Why Some Sailboats Have Two Helms (Dual Helms Explained)

While most sailboats have a single helm with a steering wheel in the center, some larger sailboats or racing boats may have two helms. So, why do these sailboats have double helms? Are there any practical benefits of two helms on sailboats? 

Some larger sailboats have two helms as it helps with steering from different angles and can make handling a larger sailboat much easier. Racing sailboats have two helms to execute tight turns at faster speeds. However, some sailboats have two helms for aesthetic purposes. 

This article will explore the practicality of a sailboat having dual helms, whether it’s necessary and whether a sailboat or yacht with two steering wheels has better handling. It will also look at why some smaller sailboats have twin helms. 

Sailboat with two helms

Why Do Large Sailboats Have Two Helms? 

While smaller sailboats will often have a single large steering wheel in the boat’s center, larger boats often have two smaller helms. Usually, one helm is located on the starboard side and the other on the port side. 

Large sailboats have two helms because it helps give more control over the boat. A double helm also allows sailors to see both sides of the jib, giving them more visibility when controlling sailboats with bigger hulls. 

Sometimes a large hull or other objects can block your vision on one side when sailing. This is much more of a problem on larger sailboats since they have a larger hull. Having a separate steering wheel on either side of the jib can give you more vision and may help you steer the boat in poor visibility. 

Some large sailboats may have two rudders controlled by separate helms. Depending on the wind speed and other weather conditions, you may prefer to use a certain wheel. This helps steer larger boats in areas where you have to make tighter turns. 

So, while smaller sailboats typically have one centered helm, larger ones will often have two for better steering options. 

Sailboat with dual helms, one on the port and one on starboard side of the vessel

Why Do Racing Sailboats Have Two Helms?

Racing sailboats have two helms because it helps them navigate tight turns at higher speeds. Having two helms is advantageous in shifting weight in competitions where the margin for error is low. 

Despite being lighter and smaller than some cruise sailboats, racing sailboats will have two helms. In a typical sailboat race, the crew will constantly shift sides to navigate obstacles and turns without compromising on speed. A double helm is beneficial in such cases as it allows for weight shifting and tighter steering control.

The double helm design became popular in sailboats, and many smaller cruise boats copied the design, even though it may not be practical when cruising. 

Do Two Helms Help With Steering on a Sailboat?

It’s not only large sailboats and racing boats that have twin helms. Many smaller sailboats also feature a double helm design, even though both wheels control a single rudder. So, does having two helms always improve the steering? 

Two helms may help steer large sailboats, but they are used more for aesthetic appeal on regular cruising sailboats. A double helm makes the boat look more like a racing sailboat, even though they provide no practical use in smaller cruising boats. 

So, if your cruise boat has two steering wheels that control a single rudder, the only advantage is increased visibility. However, some boat experts recommend having a single wheel on cruising boats as it is much easier for beginner sailors to control. 

Which Is Better: A Single or Double Wheel Sailboat?

Single and double helm sailboats both have their benefits and drawbacks. Single wheel boats are easier to handle and more beginner-friendly, while bigger sailboats with two steering wheels can make tighter turns at high speed.

However, quite a few factors will determine whether a sailboat needs a single or double wheel. These factors include control, maneuvering, and safety. 

Dual Helm Control 

A single-wheel boat is generally better in normal circumstances when it comes to having greater control. It helps you position the boat relatively straighter, allowing you better management of the boat with minimal effort. 

However, a double-wheel sailboat is much more effective in controlling the boat in rough weather. The wheels are usually placed high up on the boat, and you can use wheels on different sides of the centerline for better steering control. 

Double Helm Maneuvering

A double helm boat is much easier to maneuver and can cut sharp turns at higher speeds than a single helm boat. This is more effective in racing sailboats, but many cruise sailboats have this feature for better speed control. If you’re going at a faster speed, you’ll likely feel much more secure with two helms on the boat.

Twin Helm Safety

Some experts claim that a double wheel sailboat is safer since it gives you better control in rough weather. However, this would only be beneficial for bigger sailboats since an additional wheel won’t significantly impact the control in a smaller boat.

So, if you are looking for a bigger sailboat, try to get one with twin helms. Otherwise, single helm boats are just as effective.  

Why Do Some Sailboats Have Two Sails? 

In addition to having two helms, some sailboats have twin mainsails as well.

Some sailboats have two sails as it helps them go faster by increasing the sail area exposed to wind. A double sail also helps with maneuverability and can help the boat navigate right turns. Two sails are also ideal for cruising with the wind currents. 

In most double mainsail boats, the two sails will be used to cruise in good weather conditions and can increase the overall speed and maneuverability of the vessel. However, handling two or more sails requires experience and skill. 

Why Do Some Sailboats Have Two Helms – Conclusion

Most racing sailboats and some regular sailboats will have two helms for better speed control and maneuverability. Larger sailboats usually have two wheels for better visibility and safety. Double helms are more beneficial when navigating rough weather conditions or sailing at high speeds. 

However, not all boats that have twin helms need them. Some have them to enhance the design and the second wheel has no practical purpose. If you are looking for a large sailboat or one for racing competitions, choose one with two wheels. Otherwise, a single helm boat will work just fine.

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