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Ditch The Stick!

At The Sailing Academy, you will start out on a yacht with wheel steering. There are two ways to steer a sailboat, with a wheel or a tiller (a long stick attached to the rudder).

All modern cruising sailboats have wheel steering, that’s why we start all our beginning students on boats with wheels. We are a sailing school that focusses on cruising.

Why we made the switch:  Over the past few years we have taken the tiller boats out of our instructional fleet. In the beginning, we taught all students on such boats but several factors helped us to make the move to all-wheel steering boats.

  1. The majority of our students have cruising goals. They want to learn to skipper a sailboat on which they may spend extended time with friends and family.
  2. Learning to sail is a challenge. It really helps to have something familiar (like a steering wheel) as one learns to maneuver a sailboat. Tillers are unfamiliar and awkward to use for new sailors.
  3. Our students would look longingly as they passed by wheel steering sailboats on the way to the instructional tiller boats. We would constantly be asked “when can we sail on that boat?”
  4. Upper-level courses should build on acquired skills, not start all over. We had to spend quite a bit of time retraining our students at the Coastal Cruising level (ASA103) to use a wheel after taking ASA101 on a tiller boat.  For example, commands for tacking such as “Helms a Lee!” typically taught on tiller boats make no sense when using a wheel.

Why do some sailboats still have tillers? Good question. Smaller boats such as dinghies and day sailors have tillers because it is impractical to install the extra equipment required for wheel steering. Tillers are simple, light and easily installed on small boats. Sailboats that are over 25 feet in length are able to sustain the extra gear to make a wheel practical. That’s why all our school boats are larger than 25 feet.

Many small racing and performance oriented sailboats have tiller steering. It is a great system for making a boat light and for maximizing control. If your goal is racing, we can help you find a learn to sail program that uses such boats.

After 18 years of teaching sailing, we believe the best option for those who are starting out in the sport of sailing is to ditch the stick and Take The Wheel! There is nothing like standing at the helm with the wind in your face, while the hull glides through the water.

no tiller image

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