What Is The Helm Of A Boat? Boating Vocabulary Explained 

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: April 16, 2022
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The helm of a boat is the space from where a boat is steered; it also refers to anything that steers the boat. The helm can refer to the wheel or tiller; therefore, when someone asks you to take the helm, they are asking you to take charge of driving the vessel.

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The boating world is full of vocabulary that most people are unfamiliar with. This is because sailors were mainly isolated for long periods, and they came up with their unique language to communicate. It is essential to understand some boating terms, especially if you love cruising, to help you understand what is being communicated to you. 

This article defines some standard boating terms, features of a boat’s helm, basics of helming a boat, and different helm designs on various boats. You better read on!

Defining different parts of a boat and common boating terms

If it’s your first time on a boat, you are bound to hear lots of new phrases that may confuse and overwhelm you. Most of these phrases are used to define parts of a boat. As a boater, you need to learn this vocabulary to communicate effectively. Let’s have a look at the most common parts of a boat.

  1. Bow– this is a term that refers to the front of a boat where you can sit and sunbathe
  2.  Stern – the rear or back part of a boat 
  3. Deck– this is the exterior surface of a boat which is primarily flat
  4. Gunwale– the outermost top edge of a boat hull; this is where the hull and deck meet
  5. Helm– steering equipment which could be a wheel or tiller for a boat.

What are some of the features of a boat’s helm?

What are some of the features of a boat’s helm

Different boats have different features in the helm, depending on the type of boat it is. However, some parts are standard in most ships because they are essential in the vessel’s steering. Let’s look at this equipment and what each one does:

Line of sight 

A reliable line of sight is essential as it helps sailors keep watch of the sea, other vessels, and any obstacles. Every boat needs to have a line of sight that allows the helmsman to see the water right ahead of the vessel and any obstruction at the vessel’s side that may cause a collision. 

Navigation controls 

You will find the navigation controls at the boat’s helm. They need to be arranged so that they are easily visible to the captain and they can access them with ease. The shifters and controls need to be well-positioned to avoid distracting the skipper and causing accidents.

Access to the deck

A well-designed helm needs to have a door that leads to the deck. This is especially important when the crew is docking or undocking, and they require handling lines. The position of the seat at the helm shouldn’t hinder the staff from straightforward access.

Comfortable seating 

The helm of a boat needs to have an ergonomic seating space where the skipper can sit as they steer the vessel. If the ship is mainly steered in fair weather, it can have a comfortable bench and allows a companion to sit. A helm chair with an armrest and comfortable foot platform is best to ensure the captain is comfortable for other conditions.

Chartbooks and a collection of paper charts

Every boat needs to have a collection of paper charts concerning the neighboring area if electronic chart plotters stop working unexpectedly. The boat’s helm needs to have a drawer for storing chartbooks and a chart table with fat stowage for more significant charts.

Safety features including grab rails and a non-slip surface

The helm of a boat needs to have features that enhance the skipper’s safety and crew members. These features include grabbing rails and a non-slip surface to keep the crew from falling when they come off wet decks. Other features that make the helm safer include drawers and storage to keep essentials safe and away from the controls.

Basics of accurate boat helming

Helming a boat can be overwhelming at first because you need to steer the ship as you check on the compass, winds, direction, and other aspects. Trying to run in a straight line can be quite a task when you start, but with time, you will get the hang of it.

To steer the boat accurately and ensure the safety and comfort of everyone on board, you need to pay attention to all your senses. Listen to the boat heeling, feel the wind blowing over your ears, hear the flapping sails and observe the pressure of the boat’s helm. All these will help you know when something is going on and if you need to make any changes.

You don’t need to focus much on the compass because you will get out of the course due to the waves and wind. The best thing you can do is focus on a point ahead, such as a cloud or landmark and keep that course. This way, you can tell when you are veering off the course, and you will know what to do to get back. After some time, you can effortlessly correct the course without much struggle.

What are some different helm designs on various boats?

What are some different helm designs

The helm or wheelhouse of a boat should be designed carefully and fitted with all necessary features to make steering more comfortable and enjoyable. The specific type of boat plays a significant role in determining the layout of the helm and needed features.

Some boats have made a name for themselves by having luxurious helms that are comfortable and iconic. This section looks at some boats with the best helm designs and is well equipped, giving the skipper a comfortable experience as they steer the vehicle.

Ocean Alexander 60 

This boat’s deck is a true icon and pilothouse; it is separated from the salon for night running and has doors that lead to the side decks. It has a non-slip sole and overhead rails for enhanced safety. It has a spacious chart table with flat stowage underneath and an instrument panel that can accommodate various electronics.

Grand banks 72 RP

This boat’s helm is famous for being spacious and with ample storage. It has two seats and still affords to leave ample space for the crew to walk around and open doors on each side.

San Juan 48 

The helm is separated from the rest of the deck house on this boat and has a wide seat with space for electronics. The helm on this boat blends perfectly an artistic finish and ergonomic architecture.

Offshore 64 

This boat’s helm stands out for its huge instrument panel and an overhead console with monitoring systems for convenient viewing and helming experience. The panels are recessed to keep the skipper from switching unintentionally.


The helm of a boat is essential because all the steering operations occur here. It needs to be designed to ensure the captain is comfortable and has everything they need at easy reach. The more ergonomic and spacious the helm is, the better and safer for the entire vessel. We hope that you can now understand various boating terms, and the next time you have an opportunity, you will peep into the boat’s helm and see all whats found there. Happy sailing!

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