What do you call a ship's steering wheel?

What do you call a ship’s steering wheel?


The ship’s steering wheel, also known as the helm or ship’s wheel, is a crucial component of a vessel’s navigation system. It allows the helmsman to control the direction of the ship, making it an essential tool for maneuvering and steering at sea. In this article, we will explore the various names used to refer to a ship’s steering wheel and delve into its history, design, and significance in maritime navigation.

Names for a Ship’s Steering Wheel

The ship’s steering wheel is commonly referred to by different names, depending on the context and the specific type of vessel. Here are some of the most commonly used terms:

Helm: The term “helm” is derived from the Old English word “helma,” which means “rudder” or “steering gear.” It is often used to refer to the entire steering apparatus, including the wheel, tiller, or other mechanisms used to control the ship’s direction.

Ship’s Wheel: The term “ship’s wheel” is a straightforward and widely recognized name for the steering wheel of a ship. It emphasizes the wheel’s function as the primary means of controlling the ship’s course.

Steering Wheel: While “steering wheel” is a more general term used in various modes of transportation, it is also commonly used to describe the wheel used to steer a ship. This term is particularly prevalent in modern maritime language.

Wheelhouse: The term “wheelhouse” refers to the enclosed area on a ship where the steering wheel is located. It serves as the command center for navigation and often houses other essential instruments and controls.

History and Design

The ship’s steering wheel has a long history that dates back to ancient times. Early civilizations, such as the Phoenicians and Greeks, used oars or large steering paddles to control their vessels. However, the introduction of the sternpost rudder in the Middle Ages revolutionized maritime navigation.

With the advent of the sternpost rudder, ships required a mechanism to control its movement. The first ship’s wheels were simple wooden devices attached to the rudder or tiller. Over time, these wheels evolved in design and became larger and more elaborate, incorporating multiple spokes and intricate carvings.

In the modern era, ship’s wheels are typically made of metal, such as brass or stainless steel, for durability and resistance to corrosion. They are often mounted on a pedestal or console, allowing the helmsman to stand or sit comfortably while steering the ship. The wheel’s size varies depending on the vessel’s size, with larger ships having larger wheels for better leverage.

Significance in Maritime Navigation

The ship’s steering wheel plays a vital role in maritime navigation. It enables the helmsman to control the ship’s direction, ensuring safe passage and maneuverability at sea. The wheel’s design allows for precise adjustments, allowing the helmsman to respond to changing conditions and navigate through various challenges, such as strong currents, high winds, or narrow channels.

Beyond its functional significance, the ship’s wheel holds symbolic value in maritime traditions and culture. It represents the authority and responsibility of the helmsman, who is entrusted with the ship’s course and the safety of its crew. The wheel’s presence in the wheelhouse serves as a visual reminder of the captain’s role as the ultimate decision-maker and leader on board.


The ship’s steering wheel, known as the helm, ship’s wheel, or steering wheel, is a fundamental component of a vessel’s navigation system. Its history, design, and significance in maritime navigation highlight its crucial role in steering ships safely and efficiently. Whether referred to by its various names or seen as a symbol of authority, the ship’s steering wheel remains an iconic and essential feature of seafaring vessels.


– Encyclopedia Britannica: www.britannica.com
– National Maritime Museum: www.rmg.co.uk
– Naval History and Heritage Command: www.history.navy.mil