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Self - Steering Gear For Yachts – 3 Different Types
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Self  -  Steering Gear For Yachts – 3 Different Types

I have had long distance sailing experience with wind vane/servo blade, Hydrovane and electronic autopilots. I am pretty hands on and prefer the mechanical self-steering gear as I feel there is always a possibility to fix them if they break down when away from civilization, but with an electrical failure as I have discovered to my detriment my ability of making a repair is practically zero. The picture is of my yacht with its servo blade out of the water as we were hand steering at the time


The Hydrovane is a very popular self-steering system because it works independently and is not linked to the yachts rudder. It is made up of two parts, namely a wind vane and a balanced rudder. Basically, the ships tiller or wheel is fixed in a position to hold the best course and the Hydrovane makes the corrections. When the wind vane is in a vertical position and pointing towards the wind, the rudder steers the boat on a set course. As the vessel yaws, the wind pushes on the wind vane causing it tilt which in turn turns the rudder bringing the boat back on course.

Hydrovanes are extremely robust and reliable and steer yachts over long distances all over the world. These are used mainly on the bigger 38 -45 foot sailboats, and they are very expensive.

Servo Systems

We can thank designer Blondie Hasler who pioneered the Servo type system for his boat ‘Jester’.

This system is made up of two parts i.e. the wind vane and the servo blade which are hinged in a way to produce a turning motion on the yachts rudder, thereby keeping the boat at a required angle off the wind.

The side wind force on the wind vane rotates the servo blade which is then lifted by the water passing the blade caused by boats speed and this movement is linked through a rope and pulley system to the tiller or wheel bringing the yacht back on course. It sounds complicated but once you fully understand how it works they very simple to manage. They are also easy to disengage if you need to take the helm.

Aries and Monitor are well-known makes, especially among older sailors, but there are many other excellent brands available.

The servo blade types are popular on the smaller 28 – 38 foot yachts and do over reasonable distances, sail a true course.


Electric autopilots have over the last 10 years become extremely reliable and sophisticated. With the accuracy of GPS, you can sail your yacht if the wind allows, with almost pin point accuracy.

I have over the years used both the tiller and wheel versions and admittedly had at some stage or other been let down by them. To have them repaired by the manufacturers has never been a problem, as I found they will bend over backwards to help you. However, when in lousy conditions and your yachts self-steering fails, that is then of little consolation.

The answer seems to be to have a backup and install the best and biggest autopilot you can afford. Also get a more powerful below deck installation type so that it is protected from the weather. I have found that no matter how waterproof manufactures claim their product might be, water always seems to find a way of getting in. Water has no mercy so do all you can to protect your devices.

In most cases yachts over about 45 foot will have electric autopilots installed.

Once I installed a servo system on our yacht I hardly ever used the electric tiller pilot except, when motoring or if the wind had died altogether. Many sailors become attached to their trusty self-steering gear and often give it a pet name.

Deciding which is best for you and your boat depends on many factors. Read books and do some research at your club by asking the experienced salty dogs there a lot of questions. These are expensive items that your life may one day depend on, so take your time.

Street Talk

Hi John, only an electric autopilot would work for your boat but you will have to talk to a dealer about installation and which will be the most suitable unit.

  about 9 years ago

My son and I have been wondering how these would work for trolling in rough waters with a power boat.

  about 9 years ago
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