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Fast Facts: The Helm in all its Forms

In a car, we call it a steering wheel, but on a ship, it’s called something different. While some may call it the boat wheel or the ship wheel, today, most people refer to it as the helm—the space in which the boat is steered. The helm is part of the ships steering mechanics that changes the rudder’s direction in the water as the ship goes in another direction. You may wonder where the word “helm” comes from. The word “helm” comes from an Old English word meaning “rudder.” As mentioned, the rudder is the physical mechanism used to turn the boat which can be controlled through the tiller or steering wheel.

Without the interference of customization, the ship’s steering wheel is on the starboard side or the right side. As you know, the port side on the left is where unloading takes place.

The helm being on the right side is favorable to right-handed sailors. They can operate the ship naturally and conveniently. This has been the practice since ancient times and even in wars. The captain’s right hand controls the ship, while the left controls the weapon. It’s the standard, considering the majority of the human population is right-handed.

Although the steering wheel on ships, deck boats, sailboats, pontoons, and other vessels is usually called the helm, what about the pirate ship steering wheel name? There’s no difference, as it’s also called helm. The same term is used in film and literature when referring to a pirate’s ship.

A wooden steering wheel has the most recognized design, which you can find among the traditional wheels. It’s round, made of sturdy wood, and added to smaller vessels. This tool allows the captain to maneuver the craft without leaving the top deck.

The classic steering wheel design comes with 8 or 6 wooden spokes. However, depending on the design, you may also find wooden wheels with ten spokes. These spokes are held together by a square hole in the center. It’s where the axle moves around. Next, there’s a spindle connected through a barrel, and it reaches out to the tiller chain. Finally, sheaves and pulleys under the ship complete the system.

The operation of the traditional steering wheel is relatively straightforward. Minor modifications are made to the modern version, but the premise remains unchanged.

The steering wheel of the past can’t be underestimated as it’s an advanced invention. It can even compete with the present hydraulic and engineering abilities. However, no one can tell if there will be discoveries in maneuvering ships only through a few control steps.

While a traditional steering wheel can let the ship cross the open sea, a huge wooden body is not always the perfect recipe for functionality. Due to modernization, electronics are incorporated with mechanisms to ease the captain’s tasks.

The modern steering wheel is smaller; some are smaller than vehicles ones. Although the massive size of the wheel has been reduced, the vessels work as expected, and they’re even faster and stronger than before.

Aside from its function, the helm has become a very recognized symbol. The design of the steering wheel can be identified in many instances. It’s worn as a tattoo and added on patterns and logos.

Some of those tattoos live on retired sailors who still treasure their lives at sea. Others utilize this steering wheel on a boat despite the helmsman’s control of the vessel. Oftentimes you can see a steering wheel as a decoration.

It can also be a symbol that manifests a life of a person who goes through challenges like the unexpected roughness of the sea. In the past, the wheel on a ship was used as a solar sign. However, history will tell you that it symbolizes leadership and management based on its function on the boat.

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