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Emergency Steering

by Technical Committee, February 17th, 2023


Emergency Steering

It is a beautiful star-filled night, the watch on deck has settled into some champagne sailing with the spinnaker up in a steady 20 knots of breeze. All of sudden, the boat skews upwind into a broach. While hanging on for dear life, the crew turn to stare dirty looks to the helmsperson. To their horror, the helm is turning circles and nothing is happening……. You’ve just had a steering failure!

Unfortunately, this is not as rare event as many might suspect and is one of the reasons why some Vic-Maui boats are forced to bail out to the West Coast. While the causes and fixes for steering failure can be as simple as replacing a broken cable, they can also involve total rudder failure. Boats need to be prepared for the whole range of possibilities.

There are many sources of information on dealing steering failures. The first place to look is the World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations which form the backbone of the Vic-Maui safety regime and all entrants are required to be compliant.

For prevention, Section 3.02.2 (as amended in Appendix A) requires an inspection of the components of the steering system including pulleys, connections, quadrants, and cables as well as an inspection of the integrity of the keel and rudder following the recommendations in Appendix L.

In case of failure Section 4.15.1 requires an emergency tiller capable of being fitted to the rudder stock and Section 4.15.2 requires a proven method of emergency steering with the rudder disabled and that video or photo proof of deployment and use of emergency steering be provided.

Vic-Maui has prepared two PDF documents designed to assist entrants in understanding how steering systems fail, what can be done to prevent failures, and the basic requirements needed to comply with the requirements for Emergency Steering.

  • Emergency Steering - Originally written in 2016 by veteran Vic-Maui skipper and mentor Vern Burkhardt, has been updated March 5, 2023 for the Vic-Maui Knowledge Base.
  • Emergency Steering Solutions - Authored in 2006 by Evans Starzinger, recognized as one of the leading blue water cruising sailors. During the 1990s they completed a circumnavigation aboard a Shannon 37' ketch, using the typical tropical route but including Cape Hope. (Please note that Mr. Starzinger’s article is excellent, but he refers to a soft rudder and the use of a spinnaker pole for emergencies – but neither are acceptable or satisfactory). 



updated Mar 04, 2023

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