Revised by BoatUS editors in June 2012
Installing a pedestal steering system in place of your tiller affords you the opportunity to design a functional and comfortable cockpit, which is, after all, where the crew spends much of their time.
A steering pedestal is often located well aft in the cockpit of cruising and racing boats, but mid-cockpit and forward cockpit installations are also possible. The key is careful consideration of the location of the rudderpost, winches, mainsheet, and engine controls.
The advantage of an aft pedestal location is that the helmsman is out of the way of crew members working winches. From this position, he or she can simultaneously see all the action, cast off sheets or tail winches, and participate in cockpit conversation while maintaining a complete view of the sails and rig. This is the preferred location for a steering pedestal among many racers.
In mid-cockpit installation, the helm is further forward where the boat is wider, allowing the helmsman to get further outboard. Instruments mounted in the cabin bulkhead are easy to read, and winches and cleats are more accessible to the helmsman, whether they are forward or aft of the helm.
Locating the pedestal forward in the cockpit places the helmsman close to the companionway under the protection of a dodger, out of the way of winches and mainsheet, and in a wide part of the boat where the head sails can be easily viewed. This configuration is preferred by many offshore cruisers and single-handers.
When considering pedestal steering, consider also the mechanism by which the wheel’s turns are transmitted to the rudder. Some use stainless cable which gives quick and tight control but which must be run below with fair leads to a quadrant. This requires a certain amount of space and clearance. Others use hydraulic steering which many feel is easier to install and requires less space, but may give a slower response without the feel of cable. It may provide more power, particularly important for a large boat. Hydraulic steering will operate a hydraulic ram, leaving more room below because you won’t need a large quadrant. Hydraulic steering and cable steering are both tried and true although both present potential problems and require regular maintenance attention. Consult with a professional about the possibilities on your particular boat before deciding which way to go.