Yacht Self Steering Gear (Monitor)

After two or three weeks at the helm it's always nice to pop down below, stick the kettle on, have a bite to eat and a quick wee. But if you still haven't made it to your destination this raises a big question .. who will steer?

Many singlehanded long distance yachtsmen have put their great minds to resolving this conundrum and have landed on some great solutions; the most popular is the servo-pendulum self steering gear.

It's super-great but how does it work? Let me see if I can explain with some words, a picture and a video of the good ship B's self steering in action:

The Words
The servo rudder hangs off the back of the boat in the water and is able to rotate in a vertical plane (1) but can also swing sideways like a clock pendulum (2).

When the boat drifts of course this rudder rotates on its vertical axis (1). Water flow will then force the rudder to swing (like a pendulum) to one side or the other (2).

Ropes are connected from to the servo pendulum rudder to the wheel or tiller and so as soon as the boat goes a little off course the tiller moves to adjust (3).

The vertical rotation of the servo rudder is determined by a windvane (4). Clever gearing transfers the side to side movement of the windvane to spin the servo rudder on it vertical axis (5)

The windvane is set up so that when the boat is on course it is upright and therefore the servo rudder is in a neutral position. When the boat drifts off course the wind vane leans to one-side, this rotates the servo rudder on its vertical axis, water flow pushes it to one side, the yacht direction changes, the wind vane returns to a neutral position, the servo rudder returns to a neutral position and the ships helm returns to a neutral position. Easy.

The Picture


The Video

The only downside of this gear is that it does need the boat to be moving and you do need wind otherwise the vane won't tip over. So, if the faithful donkey is being used (and you don't have the bladder of an Ox) then you might also consider a mechanical tiller pilot for calm days.
I suppose the other point to mention is that this gear does not steer a specified course, it steers in a direction relative to the apparent wind. So if the apparent wind direction changes then the course changes. If you don't notice this then your journey will be slightly extended. Hey ho, we're not in a rush.

There are lots of different self steering manufacturers. Most people are passionate advocates about their own! So on that basis it's probably no surprise that I believe the best is the Monitor. This sailed us pretty much the whole way across the Atlantic .. twice, up into the Arctic and is great even on all day sails along the coast.

Monitor are made by Scanmar which is an American company based out of Richmond, California. These guys deliver just the best customer service. Each Monitor is handmade for each boat and whilst they have developed standard designs for different types of boat it really feels like you're having your own bespoke bit of kit made for you ... it's like having a handmade suit ... well I imagine that's what its like because I've never actually had a handmade suit ... but I have had a handmade self steering gear ... and I'd rather have a handmade self steering gear than a handmade suit .. so that's alright  .. anyway we digress .. the point is they look after you. When you're Monitor arrives it even comes with an electronic egg timer to remind you to keep a look out every hour or so; this is also handy for cooking.

Most yachtsman name their self steering systems, so in our case she's called Minnie (there is a rather good song called Minnie the Mermaid that I can commend which is where our Minnies name has come from - click here to enjoy Minnie the Mermaid). Inevitably most Aries Self Steering systems are rather crudely named Pubes ... yes, I'm afraid so!


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