Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm

Steering a properly balanced sailboat up wind is one of sailing's greatest pleasures.
Steering a properly balanced sailboat upwind is one of sailing's greatest pleasures.

There are few problems that detract more from the pleasure of sailing than a bad case of weather helm, a surprisingly common affliction.

The good news is that the problem is usually fixable.

The bad news is that the cause is often a combination of things and many of them are not intuitively obvious.

Here are ten tips to fix weather helm.

But before we start, there are a couple of things we need to clarify.

Hidden Weather Helm

First, if you have a modern boat, you may have weather helm without even realizing it, since with a balanced spade rudder you won't feel much load on the helm even if the boat is wildly out of balance.

To test for weather helm, first mark the king spoke on the wheel—spoke that is vertical when the rudder is centred—then put the boat on the wind in a fresh breeze and see how much the king spoke is off vertical.

On most boats about a quarter of a turn of weather helm is optimal—gives you a bit of feel and the boat a bit of bite to windward, without being excessive. Anything more than half a turn is too much and needs fixing. (I base this on our own Morgan's Cloud where the wheel takes three full revolutions stop to stop.)

Wipe-Out Syndrome

Second, some hull forms, mostly modern ones with wide sterns, get badly out of balance as they heel because the shape of the water plane changes radically. Some of these boats will actually over power the rudder and even self-tack when hit by a hard puff of wind forward of the beam. In these cases, while these tips may help, they won't fix the underlying problem.

Most Boats Can Be Fixed

Having said that, back in the day when I was making sails and tuning boats, many owners that I worked with blamed the boat and designer for weather helm, but in fact I found that most boats' weather helm could be fixed with changes to the rig (with the exception of the situation I mention above).

So, let's do it:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  20. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  21. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  22. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  23. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  24. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  25. Rigid Vangs
  26. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  27. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  28. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  29. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  30. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  31. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  32. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  33. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  34. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  35. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  36. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  37. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  38. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  42. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  43. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  44. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  45. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  46. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  49. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
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