TECHNIQUE Helm failure, how to handle it without anyone’s help


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failureSailor Luca Sabiu initiated a survey via whatsapp by contacting more than 80 boaters and asking them a specific request: “Tell me the top two boating maneuvers or emergencies at sea that, especially if you are in a small crew, lead you to a stressful situation.” The responses came in copiously, and Luca decided to address for us all the situations indicated by the sailors surveyed, showing how to handle them safely and calmly: in this first installment he explains what to do in case of a rudder wheel failure.


This, on your cruising boat, might happen especially in fresh, strong winds: the most common cause is the helmsman’s lack of determination to handle the wheel that runs away and comes too violently to a stop during a downswing or oversteer. The management of this failure is totally solvable by the skipper without outside help.

1. You are downing and the helmsman slips out of his hands and the rudder wheel violently ends up at the end of the stroke, breaking the false link (fuse) of the wheel steering system.

2. You will hear the rattling of the false chain link breaking, the boat will begin to be unsteerable (with straorze and strapogge), with the sails and sheets flapping dangerously-this will objectively represent the most difficult moment of the breakdown.

3. At this point you will need to be ready and quick to “turn off” the engines of our boat: the sails. Rewind the genoa as quickly as possible, and lower the mainsail with the goal of stopping the boat.

4. Once you have stopped the boat and calmed the crew, you will start the engine and can move to the respect tiller.

5. Use tiller steering to bring the blade back to center, at which point insert autopilot, which working on the blade and not the wheel will manage your boat.

6. At that point depending on the speed you have you can reopen the sails (engine always running) to aid your return to port.

To be remembered

– upon arrival in port you will make a bow mooring which will be much easier for you in this circumstance
– this failure does not require VHF emergency calls
– it is critical that the skipper put all his or her peace of mind into the field

Luca Sabiu, 44, born in Milan, a “citizen of the sea by adoption” since the age of 5. Recreational vessel captain, YeM Federazione Italiana Vela (FIV) Federal Sailing Instructor, professional oceanic and solo sailor, and longtime frontline for sea safety awareness. He collaborates with the Living Sail Nautical School(, heading the Master Sail excellence team: his training courses aim to create autonomous and responsible sailors. He will show us, in this and future installments, the secrets of performing even in difficult conditions many maneuvers that are essential for navigation.




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