Emergency Tiller Under Sail Drills and Practice

Emergency Tiller Under Sail Drills and Practice, Emergency Tiller Under Sail Drills and Practice

Most of us have taken out the emergency tiller, fit it into the top of the steering post, and declared that with water running across the rudder; it will indeed be hard to steer. It’s time to practice with your emergency tiller in a realistic manner.

We might briefly consider how to lengthen the tiller with a flag pole, boat hook, or other device. We may even have thought through how we could rig lines from the emergency tiller to the outboard cleats to assist in managing the extreme forces from the water moving across the rudder / rudders. 

Well, it’s time to experience a bit more. 

Authentic Assessment

Here’s the challenge – from sailing, when you have plenty of clear area all around, and I mean at least a quarter of a mile in all directions; let go of the helm.

Warn everyone that multiple accidental tacks and multiple accidental gybes may occur; everyone ready on the sheets.

During this maneuver, depending on conditions, you may need to make announcements over the VHF radio. Don’t forget to communicate with those on board as well as those in your vicinity if your actions affect them. Swerving around in the waterway with few boaters around may be a “Securite” call, while anchoring with an oncoming tug and barge may call for the “Pan Pan” call. Your decisions should be based on the situation in which your boat is involved.

Then have someone go get the emergency tiller. 

Steering With Your Sails

This will force you to realize just what the boat actually will do in this situation. I can tell you, it is very possible it will swing in circles, alternately tacking herself and gybing herself. 

This is the time to remember exactly which sail does what, and use them to steer the boat. 

The main drives the boat up toward the wind. The jib pulls the boat away from the wind. 

Use this knowledge to bring the boat under control – and – surprise – even once you have the emergency tiller in position, until the boat is tracking straight, it’s going to be extremely difficult to simply “steer.” You will have to use the sails to settle the boat down onto a course. 

Sit Down

Another trick with using the emergency tiller is to sit down. While it seems natural to stand; taking away one variable – your body moving around – will make steering with an emergency tiller easier. 

When you stand, you have to balance yourself. When you sit, you have the advantage of being able to brace yourself and feel how much the boat and rudder/rudders are moving. This makes it easier to bring the boat under control faster. 

All those times you considered “weather helm” and “lee helm;” now you can put that knowledge into use and make steering easier on yourself. 

Besides the actual act of steering with the emergency tiller, this is a time to hone those sail trim skills. 

Emergency Tiller Drill Under Sail Checklist

  • Recognize that you have lost steering
  • Assign someone to announce situation on VHF and keep watch
  • Have sound-producing device ready for emergency signals
  • Announce everyone ready for unplanned tacks and gybes
  • Assign someone to retrieve emergency tiller and key / winch handle
  • Remove access plate
  • Install tiller
  • Sit down
  • Steer
  • Trim sails to ease pressure on emergency tiller
  • Rig control lines as planned in advance
Emergency Tiller Under Sail Drills and Practice, Emergency Tiller Under Sail Drills and Practice

I Don’t Go Anywhere Without:

  • North American Rescue CAT tourniquets.
  • PierShare to rent your dock out or rent a dock.
  • BoatUS for your boat towing insurance! Code: “HEWAF88”
  • Thank you Bill for being the Best Sailing Partner EVER!

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