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or the other, then turn hard the other way,
counting the number of turns it takes. Divide
the number of turns in half and remember
that number. So if it takes six turns to get
from one side to the other, three turns should
center your wheel from either side. It’s very
important to know when your wheel is centered, especially with inboard or sterndrive
boats where you can’t see the drives. It’s also
a handy practice if you’re asked to take the
helm on an unfamiliar boat.
STEER A STRAIGHT COURSE
Now that you know how to center the
wheel, the next technique is steering straight.
Looking at the wakes of many boats, you’ll
often see a serpentine path, because people
are over-steering. To practice:
■ Center the wheel.
■ Shift into forward gear at idle speed.
■ Aim for a distant object, watching
■ When the bow drifts to one side, make
quick, short pulses with the wheel in the
opposite direction then re-center the wheel.
Many people tend to over-correct when steer-
SETTING THE WHEEL
ing and, instead of staying on course, drift
too far in the other direction because they
hold the turn too long. The key is to use
short corrections, and when the boat initially
begins to turn in the desired direction, re-
center the wheel. As you practice steering
straight, you can continually find new objects
to use as a target and see how the boat
behaves differently at different speeds.
Make sure the wheel is in the desired
direction and position BEFORE shifting
into forward or reverse gear. This helps
reduce your turning radius, making your
turn more efficient – useful when operating
in close quarters, where you might not have
the ability to turn without properly setting
the wheel. For many boats, you should
be able to do a 180-degree turn in little
more than a boat length if you set the
wheel, and do so in conjunction with proper
Chris Edmonston is president of the BoatU.S.
Foundation for Boating Safety & Clean Water, a
501(c)( 3) nonprofit organization, independently
funded by donations from BoatU.S.
members and by grants.
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