A Guide to Steering without a Rudder: Methods and Equipment Tested

by Michael Keyworth

I have been concerned for several years with the frequency of rudder loss and/or failure and the consequences of boats being lost or crew injured or lives lost. The purpose of the tests was to determine the best method and equipment to effectively steer the vessel to a safe port in the event of catastrophic rudder failure.

The goal was to utilize the equipment normally taken on the vessel on offshore passages or races. This guide is the result of multiple tests conducted in the fall of 2013 off of Newport, RI. The test vessel was a modified MK I Swan 44, Chasseur.  

The overriding premise was; utilization of an efficient and controllable object to create drag and transmit to directional stability which results in the desired directional stability. It was my view that a drogue might be used to exert the appropriate drag. I further felt that a small drogue might provide the needed drag but not significantly impede the speed of the vessel.

Chasseur has been modified in the following relevant ways; the rudder skeg was removed and replaced with a modern spade rudder which is carbon fiber with a Carbon fiber shaft, the keel has been modified to a modern shape fin with a shoe, the mast is carbon fiber and 6 feet taller than original. For the purposes of the tests, the rudder was removed and the rudder port was blocked off.

I was familiar with and had onboard Chasseur a “Galerider” made by Hathaway, Reiser & Raymond of Stamford, Connecticut. I contacted Wes Oliver at Hathaway and he arranged to make several prototype drogues for the tests. We were equipped with: a 12inch diameter drogue with a 3 part bridle, a 12inch diameter drogue with a 4 part bridle, a 18 inch diameter drogue with a 4 part bridle, a 30 inch drogue with a 4 part bridle and a 36 inch drogue with a 4 part bridle.

The purpose of the test was to establish whether direction could be controlled under the following “underway” conditions using any of the drogues supplied:
– With sail trim alone
– Motoring using a drogue
– Sailing upwind using a drogue
– Sailing downwind using a drogue
– Motorsailing using a drogue
– Being towed using a drogue

Size of drogue proved to be very important. The findings were definitive.

Click here for full report and video demonstration.

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