What is the Steering Wheel on a Ship Called? Exploring the Anatomy of the Ship’s Rudder Control

Have you ever wondered what the steering wheel on a ship is called? Well, wonder no more my friends! The steering wheel found on a ship is actually referred to as a helm. It’s not just any old wheel, however, as it is designed to help navigate these massive vessels through the often-turbulent waters of the open sea.

If you’ve ever seen a captain in action, you know that the helm is a crucial part of any ship. It’s the place where the captain stands, with fingers wrapped around that wheel, making small adjustments that mean the difference between safety and disaster. These helms come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the type of ship they’re built for. From the smallest fishing boat to the massive container ships that crisscross the globe, the helm remains an integral part of a captain’s daily routine.

So, the next time you find yourself on a dock, watching ships go by, take a closer look and see if you can spot the helm. It may not be the most glamorous part of the ship, but it’s certainly one of the most important. After all, without the helm, there would be no one to steer these massive vessels through the unpredictable waters of the open sea.

Navigational instruments on a ship

Navigation is an essential aspect of sailing that has been around for centuries. Several instruments are used to navigate a ship from one point to another. These tools help sailors to determine their location, monitor weather patterns, and safely navigate waterways.

Commonly used navigational instruments

  • Sextant – This instrument is used to measure the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon to determine the ship’s latitude and longitude.
  • Compass – One of the most critical navigational tools that sailors use is a compass. The compass helps to determine the ship’s direction relative to magnetic north.
  • GPS – Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system that provides a ship’s position and time information in all weather conditions. It has replaced traditional navigation methods.

The steering wheel on a ship

The steering wheel is a crucial instrument that helps sailors steer the ship in the right direction. It is also known as the helm. The ship’s steering system comprises the steering gear, steering wheel, and rudder. The steering wheel is connected to the rudder through a series of wires and hydraulics.

In modern ships, the steering wheel is often replaced by a joystick, which uses computerized sensors to control the steering gear. The joystick system is more precise and efficient than the traditional steering wheel system.

The ship’s navigation table

The navigation table is an important part of the ship’s bridge where sailors plot the course and record the ship’s location. It is typically located near the helm and contains charts, pilot books, and instruments like a compass and sextant.

Instrument Purpose
Charts To help sailors plot the ship’s course.
Pilot books Contains information on ports, harbors, and local regulations.
Compass Helps to maintain the ship’s course.
Sextant Used to determine the ship’s latitude and longitude

Navigating a ship requires skill, experience, and the right equipment. Navigational instruments like the compass, GPS, and sextant, along with the steering wheel or joystick, and the navigation table are all integral to sailing and ensuring safe passage to a ship’s destination.

Ship Steering Mechanisms

Steering a ship is a complex task that requires precision and accuracy. The steering mechanism of a ship is responsible for controlling its direction and ensuring that it stays on course. There are several different types of steering mechanisms that are used on ships, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Ship Steering Mechanisms:

  • Hand Tiller
  • Whipstaff
  • Ship’s Wheel
  • Joystick
  • Hydraulic Steering System
  • Electro-hydraulic Steering System

The most commonly used steering mechanism is the ship’s wheel, which is also known as the helm. The helm is the circular steering wheel that is used to control the direction of the ship. It is located on the bridge, which is the highest point of the ship, to provide a clear view of the surrounding area. The ship’s wheel is connected to the rudder through a series of gears or hydraulic systems, which rotate the rudder and change the direction of the ship.

Hydraulic steering systems are another common type of steering mechanism used on ships. These systems use hydraulic pumps to control the movement of the rudder, providing a more efficient and precise way to steer the ship. Electro-hydraulic steering systems are a more advanced version of hydraulic systems, which use electric signals to control the hydraulic pumps. These systems are commonly found on larger ships and are more sophisticated than traditional hydraulic systems.

How to steer a ship:

Steering a ship requires a skilled and experienced navigator, who must take into account several factors such as wind, currents, and wave conditions to steer the ship safely and efficiently. The navigator must also be familiar with the ship’s steering mechanism and know how to use it effectively.

To steer a ship, the navigator must turn the ship’s wheel in the direction they wish to go. The rudder will then move, causing the ship to turn. The navigator must then monitor the ship’s heading and make any necessary adjustments to keep the ship on course.

Advantages of Ship Steering Mechanisms: Disadvantages of Ship Steering Mechanisms:
Improved efficiency and precision Can be expensive to install and maintain
More advanced systems provide better control Require skilled and experienced navigator to operate effectively
Provide a clear view of the surrounding area Can be affected by weather conditions

Overall, ship steering mechanisms are critical components of a ship’s navigation system, essential for ensuring its safety and efficiency. The type of mechanism used will depend on the size of the ship, its intended use, and the preferences of its navigator.

History of Ship Steering

The history of ship steering is a long and fascinating one. From the earliest days of seafaring to the modern age, the strategies and tools used for ship steering have undergone tremendous change and development. Let’s take a deeper look.

  • Ancient Times: Records show that the earliest civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, used large oars as steering devices for their ships. These oars were lowered into the water and manipulated by sailors to change the course of the ship.
  • The Medieval Period: As ships grew in size and complexity, the need for more precise steering became apparent. In the Medieval period, a steering mechanism called a whipstaff was developed. This was a long wooden pole with a horizontal bar at the end, which was used to control a vertical rudder attached to the back of the ship. This allowed for greater precision and maneuverability.
  • The Age of Exploration: In the 15th and 16th centuries, European sailors embarked on voyages of exploration to discover new lands and routes to Asia. During this period, the ship’s steering mechanism was refined and improved. The whipstaff was replaced by a more advanced device known as the helm. This was a large wheel located on the deck of the ship that controlled the rudder through a system of ropes and pulleys. This allowed for even greater control over the direction of the ship.

Today, ships are equipped with highly advanced steering systems that use technologies such as GPS, autopilot, and advanced computer software to navigate the seas. As we look back on the history of ship steering, it’s clear that this essential aspect of seafaring has undergone a remarkable evolution.

“History of Navigation.” Encyclopedia Britannica. August 06, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/navigation/Historical-developments.
“The History of Steering.” Treworgy Family Orchards. Accessed August 12, 2021. https://treworgyorchards.com/the-history-of-steering/.

Ship Navigation Terminologies

Ship navigation terminologies refer to the terms commonly used in navigating a ship at sea. With a plethora of jargons and phrases, understanding and mastering these terminologies can be challenging for new sailors. Here are some of the most crucial ship navigation terminologies:

The Steering Wheel on a Ship

The steering wheel on a ship is one of the essential navigation instruments on board. It is the device used to maneuver the ship and change direction. The steering wheel works by controlling the rudder, the submerged flat plate that guides the ship’s direction in the water.

  • Head: The stern is the rear-facing portion of the ship, while the bow is the front portion. The term “head” means the direction of the bow.
  • Aft: Aft is the rear section of the ship. It is the opposite of the bow, which is located at the front of the ship.
  • Port: Port refers to the left side of the ship when facing the bow.
  • Starboard: Starboard refers to the right side of the ship when facing the bow.

Knowing these terminologies is essential for effective communication and navigation aboard a ship. For accurate communication, sailors use a standard set of terminologies to avoid any confusion and ensure everyone on board understands each other.

In addition to these basic terms, there are other terminologies that sailors must know to navigate a ship effectively:

Terms Definitions
SOG (Speed Over Ground) The rate at which the ship is moving over a reference, usually the ground.
COG (Course Over Ground) The direction of the ship’s travel over the ground, usually measured in degrees from north.
GPS (Global Positioning System) The satellite-based navigation system that provides accurate positioning for ships at sea.
Dead reckoning The process of calculating the ship’s current position based on previous positions, courses, and speeds.

Understanding and mastering these terminologies are crucial to the safety and efficient navigation of a ship. Sailors should consistently educate themselves and improve their knowledge of these jargons to ensure that they can confidently navigate the open waters.

Steering wheel vs. helm vs. tiller

When it comes to navigating a ship, the steering is of utmost importance. In fact, the way the ship steers can determine whether the passengers and crew return home safely. But what exactly is the steering instrument on a ship called? There are three main options: the steering wheel, the helm, and the tiller.

  • Steering wheel: This is the most commonly recognized steering instrument. It is a circular device that is mounted on a pedestal in the ship’s cockpit. The ship’s captain or helmsman operates the steering wheel by turning it to port or starboard to navigate the ship. This instrument is primarily used on larger shipping vessels, including cruise ships and cargo ships.
  • Helm: A helm is a device used for steering smaller ships such as sailboats or motorboats. Unlike a steering wheel, the helm is a horizontal bar that is used to steer the vessel. The operator of the helm applies pressure on one end of the bar to change course, and the compass helps the operator maintain the right direction for the ship.
  • Tiller: The tiller is another steering instrument widely used on smaller boats. It is a lever attached to the rudder post at the stern of the ship, and it is used to steer by pushing or pulling the tiller to either side. The tiller is operated by the boat’s operator or helmsman.

Each of these steering instruments has its unique benefits and applications, and the choice of instrument depends on the type and size of the vessel and the application for which it is used.

It’s important to note that apart from these three steering instruments, some ships use other systems that allow for remote or autopilot control, especially in today’s digital age.

Instrument Ship Types Operator
Steering Wheel Larger shipping vessels including cargo and cruise ships Ship’s captain or helmsman
Helm Smaller ships such as sailboats and motorboats Boat’s operator or helmsman
Tiller Smaller boats Boat’s operator or helmsman

It’s important for any aspiring sailor or maritime enthusiast to understand the different steering instruments and their applications in different ship types. This knowledge could prove useful when navigating a vessel or even when watching a ship safely sail off into the horizon.

Different types of ships and their steering methods

Ships have been around for centuries and have played a significant role in the transportation of goods and people across the globe. Throughout the years, ships have evolved and come in different types with varying steering methods. In this article, we will discuss the different types of ships and their steering methods.

Types of ships

  • Military ships
  • Cargo ships
  • Passenger ships
  • Cruise ships
  • Fishing vessels
  • Tugboats
  • Recreational boats

Steering methods

Steering a ship is not as simple as turning a car’s steering wheel. It requires a course of action and a lot of precision. The steering methods that are used depend on the type of ship and the size of the vessel. Here are some steering methods:

1. Rudder steering

This is the most common method of steering and is found on most ships. A rudder is a flat, movable plate that is attached to the back of the ship’s hull. It can be turned left or right, which causes the ship to turn in that direction.

2. Azimuth thruster steering

This method of steering is commonly used on smaller vessels. It involves a propeller that can rotate 360 degrees, which allows the ship to change its direction easily.

3. Water jet steering

This method of steering involves propelling water through a nozzle at the stern of the ship. The reaction force of the water jet causes the ship to turn.

4. Voith Schneider Propeller steering

This method is also known as cycloidal propeller steering and is common on tugboats and other vessels that require precise maneuvering. It involves a propeller that rotates 360 degrees and can move laterally as well.

5. Kort nozzle steering

This method of steering is used on fishing vessels and smaller boats. It involves a propeller that is enclosed in a nozzle, which directs the water flow and allows the ship to turn.


Ships have different steering methods depending on their size and type. The most common method of steering is the rudder steering, while other vessels require more intricate methods such as azimuth thruster, water jet, Voith Schneider Propeller and Kort nozzle steering.

Method Type of vessel
Rudder steering Most ships
Azimuth thruster steering Smaller vessels
Water jet steering Various vessels
Voith Schneider Propeller steering Tugboats and other precision vessels
Kort nozzle steering Fishing vessels and smaller boats

Modern advancements in ship steering technology

As technology continues to advance, it is no surprise that ship steering technology is also upgrading. In this article, we will discuss some of the modern advancements in ship steering technology. One of the crucial components of any ship is the steering wheel or steering mechanism. It is responsible for controlling the direction and movement of a vessel in the water. Below, we will dive into how recent improvements have made ship steering more efficient and safer.

Advancements in Ship Steering Technology

  • Joystick Control: It is an advanced technology that replaces the traditional wheel and allows ship operators to manoeuvre their ship effectively by simply pushing and pulling a joystick. This technology has made docking and mooring much easier, resulting in fewer accidents and damages.
  • Autopilot: This technology automates the steering of a ship by using a computer system that takes environmental factors, such as wind and currents, into account, reducing the workload of operators while saving fuel and improving navigation efficiency.
  • Dynamic Positioning: Advanced dynamic positioning systems use multiple thrusters to help maintain a ship’s position despite external forces like wind, waves, and currents. It improves safety in heavy seas and allows for precise positioning during offshore operations such as drilling, subsea construction, or repairs.

Increased Safety Measures

When it comes to ship steering technology, safety is always a top priority. That is why new safety measures have been introduced, such as backup steering systems and collision avoidance systems. The backup system ensures that ships can still be manoeuvred if the primary steering mechanism fails, while the collision avoidance system uses advanced radars and other sensors to detect any potential obstacles and alert the operator to take action.

New Materials and Designs

New materials like lightweight alloys, carbon fiber, and other composites have been incorporated into ship steering technology, creating more effective designs that improve performance while reducing the weight of the vessel. The development of new materials and designs has also enabled ships to become more fuel-efficient, reducing carbon emissions and increasing sustainability in the shipping industry.


Advancements in ship steering technology: Benefits:
Joystick Control Efficient and Accurate Navigation
Autopilot Saving Fuel and Increasing Navigation Efficiency
Dynamic Positioning Improving Safety in Heavy Seas

With the emergence of new technology, modern ship steering systems have come a long way from traditional steering wheels. These advancements have increased safety and improved efficiencies while reducing carbon emissions. Incorporating these innovations into ship steering has allowed the industry to modernize, stay competitive and sustainable while continuing to transport goods across the world’s oceans.

FAQs – What is the steering wheel on a ship called?

Q: What is the device used to steer a ship?
A: The device used to steer a ship is called a “helm”.

Q: Is the helm only found on large ships?
A: No, helms can be found on ships of all sizes, from small recreational boats to large cargo vessels.

Q: Is the helm the same thing as the steering wheel?
A: Yes, the helm is commonly referred to as the steering wheel on a ship.

Q: Are all helms the same?
A: No, helms come in different sizes and styles depending on the type of ship.

Q: Who is in charge of the helm?
A: The person in charge of steering the ship is usually the helmsman or the captain.

Q: Can the helm be controlled from different areas of the ship?
A: Yes, there are usually multiple helm stations on a ship, allowing for control from various parts of the vessel.

Q: Is the helm a manual or electronic device?
A: The helm can be either a manual device, such as a traditional wooden wheel, or an electronic device that is manipulated using buttons or a joystick.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading about what the steering wheel on a ship is called! Now you know that it’s called a helm and that it can come in different sizes and styles depending on the ship. Remember, the person in charge of steering the ship is usually the helmsman or captain, and the helm can either be a manual or electronic device. Don’t hesitate to visit us again for more information and articles about maritime topics.