This piece originally appeared in the Ocean Cruising Club’s monthly bulletin (oceancruisingclub.org).
Emergency tillers are important items that usually appear designed with little consideration to actual use, and are often given equally little attention by their owners. Like so many safety items and procedures, practice is easy to postpone; at the same time, practice is essential for efficient execution. I will speak to the most common design, tiller to rudderpost, while most comments can be adapted to other designs.
It might be observed that most emergency tillers are actually a bear to use, at least on sailboats. Many require a block and tackle to handle the loads effectively, as the lever arm is so short and often slant-angled rather than right-angled, which makes use even more problematic. They can be dangerous when the rudder catches a wave if they whip around while being held. Finally, these emergency tillers should provide a way of securing the tiller onto the shaft rudderpost since, given the boisterous conditions these may be used in, it is best if they can be counted on to stay in one place.
Those really enterprising skippers can check to see whether their tiller can be out and steering in, say, three minutes. Then go and practice steering in waves and wind.
Finally, if you are in the market for new belowdecks autopilot, the above is a good argument for a system that is independent of the boat’s wheel-to-quadrant steering system.
Dick Stevenson and his wife, Ginger, live aboard the Valiant 42 Alchemy.