What is a ship's steering wheel called?

What is a ship’s steering wheel called?


A ship’s steering wheel is an essential component of a vessel’s navigation system. It allows the helmsman to control the direction of the ship and plays a crucial role in ensuring safe and efficient maritime travel. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of a ship’s steering wheel, including its design, history, and significance.

The Ship’s Steering Wheel: A Closer Look

The steering wheel of a ship is commonly referred to as the “helm.” It is typically a large, circular wheel that is connected to the ship’s rudder system. The helm is mounted on a vertical shaft known as the “helm spindle,” which extends through the deck and connects to the ship’s steering mechanism below.

Design and Construction: Ship steering wheels are usually made of sturdy materials such as wood or metal to withstand the harsh marine environment. In the past, wooden wheels were commonly used due to their durability and ease of construction. However, modern ships often feature steering wheels made of stainless steel or other metals for enhanced strength and longevity.

The size of a ship’s steering wheel can vary depending on the vessel’s size and purpose. Large commercial ships may have wheels several feet in diameter, while smaller boats or yachts may have more compact wheels. The wheel is typically positioned on the ship’s bridge or helm station, allowing the helmsman to have a clear view of the surrounding area while steering the ship.

Operation and Functionality: The ship’s steering wheel is connected to the rudder system through a series of mechanical linkages. When the helmsman turns the wheel, it rotates the helm spindle, which, in turn, moves the ship’s rudder. This movement alters the direction of the water flow around the rudder, causing the ship to change course.

The steering wheel is often equipped with a mechanism that provides feedback to the helmsman, allowing them to sense the ship’s response to their steering inputs. This feedback can be in the form of resistance or vibrations felt through the wheel, indicating the ship’s maneuverability and response to helm commands.

History of Ship Steering Wheels

The use of a steering wheel for maritime navigation dates back centuries. Before the invention of the wheel, ships were steered using a tiller, a long lever attached directly to the ship’s rudder. However, the introduction of the steering wheel revolutionized the way ships were navigated.

The first recorded use of a ship’s steering wheel can be traced back to ancient Greece. The Greeks used a simple wooden wheel known as a “kōtion” to steer their ships. Over time, the design and construction of ship steering wheels evolved, with improvements in materials and technology.

During the Age of Sail, ship steering wheels became more prevalent as sailing vessels grew in size and complexity. The introduction of steam-powered ships in the 19th century further increased the demand for efficient and reliable steering mechanisms, leading to advancements in wheel design and construction.


A ship’s steering wheel, or helm, is a vital component of maritime navigation. Its design, construction, and functionality have evolved over centuries to meet the demands of different types of vessels and advancements in technology. From ancient wooden wheels to modern metal ones, the ship’s steering wheel continues to play a crucial role in ensuring safe and efficient navigation at sea.


– Maritime Museum of San Diego: sandiegomaritime.org
– National Maritime Historical Society: nmhs.org
– Britannica: britannica.com