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Boat Steering Systems

Unlike a vehicle that drives on the land, a boat faces an environment in which navigation is tricky due to the variation of many factors. Water, wind, and a constantly changing surface is far more difficult to manage than terra-firma. There are a few options to help boaters compensate for all of these factors while steering.

What goes into a boat steering system:

Three types of steering systems:

Your helm will connect to either a mechanical, electric, or hydraulic system to turn the boat. The helm is your driver. Learn what your boat uses, then decide what works best for your requirements.

Steering cables and hydraulics:

Depending on your watercraft, the steering may rely on a wheel system, which connects your helm to the rudder with a system of mechanical cables, or even electronically guided hydraulics. Both systems change the angle of the rudder or thrusters to change your direction.

Rotary systems:

Reduction gears and planetary gears are both different types of rotary systems, which change the circular direction of the wheel to the back and forth direction needed to move cables attached to the rudder.


A connection to the rudder or motor which allows direct control of the angle of the rudder. More commonly used for sailboats or smaller watercraft.


A motorized impeller that can be used in multi-directional angles of attack for greater control.

Trim tab controls:

These controls compensate for propeller walk, torque, and even how your boat handles the water, all of which can inadvertently alter your course. Regular inspection and maintenance of your boating parts and systems will ensure a safe and reliable experience. Due to the harsh nature of salt water on marine equipment, this is the best way to avoid breakdowns and malfunctions.

Boat Autopilot

Due to the ever-changing nature of crossing open water, the small adjustments you have to make at the helm are likely to be a tedious process and eventually fatigue will set in while keeping your boat on course. Auto pilot is a form of a steering system using heading sensors and a central processing unit to make these adjustments automatically, in order to keep your heading and course consistent.

This is especially useful if you are understaffed for crew or if you simply don't want to spend all day on the water fighting the elements to stay on course. This boat steering system is an easy way to get around without having to stand at the wheel. Autopilots should be fitted properly for your boat displacement as well as your steering system.

As with all marine equipment, the elements take their toll, so it is important to have a durable and reliable system, if not a backup onboard in case of equipment failure.

Why Defender

Defender carries steering wheel systems, thruster systems, tillers, trim systems, and marine autopilot systems.

With over 80 years of experience in marine supplies, Defender has the parts and know-how to provide you with what you need to get on the water and enjoy your boating safely and economically.

Contact us today to get your boat steering system questions answered by fellow boaters!