Select Page

Take a look around the average boatyard and you will see examples of all kinds of different rudders and steering systems. Some rudders hang off the transom, some hang beneath the stern, others are built into the back of the keel, some look fine and elegant, others are crude and square – there really are all sorts.

One thing all rudders have in common is that they have three main parts that need to be checked: the rudder, or a steerable drive leg in the case of many power boats; the system that joins the rudder to the steering; the steering control itself.

Transom hung rudder

Traditional, aft hung rudders with tiller steering are the simplest form of rudder. A common form is the 3-point hung type with a laminated tiller attached through a hole in the top of the rudder. Fixed to the transom there are usually two or three metal eyes or gudgeons (made from bronze or stainless steel), through which metal pintles, with tangs attached to the rudder, slot into place. This forms a hinge. At the base of the rudder is a heel bearing which helps support the rudder.There are different ways for the rudder to be connected to the transom and also to the keel, depending on keel type. Some tillers are attached to the head of the rudder stock by metal straps.

Transom hung rudder checks:

  • Check whether the pintles and gudgeons are worn and how much play there is in the rudder as a result, by moving it from side to side and up and down. The pintles and gudgeons should be replaced if there is excessive wear – 2-3 mm is about the limit.
  • Check for loose fastenings. If these are found inspect wooden rudders or transoms for signs of rot.
  • Inspect stainless steel gudgeons and pintles for signs of corrosion. Be prepared to remove the rudder in order to make a full inspection.
  • Check the pivot bolt for wear.

Boat rudder, boat rudder maintenance

Skeg rudder

A skeg rudder is a variation of the transom hung rudder used by boats without a full length keel. The skeg hangs down below the hull in place of the keel, providing support and protection for the rudder. A full-skeg hangs down the full length of the rudder, while a half-skeg supports the upper part of the rudder only.

Skeg rudder checks:

  • As with all types of rudder, if there is a distinct vibration in the tiller when sailing, this indicates bearing failure.
  • Check all the pivot points for wear.
  • Check the condition of the skeg, as skegs are subjected to very large stresses at sea. Check the seam is not cracked and the laminate waterlogged as a result.
  • The bottom bearing of a skeg-hung rudder is usually very reliable but if there is excessive play then this will need replacing.

Boat rudder, boat rudder maintenance

Galvanic corrosion

Rudders, rudder fittings and stern drives are at risk of galvanic corrosion. If your boat’s rudder is made of metal it will most likely have a sacrificial anode bolted to it. This will need replacing when more than half of the anode has been lost to corrosion. Points worth remembering are:

  • Anodes will not work if they are painted over.
  • Make sure the metal is bare beneath the anode.
  • For outdrives, check your engine manual to be sure how many anodes you need and where they should go.

Preventative maintenance

Preventative maintenance is especially important for rudders. However, the annual maintenance of a rudder and steering system should be approached with some caution as there are not really any hard and fast rules that apply to all. It is always best to follow manufacturer’s recommendations. However, if you are unable to access this information or are unsure how best to proceed, then check with your boatyard or surveyor to find out precisely what needs to be done before going into DIY mode.

Take rudder bearings for example – some should never be greased, others require special synthetic grease. Roller bearings and seals should be replaced on a regular basis, normally every five years, according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

It is good practice to remove a rudder for a thorough inspection every four or five years and certainly before a long offshore voyage.

Boat Sterring systems, cable steering

Wheel steering systems

Wheel steering systems include cable operated types, push-rod and hydraulic systems. Here are some of the usual checks, but for all the specific requirements for your boat, refer to the manual:

  • Check cables for broken strands, which will need to be replaced if found.
  • Check and adjust cable tension if necessary, being careful not to over tighten.
  • Check all pivots, connections, split pins and adjusters.
  • Check the condition and tightness of bearings at the end of push-rods.
  • Check the fluid level in the reservoir of hydraulic systems and check for leaks.
  • Check all pivots for wear and all steering locking devices.

Boat engine fuel system

If engines are installed and serviced correctly then most marine engines are very reliable, but one of the most important parts of the engine to check and service is the fuel system.

Getting a tow for your sail or power boat at sea or on inland waterways

FREE tips from the Safe Skipper App for iPhone/iPad/Android: Getting a tow for your sail or power boat Plan how to secure a...

Boat Improvements

My Boat - practical improvements Author - Mike Rossiter Most boat owners who have had their craft for any length of time will have made what they...

Avoiding collisions at sea – how to stay safe on the water

Boats have many blind spots, including the headsails of sailing boats. Always keep a lookout, stay safe and remember that...

Galvanic and electrolytic corrosion

Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical reaction between two or more different metals, in the presence of an electrolyte (note salt water is a good electrolyte).

Medical Emergency at Sea

How to deal with a medical emergency afloat   If you are planning a boating trip, it is important to have at least one...

First aid at sea basics

At least one person on board should be trained in first aid and know how to administer the contents of the first aid kit, ensuring there are adequate supplies for the planned duration of the trip.

Engine failure at sea – common causes and how to avoid them

Many engine failures are caused by lack of maintenance, resulting in fuel filter blockages, water pump failures, overheating and other breakdowns. Indeed, one of the most common reasons for marine rescue service call outs is for one of the most basic reasons possible – boats that have run out of fuel.

Understanding marine sealants & adhesives

Sealants, adhesives and adhesive sealantsThere is a bewildering variety of sealants, adhesives and even adhesive sealants available for...

Safe Skipper – crew management tips

Effective crew briefings are a vital part of the good on-board communication that helps everything to run smoothly on a sailing vessel at sea, whether it is cruising or racing.

How to cope with an emergency at sea

A safe skipper will be mentally prepared for all kinds of potential emergencies happening at sea, including medical emergencies, engine failure, fire, a holed hull, capsize and dismasting.

Boat Handling – anchoring

Anchoring your yacht or motorboat Anchoring is one of the most important boat handling skills. If you can set an anchor...

A five day sailing cruise of the Solent, UK

Welcome to our virtual Solent sailing cruise – a five day sail in the south of England from Bosham Quay in Chichester...

Capsize – understanding the risks

A skipper should know how their boat will cope with rough seas. By working within known limits and understanding the risks,...

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 3

Antifouling is one of the least pleasant boat maintenance jobs to do, but it has to be done. The very worst job of all is removing the old antifouling as this can get seriously messy and is very hard work.

Understanding boat engines

Irrespective of what kind of engine a boat is equipped with and who does the work, the regular care and maintenance of a marine engine is essential. The most common cause of marine engine failure is widely known to be lack of maintenance.

Boat ownership

Owning a boat is a big commitment that should bring no end of satisfaction for the owner as well as the owner's family and friends. In...

Common marine electrical problems

Most problems with marine electrical systems arise from four possible sources, a lack of maintenance, a poor standard of initial installation, insufficient battery capacity, or ineffective charging systems.
Water ingress is a frequent issue – salt water can corrode contacts very quickly. If connections are not scrupulously clean – or are loose – resistance will be increased, resulting in progressively reduced power.

How a propeller works

Have a look around any boatyard and you will notice quite a variety of propellers – some have two blades, some have three and others have four or more. While most propellers are completely rigid some have blades that fold.

Boat decks and superstructure

The deck of a boat is constantly exposed to the elements and should be inspected on an annual basis. Particular attention needs to be given to the overall condition of deck fittings such as the stanchions, cleats and chainplates.

How to improve a yacht’s upwind performance

There are several ways to improve the upwind performance of a sailing yacht. Read on for some useful tips including headsail reefing, heavy weather jibs and motor sailing.

Sending distress signals

In an emergency situation at sea, it is a top priority is to know how to send and receive emergency radio calls and alert others of your predicament. Likewise, if you receive a distress signal, you must be ready to go to the help of others.

Rudders and steering systems – Part 3

In the third of our three blog articles on rudders and steering systems, we look at how to replace rudder bearings and repair a water-saturated core.

Learn ColRegs: Traffic Separation Schemes

Learn ColRegs Rule 10: Traffic Separation Schemes. (c) A vessel shall, so far as practicable, avoid crossing traffic lanes...

Light characteristics – how do navigators identify lights at night?

How do navigators identify the different types of light around our coasts at night and what are their characteristics?Navigating at...