles or other vessels on the water, increased fuel efficiency due to its ability to maintain a steady course, and better control over the boat’s position relative to wind direction which can be beneficial when sailing in areas where winds are unpredictable.

Additionally, helms allow for better communication between crew members who are responsible for controlling different aspects of navigation since they can easily coordinate their movements based on what they observe from their respective positions on board the vessel.

Commonly Used Materials for a Helm

Helm systems are usually made out of metal such as steel, aluminum or brass but there are also some composite materials such as fiberglass that can be used depending on what type of vessel it’s being installed on and what type of conditions it will be exposed to over time (e.g., saltwater exposure).

Generally speaking though, metal remains one of the most popular materials when it comes to helms due its strength and durability in both fresh-water and salt-water environments alike.

How To Steer With A Helm

In order for someone to properly use a helm system they must have an understanding of basic nautical terms such as “port” (left) and “starboard” (right) as well as how much pressure needs to be applied when turning left vs right in order to properly maneuver the vessel in any given situation, this knowledge is usually acquired through practice and experience over time but can also be taught by experienced sailors who can demonstrate proper technique during onboard instruction sessions if needed/desired by someone new to sailing/steering .

Additionally, some modern helms offer automated systems that allow for easier maneuvering depending on certain factors such as wind direction/speed or GPS coordinates which can help beginner/intermediate sailors learn faster than if they were attempting everything manually without assistance from technology .

Different Types Of Vessels That Use A Helmsman System

Helm systems are used primarily by boats/ships that require more precise control during navigation such as racing boats/yachts (where crews must use fast reflexes and coordinated actions while maneuvering around obstacles), tall ships (which require precise course adjustments while sailing through choppy waters) , working vessels (such as tugboats which require accurate steering while pushing barges around tight turns), cruise ships (which need steady control while navigating large bodies of water) , cargo ships (which rely heavily on accurate steering while navigating busy ports) etc…

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using The Helmsman System

The advantages associated with using a helm system include improved safety due its ability adjust quickly when needed, increased fuel efficiency since it maintains steady courses, better communication among crew members who need coordinate their movements, less fatigue since it requires less physical effort than manual steering , plus automated systems offer even easier maneuvers based on certain factors inputted into them beforehand .

On top hand however , some disadvantages include higher cost associated with purchasing/installing automated systems in addition regular maintenance required keep them functioning properly .

Additionally , manual steers may require more expertise depending situation which could lead longer learning curve those new sailing .


In conclusion , helm system provides great benefits those looking steer sailboat accurately while avoiding obstacles other vessels water .

It consists tiller wheel designed turn boat either manually mechanically depending type model chosen . Automated versions even available those wanting use technology their advantage making process easier faster .

Despite this though , there still few drawbacks associated using helm including higher costs upkeep along having understand basic nautical terms order properly maneuver boat desired location .


Whether you’re an experienced sailor looking for an efficient way to navigate your sailboat or someone just starting out who wants an easier way learn how steer – understanding what helm system all about will give you insight into one most important tools aboard any vessel .

With proper knowledge installation maintenance – there no doubt that you’ll make best use your helm system your next voyage !

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