Our motor cruiser

Now that we’ve touched our motor cruiser in practice sessions, it’s time to learn more about the boat’s controls. Sellers have a habit of simplifying things, and motor cruiser sellers often describe the governance of a motorboat as “it’s like driving a car”. There is nothing further from the truth, although it is true that sitting on the wheel, the instrument console does have a certain resemblance to that of a car. But the resemblance ends there.
Cars go over a firm, regular surface, and respond instantly to the controls. Motor cruisers go over a surface that can sometimes be very irregular and may appear to have a will of its own. The reaction to the controls can sometimes be very bad, but this is where the skill comes in, and developing this skill can be fun, if we know what we are doing. The first thing to do when getting on board is to forget everything we know about driving cars. This is not only about the controls, but also the way the boat responds to the water. A car’s wheels only allow it to go forward or backward, but a boat can also go ado. It has a certain grip on the water that a skilful skipper can take advantage of to get the desired response from the boat. It is possible that we look with a certain envy at the skippers who arrive at a marina and put the stern boat in its berth calmly and without making a mess. All they do is first evaluate the various factors acting on the ship, then use the controls to counteract them so that the ship reaches exactly the desired point of government.
On modern motor cruisers there are two main systems for connecting the steering wheel to the rudder. In small boats (up to 12 metres in length) relatively little force is required to operate the rudder blade, so a simple mechanical or hydraulic connection is used. For larger boats and high power tail units, assisted steering may be necessary because much more force is required to operate the rudder blade. The sensitivity provided by these systems compared to manual systems is very low, because no reaction from the blade reaches the operator’s platform. In mechanical systems, the connection between the wheel and the blade is made by means of a traction cable that has a pinion and rack system on the wheel to transform the rotating movement of the wheel into a traction movement.
These mechanical systems are very safe and require virtually no maintenance to be found in any boat shop. They work very well for small boats, but large cruisers tend to adopt hydraulic systems, either manually operated or by a pump. All these systems can have two steering positions, so that the boat can be steered from the bridge or from the inside. The steering of a motor cruiser must be smooth and sensitive and without many wheel turns to pass the band rudder. A comfortable system would be one that has between one and a half and two turns from band to band. This is a good compromise between the quick reaction needed for manoeuvres in port and the sensitivity needed to maintain the course in the sea, when only small adjustments need to be made with the wheel. If the steering is very hard, it can be lightened by giving it more turns from band to band, but then the manoeuvres in port will become more laborious. A better solution would be to incorporate some form of assistance into the government. Modern government systems are often very safe and require little maintenance. However, many ships are equipped with some form of emergency governance as an additional safety element. They are usually an extension of the rudder wick that comes out through the deck and whose square end makes it possible to attach a tiller. If something goes wrong with the steering system, we will have direct control of the rudder. Since the steering of the boat is a very important part of its control, adding an emergency steering system is a reasonable safety measure. You can also build a government of fortune by rigging an oar to the transom or by towing a sturdy bucket along one side or the other. This can be used to get to port if all else fails.

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