Tiller Steering vs. Forward Controls

Since tiller steering is usually found on lower horsepower engines, only, many people mistakenly assume it’s inferior to having forward controls. Hold on a sec, pal – appearances can be deceiving, and in many cases, tiller steering it a better choice. How do you know when to go for the tiller vs. getting forward controls? Consider these factors:

tiller steering

Tiller steering vs. forward controls: it’s not as cut-and-dry as most people think.

1. Control and Maneuverability – Many people who haven’t used tillers may be surprised to hear this, but they actually offer much more maneuverability than steering wheels. It takes three turns of the wheel to crank an outboard all the way over, whereas with a tiller in-hand, you can shove it from one direction to the other in a fraction of a second. At the same time, throttle control is always at your fingertips. The down-side here is that until you get used to steering with a tiller, you may accidentally change engine speed more often than you would with a binacle-mounted throttle.

2. Too Much Control and Manueverability – One of the reasons why you don’t see many high powered tiller-steers is that it can actually give you more control and manueverability than the hull can handle. Since you can crank the engine hard-over in the blink of the eye, it’s possible to turn too fast and roll a boat, when moving at high speeds. If you’re going to be running at relatively high speeds with a relatively large powerplant, it’s actually safer to have a wheel.

3. Physical Wear and Tear – this is another down-side to running a tiller-steer; it simply takes more effort, and forces you to sit in essentially the same position as long as you’re running the boat. When cruising for more than a half-hour at a time, you’ll likely need to take breaks or at least stop the boat now and again, to switch sides and use the other arm.

4. Simplicity – Tiller steering arrangements need no cables and they have no wires (outside of the engine itself). That means there’s less stuff to break, and the system is therefore more reliable.

5. Expense – Here’s another category in which tiller steering is a hands-down winner. Forward controls can add thousands of dollars to the sticker price of your rig, not only to purchase the hardware, but also because it takes additional time to rig the boat.