We regularly update this section – for ideas provided by customers or problems that arise. Although we do provide a hard copy with new units, it is usually dated – always best to check here on the website. We love to see any other ideas or comments. Please contact In ORDER TO PRINT – ‘Copy and Paste’ to any word processing software such as WORD – then print from there. INDEX

  1. General
  2. Warnings!
  3. Ideas!
  4. Getting Started
  5. Poor Performance
  6. Tips for Cruising with Windvane Systems
  7. Racers, Rally Participants, Motor Sailors, Overweight Vessels
  8. Old Units

We cannot direct the winds, but we can adjust our sails.


INSTALLATION ‘IN THE WATER’ OR ‘ON THE HARD’? – We have seen some problematic installations that were done in a boatyard. Our preference is for  the ‘in the water’ installation – primarily because it provides certainty as to where the waterline is. Secondarily, it is also helpful in determining ‘vertical’, although, on a boat the correct determinant of ‘vertical’ is not a plumb bob but the direction of the keel and the mast (assuming it is properly installed).  The Hydrovane shaft should be on the same plane as the boat’s keel and mast. Use the mast as the direction of ‘vertical’ to which the Hydrovane shaft should match.

‘OVER ENGINEER’ to make a ROCK SOLID INSTALLATION – The loads on the Hydrovane brackets will be enormous at critical times. The weakest link need not be the ‘spacer’/Timber Pads or Backing Plates or bolts – but that is what happens with poor installations. It is not hard to ‘over engineer’. Use materials that are good quality and plenty strong.

INSTALLATION – USE ‘2 INCH OD’ PVC PIPES AS DUMMIES FOR THE SHAFT AND BRACKET STRUTS – Both the shaft and struts are sized as ‘Imperial’ or non metric – 2″ (inch) – precisely 50.8 mm. – ‘Outside Diameter’ (OD). In North America there is a common 2″ OD white plastic tube that is cheap and readily available (for central vacuum systems) and there is a European equivalent – 50 mm pipe. Use that tube/pipe as ‘dummies’ for the shaft and struts to help position and determine the length to cut the struts.

TIMBER PADS – BRACKET FLANGES MUST BE PERFECTLY FLUSH – See WARNING #5 below – The bracket flanges must be bolted to perfectly flat surfaces. If there is any curvature at the position the bracket is bolted a ‘timber pad’ or ‘spacer’ must be fashioned to pick up that difference.

TIMBER PADS – TEAK or PLASTIC (see our Iroko version on the PARTS page) – The common choice of material for a timber pad is teak – looks good and easy to work with. But if the pad needs to be thick (over 1 inch or 25mm) a far superior choice is a synthetic:

  • HDPE (has lots of brand names)- cheapest, easiest to work with and light – it floats
  • UHMWPE (also has lots of brand names) – pricier
  • Phenolic plastic or Tufnol – looks like wood – expensive but very strong
  • Delrin/Acetal

Typically the plastics cannot be glued together. Can get some up to 6in./15cm. thick.

TIMBER PADS – MAXIMUM THICKNESS – Our old recommendation for a maximum thickness of timber pad was 4 in. or 100 mm. but that can be increased somewhat if the much harder phenolic plastics are used – then the challenge is to find bolts of sufficient length. For greater distances/thicknesses a stainless steel extension must be fabricated. For longer bolts a solution is to get threaded rod, cut it to length and fasten with nyloc nuts at each end.

TIMBER PADS – MAKING A TEMPLATE – Provided by Scott Rosenthal (Bristol 40 yawl): I made a template of the transom curvature by laminating cereal box cardboard to the shape. I taped a piece of cardboard on the transom where the bracket was going. I then laminated additional sheets of cardboard on top on the taped-down one and used a hot glue gun as the adhesive for the laminate. The template came off the transom with the correct curvature, which is now my template for cutting the Starboard.

TIMBER PADS – CONTOURING THE TIMBER PADS FOR CURVED SURFACES – Provided by Scott Ritchie – ‘Folkes 39’ – of Seattle – “I taped a sheet of 3M ‘Sandblaster’ 60 grit (this paper cuts amazingly fast and doesn’t load up) to my curved deck and transom where the pads would be mounted. I then drew indicating lines on each teak timber pad then began to “Holystone” in reverse! (see photo) I would check the indicating lines to adjust the cutting evenly and to know when I was finished. No need to climb into the lazzerette to do the backing pads. Simply use double-stick tape and fix the sandpaper to the finished pads and again go back and forth until the indicator lines for the backing pads evenly disappear.

This made a perfect joint between the teak timber pads and the curved deck and transom that you couldn’t slip a cigarette paper under anywhere. It looks like the Incas made it.”

” …. drew indicating lines on each teak timber pad then began to “Holystone” in reverse!”

FITTING BOLTS IN IMPOSSIBLE LOCATIONS – From Malcolm Morling in the UK , an installer – see his listing under LINKS then INSTALLERS: I have had my fabricator make the backing plates with the bolts welded to them along with a tang from the bolt. I then drill the 2 10mm holes in the transom and feed in 2 wires, apply silicon to the plate and attach the wires to the tangs then pull the plates into place with the wires. Finally trimming and dressing the bolts when all secure.   This method has saved a couple of owners who had been quoted for expensive access panel work.


BOLTS – The unit does not come with any bolts for bolting the brackets to the transom – as the bolt length is a big variable. Best is the metric M10 bolt – the Imperial 3/8 inch is next best. For longer lengths use a long piece of threaded rod – cut as required using washers and nyloc nuts on both ends. After hack sawing off the excess it is wise to file down the rough/sharp end bits.

BACKING PLATES – On the inside of the transom it is best to spread the loads – a nut and washer might pull through. A build up of washer sizes is probably good enough but best to insert some sort of ‘backing plate’. Marine plywood is OK but better are pieces of tough plastic (Delrin, Acetal, Starboard, Phenolic etc.) or suitable gauge aluminum or stainless steel.


Crealock 40, unknown, Hanse 430


Sirius 38DS, unknown, unknown

BACKING PLATES – NUTS MUST BE FLUSH TO PLATES – EPOXY or FIBREGLASS RESIN FOR SPACER – The bolt nuts must be flush against whatever surface. To fill any gaps between the backing plates and the hull: mix a suitable quantity of epoxy or fiberglass resin and put it into a Saran Wrap or plastic pouch – fitted between the bracket flange and hull – tighten bolts – before the epoxy or resin hardens you must cut or mould the material to the desired shape – carving away any surplus – must be nimble – once hardened that stuff is brutal to work with.

BEDDING – On the outside where the fit should be flush any sealant from Sikaflex to 4200 or 5200 are fine. The purpose is to make it water tight. On the inside, if there are any voids between the backing plate and the hull – those should be filled with resin of some sort that will become rock hard – no give. The backing plate should be flush against the nut and washer.

RE-TIGHTEN BRACKET BOLTS – After the first passage when the Hydrovane has been used it is wise to check that the fastening bolts are still good and hard. After curing and with extra load there could be some give in the structure that needs to be taken up.

INSTALLING THE VANE COVER – Use silicone spray – This is nearly a MUST! – it makes the job so much easier. Liberally spray the tube and inside the vane cover – spray the seam that must slide over the tube. Do not worry about messing up the fabric – it all quickly evaporates. Second best to silicone spray is water, but not nearly as easy as silicone spray – but the price is right.

  • Start the lace in the holes nearest the casting. The finish will need only half a reef knot or a hitch – then it is easy to bury the ends inside.
  • Cinch it tight enough to remove the wrinkles. The cloth is very stretchy.
  • TIP – Use nylon wire/cable/zip ties to help cinch up the vane cover – then when done cut them away.
  • Initially you will think it is too small – keep cinching – it will fit …… and it will not rip. We often see vane covers with big gaps at the bottom – those gaps should not be there – cinch it up!

COMPARE ‘STUBBY’ VERSUS ‘STANDARD’ VANE – In a wind tunnel the Stubby is slightly more powerful than the Standard. In reality the height of the top of the vane can be important in certain conditions – there is more wind higher above the water. The standard vane, in some conditions will reach stronger wind than the stubby. Nearby aerial equipment is also a factor – such obstructions above deck level will cause an air buffer resulting in some of the wind going up and over it all – slowing the speed and mass of the wind at lower levels – just as the waves do.The conclusion is that the standard vane should be a better performer, especially if there are nearby obstructions. The degree of difference in performance might or might not be much to be concerned about – all dependent on those variables: wind strength, wind direction, wave height and mass and proximity of aerial obstructions.

EXTENDABLE VANE – Finally introduced early in 2016 after 5 years of development. The challenge was the trade-off between weight, strength and price with price losing out most of the time. For the first batch of 50 we have an introductory price while we await reports from the field. The only way to test them is to accumulate miles and years of experience. It will have a number of features that should greatly enhance performance:

  • Extendable – can fit below solar panel arches or can be extended to a height higher than the current Standard Vane (well, this first batch, on full extension is about the same height as the Standard Vane)
  • Big – about the same size as the Stubby
  • Always Vertical – Still have the unique Hydrovane ‘adjustable axis’ but with the axis tilted aft the vane itself can be adjusted to vertical to optimize its height and exposure to the wind while still enjoying the ‘tempering’ of the Variable Axis. This extra adjust-ability might be a problem solver for those with nuisance obstacles like radar masts.
  • Can Fit all units produced since 1980

Because the new vane will be expensive we will continue to produce both the the Standard and Stubby vanes.



From Dee & Pippa on Sula, an Elizabethan 31, blog at : I sometimes found altering course with my Hydrovane’s control lines difficult. It was worse at night. Sometimes I just couldn’t think which of the two lines to pull. I would resort to trial and error. It worked, but I wasn’t happy with it. Then the solution dawned on me. Mark the line!

So I tied a Turks Head knot onto one control line. I used red line, so I pull the line attached to the Turks Head to turn the boat to port. Even I didn’t need a marker to say the other one turns the boat to starboard. It has made life so much easier for both Pippa and I, that I thought to share it with you and other Hydrovane owners.


1) CLEANING: NO GREASE – JUST WASH – The unit needs only a regular washing with fresh water and periodic cleaning with soap and water. Better yet a dousing of scalding hot fresh water to dissolve any build-up of salt, minerals and solidified grease. 

We have seen a few units freeze up from suspected small particles getting into the space between the Top Bearing and Heading Tube. The culprits seem to be dust storms or nearby industrial bulk loading facilities. Our Drive Unit Cover would be the perfect solution for that.

2) CORROSION INHIBITOR – We encourage periodic spraying of the grey aluminum castings with a ‘corrosion inhibitor’. WD40 is OK but better yet are some suggestions:

We have talked to the people at Forespar and CorrosionX. Both have compelling performance reports on their products which are corroborated by stories from customers…. as follows:

CorrosionX –  a penetrant, dielectric and anti-corrosive – From their literature: “A supervisor in a maintenance facility for a major oil company called it an ‘inventory reducer’ because they use it for so many different applications”.

A Hydrovane customer comments on CorrosionX and Tef Gel:

“Corrosion X seems very good. It is oil based, and is designed for the solvent to evaporate, leaving a dry slightly waxy surface after several days. I have used it for about 2 years, first on my new inboard engine, and then on a number of steel tools – hammers, pliers etc. It does seem to make a difference – the engine still looks new, and even spots where there is some salt water exposure (engine coupling) it looks much better than I would otherwise expect, but does not entirely prevent rust, so it is permeable. Tef Gel is a teflon containing sticky gel, that is primarily meant for putting on bolts and screws to inhibit corrosion – especially where stainless steel is in contact with aluminum – for instance, mast and boom fittings. It definitely makes dismantling much easier, where it otherwise would likely have resulted in breakage of the pieces in any attempt to remove them. It never seems to dry out completely, but gets very sticky. It is very expensive – 10 ml cost me about $30.”

  • No grease!
  • Wash with soap and fresh water
  • Periodic spraying with a corrosion inhibitor

3) SETTINGS – No need to make any adjustments to the Drive Unit. The units, as delivered, should never need any adjustment – NEVER. All 8 of the axles that the upper and lower levers rotate on never show any wear – well, negligible wear – even after 100s of thousands of miles. Those axles are held in place by set screws. Best leave those set screws alone. They are locked in place with Loctite and can get further fixed with some oxidation – which is good – keeps them in place. The only wear item is Part #19 Drive Sleeve – but it lasts 20,000 miles or so – and even then can be ‘end for ended’ for another 20K – see INSTRUCTION # 14. If/when the Drive Sleeve is changed, be sure to put Loctite on the threads of the set screw that holds it in place.

RUST ON THE BRONZE FORK ARM AND RATIO ARM (no longer an issue – do not blast with steel shot) – Rust like spots may appear on the bronze castings – yes, just like rust on steel …. as that is what it is. No, the casting is not steel. It is solid bronze – actually a silicon bronze alloy – very strong and perfectly compatible with the stainless steel that it is connected to. In the ‘shot blasting’ process some steel residue remains on the surface of the bronze. In due course it should rust/oxidize away.

POSITIONING BOTTOM COLLAR – When the installation is complete – put on the rudder and insert its locking pin. You can then re-set the bottom collar so that it touches the rudder – sits right on top of the rudder. That will help each time you install the rudder – it puts the rudder at the right height – easier to find the hole for the locking pin. Lastly, take care not to bang the rudder up against the collar and knock it out of position causing it to bind on the bottom collar – resulting in poor/sticky performance of the Hydrovane – see WARNINGS #9 and #10 below.

INSTALLING THE RUDDER – BUNGEE HOLDS IT UP – Put a loop in your rudder tether line and hook a bungee inline so that you have to push down slightly to get the rudder under the shaft then let go and the bungee lifts it up into position.  It’s very easy to pin the rudder if you don’t have to hold it up too.……thanks to Scott Ritchie for this. Of course, remember to undo the bungee when in operation – as it might corrupt its movement.

MANEUVERABILITY IN MARINAS – When the Hydrovane shaft is locked (normally required when motoring) the boat is less maneuverable. On arrival at a marina if a free set of hands are available, remove the Shaft Locking Pin and use the Hydrovane Tiller to assist the helmsman on the main rudder – two rudders are better than one. The alternative, on arrival at a marina, a boat hook can be used to remove the Rudder Locking Pin – easily ‘popped out’ – and the rudder should fall off the shaft which can then be shipped aboard with its tether.

REFLECTIVE TAPE – NIGHT VISION – From a Moody 38, ‘EQUINOX’ – Gordon Campion puts 2 bits of reflective tape on the flat parts of the chrome end of the Worm Gear. At night he can see how much he adjusts the Course Setting – each reflection (half turn) equals 3 degrees change in course. He also puts reflective tape on the Tiller so he can see if the boat is ‘on course’ or not.

RUDDER HOLES – BEVEL EDGES FOR EASIER USE – Pre 2009 units – In January 2009 we started putting a 15 degree bevel on all access holes of the rudder and shaft – makes installing the rudder quite easy – a big improvement:

  1. Rudder:
    • Shaft hole
    • Both Locking Pin holes
  2. Shaft:
    • Bottom
    • Both Locking Pin holes

The nylon rudder is easy enough to work with but the super duplex shaft is surprisingly hard (as it should be) – good luck!

NEW RUDDER – SHAFT HOLE TOO TIGHT – The rudder should fit onto the shaft with little or no resistance. If the fit is too tight – hard to install the hole will need some cleaning. Although we do ream out the shaft holes it could be that bits of nylon are still deep in the hole. Use some wet-dry sandpaper on the end of a dowel or a sanding wheel on a hand drill to clean out the hole …………….. and be thankful the fit is tight. Over time the hole will only enlarge.

SHAFT HOLE OFF CENTRE – For a period in the first half of 2010 some of the shaft holes were not centered. If it does not look centered then it isn’t. You can verify by using calipers to measure the wall thickness on either side – should be about 15mm/0.6in with a tolerance of up to a difference of 1mm/0.04in.

BROKEN LOCK PINS – The Lock Pins are found in 3 locations:

  1. # 60 – Vane Lock Pin
  2. # 61 – Shaft Lock Pin
  3. # 62 – Rudder Lock Pin

The Rudder Pin is under the biggest load. Eventually, it will break having suffered from metal fatigue. We recommend periodic rotation of pins or even regular replacement of the Rudder Pin. Actually, the failure is most likely caused by motoring when the rudder is locked off. Vibration from the ship’s engine is transmitted to the Hydrovane shaft and rudder where it is exaggerated causing a chatter of the rudder on the shaft. That chattering wears down the Lock Pin fairly quickly.  The solution is to secure the rudder when not in use. Use a strong rubber shock absorber or even a snubber. Make it hard and fast to a cleat to dampen the vibration as much as possible. See picture of snubber in next item.

RUDDER VIBRATION WHEN MOTORING – Some engines cause considerable vibration which when transferred to the shaft and rudder produces quite a chatter of the rudder. The big length and weight of the rudder combined with the loads created by the water and boat speed result in a brutal hammering on the locking pin that holds the shaft in place. Its fracturing is inevitable. The solution is to break the harmonic chatter by cinching up the rudder with considerable force. Bungee cords have no effect. A heavy duty rubber snubber is the answer – same as is used on dock lines. Take the line with the snubber from the Hydrovane handle onto a cleat – heave hard before tying off. If you take it to a winch be practical about the load on it….. although it should withstand whatever pressure. Minimizing that annoying vibration/noise also reduces wear of the shaft hole.



EXTREME VIBRATION WHEN MOTORING – In some cases the vibration develops a harmonic. Have you seen videos of a bridge deck in a wind storm that starts a wave that becomes destructive? Do not need to worry about the Hydrovane shaking the boat apart but it is the same principle that causes the extreme vibration. The solution is as described above to break the harmonic wave by cinching up the rudder. We recommend incorporating a heavy duty rubber snubber in the cinching line to keep the pressure on the line. Other solutions could be a change in engine RPMs or altering the pitch of the propeller if you have a variable pitch prop.

VIBRATION WHEN SAILING – If  an annoying vibration develops when sailing, the cause and solution is similar to the item above – just much more subtle – not caused by engine vibration but by the slightly loose rudder and a harmonic that has developed. The solution is to add a bit of weight to the Tiller – not too much as that would affect the Hydrovane performance. Try putting a bilge pump handle in the hole of the tiller or using a bungee chord to add a little pressure on the Tiller. 

ANNOYING RATTLE OF RUDDER AT ANCHOR – The rudder can rattle on the shaft with motion of the water or boat when moored or on the hook – annoying if a berth is adjacent to the transom. If so, cinch it up as explained above ……. or remove it. That rattling is also wearing away the shaft hole, inevitably enlarging it. Another reason to either remove the rudder when not in use or put a snubber on it.

SHAFT HOLE GROWS LARGER – Any bits of grit that get into the shaft hole can act as a grinder, enlarging the hole. The newer rudders now have a drain hole – helps eliminate this problem. It is wise to drill a drain hole if your rudder does not already have one.

ANTI FOULING PAINT ON THE RUDDER? –  Advantages of not painting the rudder and removing it when not in use:

  • GROWTH – Practically no growth on the rudder when the boat is at sea as salt water scours it clean – assumes boat speed – the faster the speed the cleaner the rudder.
  • WEAR of the shaft hole from the constant motion. If the rudder is left on all the time the boat’s motion causes constant wear of the shaft hole by the shaft. The shaft hole will steadily enlarge until it is so loose that a sleeve must be fabricated for it.

ANTI-FOULING PAINT – If the rudder is left on permanently (see comments above about removing it) we have no specific paint that we recommend for it other than to say:

  • HARD NON-ABLATIVE PAINT – so that whenever removed it is not overly messy – like power boats use
  • Prepare rudder by scuffing with wet/dry sandpaper and inquire from experts whether a primer is necessary or suitable for the nylon surface

CHECK FOR LOOSENING BOLTS – A periodic re-tightening of bolts never hurts. All bolts on the Drive Unit were installed with Loctite. Only if any looseness is detected should the bolt be re-tightened. Prime suspect is:

  • #56 Ratio Bolt – holding the Ratio Knob
  • Bracket Bolts including the ones attaching to the transom

– When not in use the most obvious storage is to leave it where it is. For that you should insert the Locking Pin provided for that purpose. Then, if at anchor, it can be used as a ‘riding sail’ – reduce the boat snaking a course into the wind.

One good reason to stow it elsewhere or put a cover on it is to save the fabric from UV deterioration.

Of course, we like to see it left on – good advertising.

WHEEL LOCK – If your boat does not have a wheel lock here are three practical solutions:

  1. Devising a mini vice
  2. Using two jam cleats on either side of the wheel – on Brian Anderson’s Hallberg Rassy 40
  3. Another version with jam cleats – on a Malo 41
THAT FIRST TEST SAIL From Carol Backus of ‘FRANNIE B’: “Your hints need to be posted in three short sentences.
  • Balance sails and get your boat on course
  • Put telltales on the vane, (with all pins still in and autopilot on) get the boat steering the desired course, adjust vane so that all telltales are streaming
  • Pull the pins, turn the autopilot off and you are up and going.

Just as Will said I start with the middle amount of rudder and sail half back. Fine tune from there.”


PENETRATING OIL – An email received from Chuck Hogan … worth knowing

From: Chuck Hogan []
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 9:38 AM
Subject: Penetrating Oil study – a 50/50 mix of Acetone and Automatic Transmission Fluid is best!
I found this very interesting…….I think you will as well.
Penetrating Oils –Machinist’s Workshop magazine recently published some information on various penetrating oils that I found very interesting. Some of you might appreciate this. The magazine reports they tested penetrates for break out torque on rusted nuts. They are below, as forwarded by an ex-student and professional machinist. They arranged a subjective test of all the popular penetrates with the control being the torque required to remove the nut from a “scientifically rusted” environment.
Penetrating oils ……….. Average torque load to loosen
  • No Oil used                    516 pounds
  • WD-40                           238 pounds
  • PB Blaster                     214 pounds
  • Liquid Wrench               127 pounds
  • Kano Kroil                     106 pounds
  • ATF*-Acetone mix        53 pounds
The ATF-Acetone mix is a “home brew” mix of 50 – 50 automatic transmission fluid and acetone. Note this “home brew” released bolts better than any commercial product in this one particular test. Our local machinist group mixed up a batch and we all now use it with equally good results. Note also that “Liquid Wrench” is almost as good as “Kroil” for about 20% of the price.   Steve from Godwin-Singer says that ATF-Acetone mix is best, but you can also use ATF and lacquer thinner in a 50-50 mix.
But best be done outdoors and away from the boat: EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE!!!  PRESSURIZED WITH AIR <> A BOMB!!!


MORE ON PENETRATING OIL – From Ian Fordyce  – accolades for hydrofluoric acid, Silver POR15 paint (on aluminum) and Lanocote – in dealing with our old Bottom Collars (now in 316 stainless steel)

“…soaking it (aluminum) in a solution of hydrofluoric acid which made quick work of the oxidation. I repainted it with Silver POR15 paint and put LanoCote (Boat Rigging Grade Grease that prevents Electrolysis)”

CHECK FOR FRICTION– Periodically, it is wise to get familiar with the amount of friction in the system so that you can be aware if it starts to lose its responsiveness. With the rudder detached and the ratio control in neutral – right hand setting – then move the tiller from side to side then push it slightly and let go – it should not do an immediate stop – but keep moving with momentum. It should be evident by its movements that there is almost no friction. Next engage the unit by moving the ratio control to any setting on the left. Give a gentle push to the lead weights – the vane must be attached. Once pushed the moving parts of the assembly should keep on moving from the momentum. If it stops quickly then there is some friction that needs correcting.

EVERY JOINT SHOULD RATTLE– If any of the axles (although this should only be done after 100s of thousands of miles – see comments above on MAINTENANCE), shafts or bearings are removed for cleaning or adjustment, the unit should be reassembled so that there is slight but noticeable end play between the moving parts – “every joint should rattle”. The HYDROVANE is designed to ‘rattle’ – so, do not re-set those joints to remove the ‘rattle’ or ‘looseness’. The purpose of the loose joints is twofold:

  1. There must be room for a delay in the transition from a course change in one direction to a course change in the opposite direction. Otherwise the system would be ‘on’ all the time – another type of ‘over steering’.
  2. The joints need space to accommodate salt and dirt build-up. Otherwise a tight system soon becomes too tight causing unnecessary friction and poor performance. Meaning well, many owners and even skilled tradesman mistakenly tighten up those loose joints. There are 4 pairs of set screws that control the ‘looseness’:
    • A pair of axles holding the ‘bobbin’ – part 3
    • A pair of axles holding the vane axis disc – part 8
    • A pair of axles holding the ratio arm – part 70
    • A pair of ball sockets (part 20) holding the ball screw set – part 57

The degree of looseness should be just enough to feel a ‘tic’ – less than a millimeter – when moving the part back and forth. Cumulatively all those little spaces result in a fairly loose feeling when the tiller is jiggled. When finished re-setting check that the relevant parts are still ‘centered’:

  • The ratio rod (part 35) sits in the middle of the drive shaft when the ratio control is set in the ‘neutral’ (right hand) position
  • The ‘bobbin’ is centered.
  • The ‘vane axis disc’ is centered

REMOVAL OF RUDDER WHEN NOT IN USE We are often asked for a ‘flip-up’ arrangement to get the rudder out of the water when not in use. Our focus has always been to make the system as reliable as possible – fearful of introducing potential weaknesses that could compromise the Hydrovane’s integrity. It is the worst of conditions that find the weakest link. Most do remove their rudders – only installing for passages. Boats without platforms or steps might consider the exercise of getting in a dinghy to install the Hydrovane rudder too much of a nuisance, preferring to leave it on …… although merit to that: then it is always ready to go for ‘emergency steering’. Reasons for removal of rudder when not in use:

  • GROWTH – Practically no growth on the rudder when the boat is at sea as salt water scours it clean – assumes boat speed – the faster the speed the cleaner the rudder.
  • ANNOYING RATTLE – It can rattle with motion of the water or boat when moored or on the hook – annoying if a berth is adjacent to the transom.
  • SHAFT HOLE GROWS LARGER – Any bits of grit that get into the shaft hole will act as a grinder, enlarging the hole.
  • MANEUVERABILITY IN MARINAS – When the Hydrovane shaft is locked (required when motoring) the boat is less maneuverable. [When needed – best to have a free set of hands to steer the rudder – two rudders are better than one.] Note – On arrival at a marina, if accessible with a boat hook, the rudder Locking Pin is easily ‘popped out’ – and the rudder shipped aboard with its tether.

Some techniques and improvements to facilitate rudder removal:

  1. PLATFORM OR STEPS – A big help.
  2. BUNGEE CORD TO HOLD RUDDER UP WHEN INSTALLING – Set a big bungee cord in place during the install procedure so that the rudder will lift up by itself once on the shaft – freeing up a hand so the Locking Pin can be inserted.
  3. BOTTOM COLLAR – Our new stainless Bottom Collar helps as a good stopper at the correct position for the rudder.
  4. BEVELS – Older units can be arduous to install. A big improvement is the 15 degree bevels we now have on both the mouth of the shaft hole in the rudder and at the bottom of the shaft – guides the rudder in place. A machine shop could easily make those bevels on older shafts and rudders.


  1. WARNING – Too often at the wrong stage of installation it is discovered that certain of the boats aerial equipment on the aft end conflict with the normal operation of the Hydrovane. See the SPECIFICATIONS  page for more detail at:
  2. WARNING – SHAFT ASSEMBLY OFTEN KNOCKED LOOSE IN SHIPPING– Shippers are famous for dropping/throwing the shaft on its end – treating the box like a javelin. No damage done – only the two bearings need knocking back in place – typically the bearing lips separate from the tube by a 1/4 inch/6mm or so. The lips of the plastic bearings on either end of the tube should be flush with the tube. They are easily knocked back in place by tapping or banging each end of the shaft on a hard floor. Once that is done the BOTTOM COLLAR might need re-setting. Loosen the set screws on the Bottom Collar then insert the shaft into the Rudder and then insert the Rudder Lock Pin. The Bottom Collar should sit on top of the Rudder, touching the rudder. Tighten the screws to hold it in that position ( caution not to over tighten – could crack the plastic). You should be able to see that there is a space between the top of the Bottom Collar and the Bottom Bearing. Then whenever installing the Rudder that Bottom Collar becomes the marker for the right height. Helps when finding the pin hole.
  3. WARNING – LEAD WEIGHTS HIDDEN IN DRIVE UNIT BOX – ALSO THE TILLER FORK ARM – Do not throw out the drive unit box until you have liberated the lead weights – under a cardboard flap. They weigh 10 lbs. (4.5 kg.) – hard to believe that some have missed them. Ditto goes for the Tiller Fork Arm – it too is sometimes left in the box.
  4. WARNING – NEED TO MAKE BACKING PLATES SUPPORTING THE THRU-HULL BOLTS/NUTS– It is best to over engineer the structure of the backing plates – pieces of stainless plate are perfect as is aluminum or thick plastics – at the minimum use more than the standard washers – perhaps a build up of thick gauge fender washers or marine plywood. Be sure the plate is flush to the washer and nut. Fill any voids between the plate and the hull with epoxy or fibreglass resin.
  5. WARNING – BOLT TIGHTENING SEQUENCECRITICAL FOR ‘E’ BRACKETS– When installing the brackets it is critical that the ‘Bolt Tightening Sequence’ be adhered to – see INSTRUCTIONS – especially for the ‘E’ bracket. The purpose of the tightening sequence is for the clamps to fully lock onto or grip the tubes. If done improperly the clamp will be cock-eyed and eventually work free – hardly any bite or grip on the tube … and it will soon work loose – leaving the entire unit barely hanging on by the one remaining bracket … if found early enough!
  6. WARNING – BRACKET FLANGE MUST BE PERFECTLY FLUSH TO TIMBER PAD/SPACER OR HULL– If there is any curvature at all at the point where a bracket is bolted to the transom a ‘Timber Pad’ or ‘spacer’ must be fashioned to pick up that difference. The bracket casting cannot flex – will break if it is not on a truly flat surface. 
  7. WARNING – ‘A’ AND ‘E’ BRACKET STRUTS MUST BE POSITIONED NATURALLY – The location of the flanges that are bolted to the hull must be at the exact location where the structure naturally/comfortably sits. If the holes for the bolts are drilled in the wrong location it is tempting to force the struts into that position then bolt them up – thinking that if it looks right it must be right. The constant stress on the casting will eventually cause its failure.
  8. WARNING – MISTAKES BY PROFESSIONAL INSTALLERS – Sometimes skilled tradesman make sloppy mistakes. Here are some common ones that you should check for:
    • *** Be absolutely sure that the FINAL INSPECTION TESTS  on section 4 below have been done or do them yourself.  The most critical is the DRIVE SLEEVE TEST
    • AERIAL OBSTRUCTIONS -Too often and too late certain nearby aerial structures like an arch with solar panels or a radar pole are discovered to obstruct the operation of the vane. The vane requires a lot of airspace – see the schematics on the SPECIFICATIONS  webpage at:
    • TIPS – Try to get the installer to have a look at this TIP section and even the INSTRUCTIONS and/or INSTRUCTION VIDEO – typical male style is to go straight at it, totally ignoring the INSTRUCTIONS.
    • HEIGHT OF SHAFT – If installed in a boatyard the location of the true waterline is not apparent. The bottom of the shaft should sit just above the waterline……. but not nearly as important as the next item.
    • NO CLAMPING NEAR SHAFT BOTTOM BEARING – There should be about 2 inches/5 cm. of stainless tube showing beneath the bottom bracket and above the white (black on older units) lip of the Bottom Bearing. If the bearings is squeezed the shaft cannot move freely.
    • VERTICAL – On a boat the concept of vertical is nebulous but still important. Dropping  a plumb bob doesn’t do it.  Vertical for the Hydrovane means its shaft must be on the same plane as the mast or better yet, the keel.
    • ROCK SOLID INSTALLATION – The installation should be over engineered and rock hard – no potential for flex when under load. If the transom is hollow or has a core filling, that core should be removed around the planned location of the bolt and filled with epoxy. When the epoxy hardens the bolt holes can be drilled.
    • BOLT TIGHTENING OF BRACKETS – Item #4 above – re bolt tightening sequence. This is potentially dangerous – especially if you have an ‘E’ bracket – best to double check that it was done properly.
    • BRACKET FLANGES COMFORTABLE ON FLAT SURFACES – Check the timber pad to be sure the angle is right – bracket sits flush on the timber pad before the bolts are tightened up. If the flanges fit unnaturally and forced into position when bolted in place the stress on the casting will cause it to FAIL/CRACK/BREAK.
    • PARTS LEFT IN BOXES – Item #2 above – re lead weights – too common – box thrown away with Lead Weights and Fork Arm still hidden under flaps
    • BACKING PLATES – see #3 above. Boatyard installers can be too basic in their work. Where an owner would intuitively ‘over engineer’ a tradesman might be pressed to get the job done and be minimal in treatment of key structural elements – like Backing Plates. Standard washers are not good enough – especially for production boats in places where the fibreglass is not so thick.
    • BOLTS – Thru Bolts through transom not secured with standard nyloc nuts and suitable washers – all should be ‘316’ stainless
    • TIGHTENING BOLTS – Check that critical bolts are properly tightened:
      • #58 Fork Bolt clamping the Tiller/Fork Arm onto the top of the shaft – must be very hard
      • All bracket bolts
      • The ‘thru bolts’ through the transom should be re-tightened after sea trials
    • So wise to have your installer review WARNINGS # 1 to 8 before they start the job
    • RUDDER – Keep a good strong tether on the rudder whenever it is attached. It does not float.
    •  3 PINS – All locking pins should also be tethered – especially the Rudder Locking Pin
    • VANE – not as critical but a good idea to put a tether on it
  10. WARNING(All units pre the fall of 2006) VANE and AXIS LOCKING KNOBS– can easily be spun off – then typically fall overboard. They only need a partial turn to loosen. It might be wise to drill a small hole in the knobs and attach a string/tether. NOTE – We now have knobs that include a nyloc locking nut that solves this problem – but the old vane axis bolt is not long enough to accommodate the nyloc nut.
  11. WARNING – ROTATE THE LOCKING PINS– The rudder locking pin can suffer from metal fatigue, over time. It is wise to rotate it with the other two locking pins from time to time………and eventually replace with a new one.
  12. WARNING – OVER TIGHTENING THE BOTTOM COLLAR– Background: Pre 2009 Bottom Collars were made of Delrin plastic and had one set screw to hold it in place. For 2009 and 2010 the Collar was made of aluminum – solved the cracking problem but is too prone to oxidation. For 2011 the Collars were made of a harder plastic – PET – and have two set screws. Now all cracking of the Bottom Collar is solved as we finally switched to stainless steel – the right solution. The problem with the Delrin version was that they tended to crack due to over tightening of the single set screw causing the collar to split. That screw(s) only need(s) to slightly grip into the steel shaft. The collar is not holding anything up so it does not have to be very secure. Make it snug and nothing more.
  13. WARNING – BOTTOM COLLAR BINDING ON BEARING– When installing the rudder it is easy to bang it against the bottom collar – and knock the collar up against the bottom bearing. Periodically check that there is a hair of space between the ‘collar’ and ‘bearing’. If not, you will feel it when wiggling the tiller. See TEST #4 below.
  14. WARNING – THREAD GALLING OF STAINLESS STEEL BOLTS AND NYLOC NUTS – Stainless nuts and bolts, when under load, can seize up and become impossible to loosen. Heat caused by tightening too quickly or too hard is usually the trigger. The solution is to cut the bolt or snap the bolt by adding extreme force to the wrench. That is why rigging screws are typically made with bronze barrels. This problem is exacerbated by bits of stray stainless steel or other grit and especially if the nut and bolt threads are cut to a tight tolerance. Some good practices to help solve the galling:
    • Clean the thread of any residual bits – wire brush, wipe or blow
    • If there are any burrs left from manufacturing, clip them off and file smooth the rough edge.
    • Use a lubricant before tightening. The suggested lubricants should contain substantial amounts of molybdenum disulfide (moly), graphite, mica, or talc. We use a ‘high pressure bearing grease’ – Morris K43EP Lithium Multipurpose Grease (KEP) –
    • It is wise to use non stainless steel nuts (plain steel, plastic etc.) when positioning as ‘dummies’ and only use the stainless nuts for the final assembly.
    • Never use an electric air drill – the speed and pressure causes heat which makes matters worse.If you intend to remove the Hydrovane from the boat  on a regular basis you should consider replacing the stainless steel nyloc nuts with bronze (or NAB  – Nickel, Aluminum, Bronze) and locking washers – to eliminate the potential for galling.
  15. WARNING – For new installations – after test sails when the installation has had some load to deal with – check/tighten the through bolts holding the flanges onto the transom.
  16. WARNING – HARMONIC VIBRATON CAUSED BY ENGINE– Some boats find that when the engine is running at certain RPMs that the Hydrovane rudder develops considerable vibration. Try securing the rudder with a heavy duty rubber strop or shock chord – to deaden the vibration. Cinch it up with force – the Hydrovane can take it. Incorporate into the cinch a heavy rubber strop – perhaps like those used on docking spring lines – stops it from working loose – keeps constant tension. This vibration will certainly exacerbate a growing shaft hole.
  17. WARNING – SHAFT HOLE IN RUDDER CAN GROW (for older rudders – now have a drain hole at base of shaft hole) – If bits of sand get into the shaft hole in the rudder they work as a grinder – ever enlarging the hole. In fact, once it enlarges the process accelerates and the rattle of the rudder gets worse. It would help to remove the rudder when not in use or when motoring to cinch it up very tightly. Incorporate into the cinch a heavy rubber strop – perhaps like those used on docking spring lines – stops it from working loose – keeps constant tension. For those over sized holes the best solution is a new rudder. An alternative is for a good machine shop to re-bore the hole and insert a stainless steel sleeve. The boring requires a precision low speed drill with coolant and the rudder locked in position – not a job for amateurs or inadequate equipment. We now have a drain hole on the bottom of the shaft hole – which largely solves the problem – allows the grit to be flushed away. For older rudders such a drain hole is not a bad idea – easily drilled.
  18. WARNING – NEVER LOCK SHAFT IN HEAVY WEATHER– In heavy weather it is best to leave the Hydrovane engaged and make it a key part of your storm tactics. If, for reasons, it is not engaged, it is wise to leave the rudder trailing without inserting the Shaft Lock Pin. As the boat is thrown around an unlocked shaft allows the rudder to flop about absorbing and deflecting the worst of the blows. If the rudder is fixed it must deal with greater loads as the boat is thrown sideways with a higher probability of the shaft bending. The designed weak spot is the bit of exposed shaft between the rudder and the shaft tube – that is where it will bend.


IDEA! – RETROFIT A SOLAR PANEL IN PLACE OF VANE WHEN NOT IN USE– A customer at Southampton has provided a brilliant idea. He uses the vane locking screw and bracket and has fitted a solar panel to it. The panel sits at the full deflection point which is 50 degrees off the horizontal – a perfect compromise angle. IDEA! – RETROFIT A BASE FOR A FLAG STANDARD IN PLACE OF VANE WHEN NOT IN USE – We took this idea to heart and now offer a Flagstaff holder that fits onto the vane holder. See the PARTS page if you would like one.

Westerly Oceanlord 41 – ARC Finish

IDEA! – STOWING THE VANE – Two options:

  • Make a pocket in the lifelines using sail cover material – eg – Sunbrella or equivalent
  • Using the back of a door install a bolt with dimensions that utilizes the same locking arrangement as is on the vane – use a wing-nut.
IDEA – FIX FOR ROTTING VANE COVERS – Duct tape is the standard method of keeping a vane cover together. When there is little to work with ‘Saran Wrap’ or clear plastic wrap for covering food can be wound around the frame as can the clear packing material – no idea how long either will last. Another interesting replacement is the fabric used in model airplanes – wrapped around and shrunk tight with the appropriate gunck/dope.

IDEA! – TELL-TALE ON THE VANE – CASSETTE TAPES – It is handy to have a tell-tale on the windvane – top trailing edge. We have often heard that cassette tapes make ideal tell-tales. That is probably the only use for those cassettes…if you can find one.

IDEA! –ENHANCE LIGHT AIR RESPONSEWITH A PLASTIC BAG/SACK – To enhance vane response sailing downwind in light airs, attach a small plastic bag (e.g. usual grocery bag/sack) to the top of the vane so it fills with wind like a balloon. It will pivot with the wind direction, and add force to deflect the vane, while having negligible intrinsic weight. This idea was found on an obscure sailing chatline – it is generic to any self steering with a vane. As an aside – we regularly hear of Hydrovanes performing in as little as 4 to 6 knots apparent … in the right conditions: flat sea, constant wind direction. Thanks to John Hurlburt who found this and passed it on while serving in a medical facility in Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic where it was “-41 degrees (the same for either ‘F’ or ‘C’ at -40) and blowing 30 knots” at the time of writing …. while his Roberts 44 waited patiently for him on the hard in Guaqail, Equador.

IDEA! – STERN LIGHT ON HOUSING COVER FOR PRE 2010 UNITS – The plastic cover is very strong – easy to drill holes to fit a stern light – some ingenuity needed for the wiring and angling of the light – the height is ideal… much for the Hydrovane logo.

Bristol 29 (with recycled RVG brackets)

Better yet – this LED version (the stainless disk) – rated at 3NM – burns only 1.5W or 0.1amps. This looks so good we have changed the shape of the Frame Case and now offer this same stern light as an option – see the PARTS page for pricing.

thanks to Scott Ritchie – Folkes 39

IDEA! – MINI DECK FOR ‘A’ BRACKET – If you have an upper ‘A’ bracket and configure it with the struts horizontal – then you can easily construct a little deck (see the GALLERY for pictures of the Southerly). Aside from a favourite getaway we have aslo heard it makes an ideal fish cleaning work table and also a good surf board rack. Our bias is to leave it as is – those 2 inch (50mm) tubes are such good handholds.

Southerly 135

IDEA – RIDING SAILAt anchor, set the Hydrovane vane amidships trailing aft and lock it in place – Ratio in neutral/far right and Vane Locking Pin inserted. Helpful when windy to minimize the ‘snaking’ of the boat at anchor.

Tati’ Pascual who has provided us with a number of good ideas over the years, has another. For boats with over-hanging mizzen booms, instead of removing the Vane when tacking or gybing, with a simple alteration to the Wind Vane Frame casting the Vane can be rotated to the horizontal position. These pictures are the best explanation:

Mizzens - retrofit to horizontal 1
Drill and cut casting as above
Mizzens - retrofit to horizontal 2
Mizzens - retrofit to horizontal 3
Vane then lowered out of harms way without being removed

– Water flow through the handle hole does cause drag and reduces the ‘balance’ of the rudder. This ‘drag’ increases with boat speed. Faster boats could improve performance by making plates that cover that hole – see picture below. Note the space left for the tether. We had intended to make plates but now discover the new rudder is so well balanced that the plates are not needed for it.

Cover plates for handle hole made with marine plywood



  • VERTICAL FOR VANE– The vane can be inclined from the vertical position to 30 degrees. To change the vane’s position loosen the vane’s axis locking knob and push the lead weights up. To start, leave it at vertical.
  • MIDDLE FOR RATIO KNOB – Try the ratio knob at the middle setting.
  • You might refresh yourself with all the set-up procedures from the detailed instructions…. but many never do… Essentially:
    1. Sails trimmed and balanced
    2. Vane set with the leading edge dead into the wind
    3. Lock the main rudder, not centered but in that ‘sweet spot’ that holds the boat ‘on course’ and compensates for any tendencies of the boat – weather or lee helm. Engage the HYDROVANE by moving the ratio control from the neutral, right hand position (with the rod pointing vertical/down) to the middle setting (with the rod off to the side – pointing at 4:00 o’clock).
    4. Stand back and watch.
    5. If it is struggling, and depending on conditions, try:
      • Increasing/decreasing power by moving the Ratio knob settings
      • Increase/decreasing responsiveness by inclining the vane
    6. Typically you should now be marveling that it really does work. Let it perform for a while. Observe the wake. The goal is to achieve a straighter wake – and reduce the yaw……well, many do not bother as it should be steering just fine… even without tuning.

STRAIGHTENING THE WAKE AND REDUCING YAW – There are two tools for adjusting the sensitivity and steerage of the HYDROVANE:

1. ADJUSTABLE VANE AXIS (SENSITIVITY) – The inclination of the vane – 0 to 30 degrees for sensitivity:

  • Light Airs – 0 degrees or vertical – most power -most sensitive
  • Middle or Normal Setting – 15 to 20 degrees
  • Heavy Weather – 30 degrees or fully inclined -least sensitive

Vane Angle Settings – If the Hydrovane is responding too slowly, under steering, then finally catching up by over steering, try raising the vane – make it more responsive/sensitive/powerful by putting it in the vertical position. Conversely, if the vessel is over steering with each correction being too dramatic, then de-sensitize/de-power the vane by further inclining it. The vane should have an easy waving motion – not stuck without moving nor banging from side to side – something in between.

2. RATIO CONTROL (STEERAGE) – 3 settings for different amounts of power and rudder angle:

  • Far left – 15 degrees (1:3 power) – most power, the default setting for faster boats
  • Middle -25 degrees (1:2 power) – normal setting for medium (35′ to 40′) sized boats
  • Right – 40 degrees (1:1 power) – least power, most steerage, heavy conditions, hardly ever used
  • Neutral – far right

Ratio Control Settings – Typically the trade-off is between the far left setting and the one next to it. If, at the middle setting, the boat is being over steered – evident in the wake as the boat meanders too far from the desired course then switch to the far left setting. The middle setting is the most commonly used although bigger boats at faster speeds will need the 3:1 far left setting. Examples – In light airs, when the vane may be vertical for maximum power, the ratio might also need maximum power – the left setting. In heavy weather, when the vane axis will be fully declined for stability; the ratio knob would often be in the middle setting if the boat has reduced canvass and under control but if ‘going like the clappers’ – you will need the power of the left setting. Easy Waving Motion of Vane -The end result should be a an easy waving motion of the vane as it swings from side to side – not moving that much – rarely banging at the stop and not spending long periods without moving. If it bangs from side to side it needs to be de-sensitized – lower it. If it is not moving much then add sensitivity by raising it. You should soon learn what positioning works for you. Over time you will develop your own technique for altering the settings.

Surprisingly, many users are happy to leave the settings alone – seeing no need.

ONLY HYDROVANE CAN CHANGE ITS AXIS/SENSITIVITY– The HYDROVANE is not finicky. As just mentioned, many owners leave their vane and ratio knob at the same setting for most conditions. The degree of tuning is a personal taste. All the other major brands have either no such tuning capability or at best can make only minor adjustments. Some can change the angle of their vanes but none can change the axis angle. All other brands have fixed axis – generally 20 degrees. Only Hydrovane can change that axis angle – hence change the vane’s sensitivity/power.




December 29, 2011 – A couple of significant performance issues have been festering and finally identified:

  1. RUDDER– A rudder problem has had our experts baffled as so many of the rudders have been impressive performers but some are simply unusable and must be replaced.
  2. LOOSE AXLE– (Haven’t seen one of these in several years.) The second problem is no mystery – a loose part that needs re-fastening. For the two castings that rock back and forth – if either one can slide/move laterally, not held tightly, then one or more of the 8 ‘axles’ that hold them in place must be re-set. Yes, they can rock but they should not slide fore and aft or sidewaysAn update on LOOSE AXLE – for axles that have worked loose simply from heavy usage – only 2 instances known so far.
  3. JAMMED WORM GEAR – The Worm bearings/bushings can get a little too tight from heat and humidity. We thought we had this one licked but it does re-appear. Units that were perfectly fine in the shop and stayed OK for some time and miles finally started to seize up. A simple fix – ream out the two bearings/bushings with an electric drill.
  4. JAMMED TOP BEARING– The space between the #14 TOP BEARING and #64 HEADING TUBE has become clogged with a buildup of salt and dust. 

Description of the problems and solutions are as follows:


1.  WONKY RUDDER– Rudders produced between July 2009 and July 2011 (shaft hole is 71 mm./2.8 in. aft of the leading edge) were the best balanced ever. Unfortunately, manufacturing variances produced some that were too balanced … did not know which way is forward. TEST: When sailing, without the Hydrovane engaged (Ratio in the right hand ‘neutral’ position) and with the Shaft Lock Pin out – means the rudder is trailing freely – how does the rudder act? It should be naturally trailing in the wake. Push the Tiller over to one side then let it go. Do the same to the other side. Does it always come back to the fore and aft position? This test can be done when motoring. Get the boat up to speed then put the gear shift into neutral – leaves the boat coasting without any prop wash. Then do the same test. The best description of such a faulty rudder comes from Derek Shields on his Jeanneau 42 OS DS who had a faulty rudder then borrowed a good rudder from another boat which he tested to discover good performance for the first time. Then put his old/bad rudder back on for comparison: “Yesterday I took my rudder for a spin and tested its trailing ability and response to turning by hand. I motored the yacht up to over 6 knots then put it in neutral. The rudder seemed to be trailing in line. Then I pushed it, using its tiller, to port. It was stodgy but not difficult to turn the rudder about 15 degrees but when I let it free it stayed at 15 degrees. It was more difficult to turn it further and when I released it, it returned quite quickly to about 15 degrees off centre and stayed there. However all the movement was stodgy, like plasticine. The same happened when I turned it to starboard. The slower the boat travelled the easier it was to turn the rudder but the wider angle it would stop at. This morning the first thing I tried with the alternative, older [borrowed] version rudder was the same test. That rudder resisted turn with an increasing force in relation to the angle of turn and bounced straight back to perfectly in line as soon as it was released. In contrast its movement was crisp and bouncy compared to slow and stodgy of the thicker rudder. Also, from the start it appeared to me as soon as I put my new Hydrovane into service while sailing out of Gibraltar that the vane did not have the power to turn the rudder.”

FIX– Aside from getting a replacement from us (if your location precludes a necessary quick delivery and you have a good set of power tools and are skilled enough at carpentry …. or can find such locally) : You could saw 3/8 inch/9 mm. off the leading edge then fashion the leading edge to be similar to the old shape. It helps to first make a template of that shape. The material is nylon – much tougher than wood but can be worked in much the same way – with care to avoid getting any power tools too hot as the nylon will melt and make a mess of – eg – sandpaper or grinding face. Current rudders have a shaft hole at a conservative 59 mm. (2 1/3 in.) aft of the leading edge. If you did the above ‘FIX’ the shaft hole would be at 62 mm.


LOOSE AXLES (Posted December 20, 2011) – For units built in the period from April 2010 to December 2011: Any looseness in the mechanism? The Vane Lever (part #65) and the Bottom Lever (part #69) that tilt back and forth should be firmly in place –unable to slide laterally. The rocking motion of the Hydrovane is facilitated by a total of 8 axles – 4 each for each lever. Rock the vane to identify the four pivot points: 2 pair near the top for the Bobbin, 2 pair for the Bottom Lever (behind the Ratio Knob) – see one below the Ratio Knob and its partner is on the opposite side, then you can spot the 2 on each side of the Main Frame. Each of those 8 Axles are set in a plastic sleeve and held in place by a set screw. On examination you can discover the various locations for the set screws. It is possible that not all of the Set Screws are fastened onto the Axles as they should be. We have seen evidence of perhaps a half dozen loose Axles. The problem arose when the set screws seemingly were properly tightened but actually had fixed onto the plastic Axle Sleeve (part # 1) instead of the steel Axle (part # 47) as they should be. FIX– The fix is easy enough:

  1. Remove the set screw– need a hex wrench for a 3/8″ set screw (5/16″ hex wrench – precisely 7.94mm -maybe try a 7.5mm hex wrench but worrisome of ruining the hex fit). Must have the proper fit as the screw is set in Loctite – need to crack it loose.
  2. Remove the black plastic Axle Sleeve and ream out the damaged hole for the set screw – making the hole big enough – or even oversize. Re-install the Sleeve.
  3. Push the Axle all the way in – push it hard enough so that the lever is firm on its Axles on both sides. Tap it lightly with a rubber mallet (or the rubber handle of a hammer or tool) to be sure it is firmly in place.
  4. Tighten the set screw onto the Axle using Loctite to make sure it does not work loose.

TESTS– Once the Axle is re-set you might want to verify that all is as it should be. The tests are:

  1. Centered– Put the Ratio in the Neutral or far right position. See that the Ratio Rod is truly centred over the centre of the shaft. As long as it looks right – no need to be absolutely precise.
  2. ‘Drive Sleeve Test’– Do the ‘Drive Sleeve Test’ – see below.
  3. Locked laterally– Try to push both the Bottom Lever and Vane Lever (the 2 castings that rock back and forth when the vane is moving) laterally. Maybe even tapping them to ensure that they are fixed in place.
Axle Sleeve – misaligned set screw bites into plastic Sleeve instead of steel Axle – hence loose Axle
MORE ON LOOSE AXLE(S)[POSTED March 1, 2015]– We have seen this twice  – both on units with over 25,000 miles on them – result of heavy usage. Not to be confused with the manufacturing issue described above but one of the four #47 Axles that the #69 Bottom Lever swings on, could work its way loose. The most common culprits are the front and back ones -primarily the front one that protrudes beneath the #21 Ratio Knob.

The fix is easy enough. Those Axles are held in place by set screws which  can be seen beneath (for the 2 that are front and back) the Axles. For any of the 4 protruding Axles see if the set screw is still there or is loose. If the set screw appears to be firmly in place, you could try hammering (gently tapping) the Axle back in place and tightening the set screw ……… leaving it at that for now – but keeping an eye on it for the future. If you are at sea that is all you should do for the time being. When at anchor you could do proper repairs: Remove the set screw, tap the Axle back in place then with Loctite on the threads re-install the set screw tightening it onto the Axle.

Ratio holes 1 xlr
Protruding end of Axle just beneath the Ratio Knob
Axles & Set Screws for back of Bottom Lever
Back and beneath Lower Lever – can see the back axle (set in black plastic) and the cavity for its set screw


3.  JAMMED WORM GEAR– The tolerances of the bearings are a bit too tight – OK in our shop when tested but once exposed to either heat or water/humidity the plastic expands – enough to cause the Worm to be difficult to move. FIX– The fix is easy enough – need to remove the Worm and ream with an electric drill or reamer the inside of the two bushings at either end to enlarge them by a ‘hair’ or so – enough to allow free movement and perhaps an extra ‘hair’ allowance for further swelling. The assembly easily comes apart. Great care is needed not to drop any of the parts. You almost do not need these instructions as it is fairly self evident:

  1. Remove #92 Worm End plate – using a 5/32 SAE  or 4 mm hex wrench
  2. Use the same hex wrench to remove #82 Grooved Wheel
  3. Knock out the Bushing/Bearing  on the opposite side as the Grooved Wheel by tapping lightly with a hammer and. Best is to use a block of wood against the Bushing, then tap/hammer the wood. The bushing is only a compression fit – nothing but friction holding it in.
  4. Then wind the Worm out.  Might require some muscling of  the casting/wheel.
  5. Once the Worm is out, both Bushing holes can be reamed with an electric drill, reamer or file or sandpaper. A drill is probably best with a bit that is smaller than the hole. The plastic/Delrin/Acetal is tough. You can see how much filings are removed and easy enough to test the looseness of the hole with the shank of the Worm.
  6. When replacing the worm there is no particular position for it to engage with the worm wheel.
LEFT: Worm Wheel with Worm removed and the left Bushing intact RIGHT: The other/right Bushing getting reamed with sandpaper wrapped around a screw driver.  An electric drill is easier to use as the plastic is very hard. Note the Hex/Allen Key in corner which is used to remove the set screw in the Grooved Course Setting Wheel.



The problem is the space between the #14 TOP BEARING and #64 HEADING TUBE has become clogged with a buildup of salt and dust. In the picture it is the upper ring of black plastic that surrounds the 2 inch stainless steel tube. For a period we made those TOP BEARINGS a bit tighter – in some cases a bit too tight.

Helpful is to find the PARTS webpage at to see a listing of part names and a schematic of the unit with part numbers.

The following is a 3 stage process. You might need only go to the first stage, if not go to the next and to be certain go to the third.


First try to clean it up without any dis-assembly:

  • Pour hot or boiling water on that gap while turning it
  • Or try vinegar – pouring it on that gap while turning it


Next remove #51 HEADING COLLAR SCREW which holds the black #16 HEADING COLLAR in place. Then loosen #89 GEAR CLAMP BOLT – it is a 3/8 inch bolt that clamps the casting onto the big #85 WORM GEAR WHEEL.

Now you can perhaps muscle the #66 TOP MOUNTING casting to turn the stubborn TOP COLLAR. Maybe by turning it and the liberal use of hot water and vinegar it might become truly loose again. Otherwise to the next step.


This final stage is a further dis-assembly. Start by detaching the #3 BOBBIN. You can see the 2 set (grub) screws that hold the BOBBIN’s #47 AXLES in place. You need to loosen those set screws. Loctite has been used to keep them in place. So, you must crack the seal made by Loctite. Impact tools are ideal for this task. Otherwise try inserting an Allen Key (3/16”) and giving it a whack with a hammer. On a new unit the Axles easily fall out. You might need to use plyers to extract them. Once that is done removal of the BOBBIN from the top of the #63 CON ROD is self-explanatory.

Now you can muscle the entire TOP MOUNTING assembly up so that both surfaces can be properly cleaned. Better yet is to use wet dry sandpaper or best is to take it to a machine shop to have an expert shave a bit off the inside of the black plastic TOP BEARING. Yours is probably an inside diameter of 1.995. We now make it 2.025 in. – means shaving 0.015 in.(0.4 mm.) off the inside of that bearing. It is not much – just a hair or two. Even a tiny bit more is OK.

Top Mounting casting Top Mounting lifted off Heading Tube 2

Pictures showing the parts of interest – The first is before dis-assembly and the second is with the TOP MOUNTING lifted off the top of the HEADING TUBE


RECALL ** RUDDER SHAFT HOLE NOT CENTERED– Some rudders shipped between August 2009 and May 2010 may have defective ‘shaft holes’ – not centered as they should be. This defect is obvious by looking at the shaft hole on the top of the rudder….. if it looks OK it is OK. If it appears to be offset – to be sure, measure the minimum thickness of material on both sides of the rudder – should be equal – easiest with calipers. If the shaft hole is not centered please take a picture and send it to us with the measurements. If defective we will need the top 6 inches/15 cm. to be cut off and sent to us. We shall happily provide a replacement rudder**





(Tip – for part names and numbers it is best to refer to the PARTS webpage – listed under OUR PRODUCT)



  • SAIL TRIM– (This is the most common problem) Take the wheel when the Hydrovane is struggling to feel what it feels. If hard to steer get to work on sail trim – try variations of less sail (try one reef in the main), pay out some sheets (most common error is to sheet the mainsail too hard), stabilize headsail with a pole. More on this to follow.
  • MAIN RUDDER NOT LOCKED IN THE RIGHT POSITION– needs re-setting – experiment – find that ‘on course’ ‘sweet spot’ before locking it – typically never locked on the centre line. The positioning of the main rudder’s locked spot is critical to Hydrovane’s performance.
  • VANE NOT GOING OVER WHEN OFF COURSE – WINDAGE OR LACK OF – ‘DIRTY AIR’– Is the vane getting enough wind to push it over when the boat goes off course? Do you have a bimini and other aerial obstructions on the aft end of the boat? Although the vane appears to have a straight path for the wind big aft enclosures can create a buffer forcing the wind higher to get over it all leaving the vane in a back eddy. This can occur on certain reaching conditions with less apparent wind and good boat speed.
    • Is the vane getting clear air?
    • Is there a big cockpit enclosure?
    • Is the boat going over 8 knots in light winds – can only happen on lightweight performance boats – good boat speed but little apparent wind on the Hydrovane vane – not enough wind pressure to force the vane over
    • If your unit is pre summer of 2009 you could upgrade your rudder. The new version has both:
      • Improved balance – takes little effort to move/control
      • Significantly more power – much thicker – higher lift coefficient
  • SECURE THE HEADSAIL – MUST HAVE A POLE– If the headsail is collapsing and filling or dishing back and forth (unpoled spinnaker) the ‘balance’ of the boat is in constant flux – out of balance – unworkable for self steering….. and challenging for a helmsman. A pole is a must for both a spinnaker and to secure the clew of a jib when ‘wing on wing’ or even when the jib is to leeward if the headsail is collapsing in the trough of waves.



It is easy to become too complacent with your autopilot – the devil you know. You might be surprised to discover that the Hydrovane will steer a better course than the autopilot: faster, quieter , more comfortable boat motion and less need to charge batteries – all good reasons to focus on getting it working properly. THE WIND DOES NOT FOLLOW A MAGNETIC COURSE– We all have been corrupted by too many years of sailing with autopilots – thinking that we are doing a good job of sail trim.

  • Autopilots corrupt sailors. An autopilot is clueless about the direction of the wind (unless they steer to a wind sensor) – plods onward fixed to a magnetic course while the wind meanders freely.
  • The wind never blows from a constant direction– always fluctuating – varying by at least 10 degrees. Sail trim that is good enough for an autopilot is probably not good enough for self steering …… or humans at the wheel. Actually, autopilots suffer severely from that same poor sail trim. If they could scream at you while they struggle to hold course that would be a big help. Instead, one day, they simply pack it in and die.
  • A boat steered by an autopilot using a magnetic course will never be able to sail well ….NEVER! …..because the angle of the sails to the wind will be in constant flux – the opposite of what they should be. The only correct course for a sailboat when sailing is to hold that same angle to the wind –meaning that the boat’s course will meander with the wind – not a straighter course, far from it, but a faster, more efficient and more comfortable course.

A TRUE STORY: (told to us by George Day, editor of Bluewater Sailing magazine) Three boats together set off from Fiji on a trip to New Zealand – a 35’, 45’ and 50+’. The two smaller boats had self steering and the big boat had only an autopilot. The wind was always forward of the beam and strong enough. The two smaller boats beat the big boat to NZ by days in spite of the big boat being much faster. The reason being that as the wind meandered in direction from time to time the big boat’s sails would luff which, in good winds is annoying – sails banging, boat slows or stops – meant falling off course further to ensure the sails stay full – resulting in inefficient sail trim and heading even further away from the targeted destination – resulting in slower boat speed and a much longer course. In the meantime the smaller boats sailing with self steering can lock into sailing at the precise angle to the wind – means the sails are always well trimmed for the conditions which optimizes boat speed and ‘course made good’.SAILBOATS

POWERED BY THE WIND AND STEERED BY THE WIND results in all elements: the boat, wind and sea being in sync with each other. If the boat is not handling it well the solution is in the sail trim. Once properly trimmed out the boat should happily hold course with a consistent natural motion. With the boat trimmed and ‘balanced out’ it will perform better and the crew will feel better with the more regular and natural motion ……. and less annoying noise of autopilots and engines charging batteries. THE SELF STEERING IS THE TEACHER– If the Hydrovane is struggling to hold course, disengage it and take the wheel – feel what the Hydrovane must feel. Lock the wheel in that ‘on course’ position and see what the boat wants to do. It should be holding course, not immediately heading off in another direction. Try easing off some sheets to see the affect – then take the wheel again. Use all the sail trim techniques: reefs, poles, vangs and sheeting to get the sails stable with a uniform angle to the wind and the boat comfortably holding course. Incidentally, all of this should be done for the autopilot as well – too bad we cannot hear it screaming as it struggles to hold course. 
THE CAT’S MEOW– So often we hear reports from sailors who have been sailing for years using only their autopilots until one day their autopilot fails or for other reasons the batteries are dead. In desperation they then turn to the self steering to first see how it works and eventually, having no other options discover that it is the ‘cat’s meow’…..



IT JUST WORKS!– We have heard sailors tell us “It just works!” so often that we proudly repeat it in our literature……. and many buy a Hydrovane because it sounds that simple to operate. But, it will not work if the sails are not properly trimmed. Too many new sailors have been lulled into a sense of competence by their autopilots. You can never hear your autopilot screaming at you to trim the sails as it struggles to hold course – but it would if it could……………. and it would last a lot longer if you did. Anyway, those sailors that found their Hydrovanes so easy to work with are probably racers or dinghy sailors or simply good sailors who have learned the advantages of working at their sail trim to maximize boat speed and boat comfort. (Yes, a well trimmed boat has a more comfortable motion.) If your Hydrovane “doesn’t work” please read on.

From an article: ‘A Vane to Steer Her By’ by Alvah Simon, In the US’s CRUISING WORLD – July 2014

“After your initial expense of purchase and installation, there will be no piece of equipment on your vessel more prized than your mechanical self-steering. I don’t know of a single long distance sailor who has given a name to the roller-furling system, nor of one who has not named the windvane. Be it a servo pendulum system or auxiliary rudder system, called Esther or Otto, trust me, out there on the Big Blue you will have many long and meaningful conversations with it.

But like all relationships, this one requires practice and patience. First and foremost, do not ask the windvane to make up for sloppy sailing. Balance your boat, starting with waterline trim. Keep the weight out of the ends and assure that the sails are appropriately sized, set and trimmed to the conditions. Excessive heel is not only slow, but places the boat on lines that the designer never intended, resulting in poor tracking……. Experiment with different settings, such as blade angle and line tension, to understand and optimize performance in various conditions.”

UNTRIMMED SAILS– sheeted too hard, unbalanced configuration or over-canvassed – difficult for helmsman as well – first hand steer to see if the boat is tracking well – if not, adjust sheeting or change/reef sails. The Hydrovane is the teacher – it is happiest when you have done a good job of sail trim and balance. The sails must be trimmed so that the boat wants to go in the same direction as the desired course. If the boat wants to go elsewhere that makes it hard for autopilot, human helmsman and Hydrovane. A big lesson can be learned from the long distance single-handed racers. They focus all their efforts on the ‘trim’ of the sails to the extent that their wheels are so light to the touch that their self steering has relatively little loads to deal with. Surprisingly, they are much more concerned about being over-canvassed than you think. A good test is to see if you can alter the course of the boat by only adjusting the sails. Once you have achieved that you know you have figured out how to trim your sails.
**IMPORTANT** – STOP HEADSAIL FROM COLLAPSING OR FOLDING – POLE AND VANGA pole is a must– keeps the jib from folding. The ‘wing-on-wing’ for downwind sailing is nearly bullet proof – stability is created by both the slot between the two sails and the rigid position of each sail – jib sheeted hard to windward on the pole and main secured to leeward with a preventer or vang. The use of a pole will solve beam reaching problems as well – again the folding jib is the issue. If the jib folds the whole balance of the boat changes as the main takes over, driving the boat upwind and the jib is not there to push the bow down. You will be amazed how peaceful the boat becomes without the jib collapsing and re-filling with that horrible bang.
**GENOA**– Is your headsail a genoa? – a big jib with a long low cut foot with a clue near deck level. Those genoas are designed for racing – an upwind sail – not at all versatile for the needs of a cruiser. Slacking sheets on a genoa creates a loose bag at the top while the foot is still fairly flat – very inefficient – as it should be as it is not designed for reaching. I always take those genoas to my sailmaker and have them create a new clew that effectively makes the sail nearly an isosceles triangle (leach and foot are nearly of equal length). As its sheet is slacked off the sail evenly changes its shape. Coincidentally a ‘140’ genoa becomes about a ‘110’ yankee type jib – an ideal sail for cruisers. Another big bonus of this re-cut of the sail is that then you can see under it – so much safer. Sheeting of this new sail is easy too – with the sail set, sight a line from the clue to the mid point on the forestay (half way up the sail) then extend that notional line straight aft to your track – voila, that is where the block should be.
AERIAL OBSTRUCTIONS– Nearby aerial equipment above deck level, like biminis, arches with solar panels, etc. will cause an air buffer resulting in some of the wind going up and over it all – slowing the speed and mass of the wind at lower levels – just as the waves do. The conclusion is that, if there are such nearby impediments to the natural flow of air, the vane should be as high as possible to seek the stronger winds that are higher. The degree of difference in performance might or might not be much to be concerned about – all dependent on those variables: wind strength, wind direction, wave height and mass and proximity of aerial obstructions.
WEATHER HELM OR LEE HELM?– In conditions that overwhelm the Hydrovane, disengage it and take the wheel yourself – feel what the Hydrovane must deal with. The auxiliary rudder concept makes the Hydrovane’s job easier because the main rudder should be set to ‘balance out the boat’. With a truly balanced boat the Hydrovane’s power, leverage and nimbleness should be enough to get the boat back on course. This concept is corrupted if the Hydrovane must steer a boat that wants to go in a direction other than the desired course.
SEVERE WEATHER HELM – RE-SETTING THE MAIN RUDDER – A TEMPORARY FIX– If the Hydrovane rudder is hard over and the boat is not responding that means the boat is trying very badly to go in another direction. If you have some speed through the water the nearly 3 sq. ft. of Hydrovane’s rudder is providing lots of power to turn your boat. You must have even more power heading in opposition. You need to solve where that opposition is coming from. Does re-setting of the main rudder help? As the wind gains strength do you have to keep re-setting the main rudder? Can you tell how far off centre the main rudder is positioned? It will be compensating for any weather helm. For boats with severe weather helm as the wind gains in strength so does the weather helm. Re-positioning of the rudder is a temporary fix. The permanent fix is probably in the positioning of the main mast or hopefully in cheaper solutions like the rake of the mast, size of sails, reduce length of boom and main sail! Take a good sail maker for a sea trail. In changing or gusty conditions the dynamics that the Hydrovane is relying on could need constant adjusting. This is especially so for boats with bad weather helm or a headsail that folds in rolly seas. As the wind gains strength a number of things happen:
  • Typically boats gain more weather helm resulting from increased pressure on a portion of one of the sails – roach of the main could be a culprit
  • Boat speed changes which in turn changes apparent wind direction
  • Heel of the boat might change – lesser affect but contributes to the changing dynamics
  • The result is that the ‘balance’ of the boat has altered and the Hydrovane is fighting a boat that wants to go ‘off course’. The solution is to re-set the locked position of the main rudder. The dilemma is that no sooner than the correction has been made than the wind calms – reversing the affect meaning another re-setting of the main rudder position…and on and on….
HEAVY WEATHER– The Hydrovane will outperform any human or autopilot in heavy weather. With the vane fully inclined to de-sensitize it and the ratio control setting at the left-hand position (or maybe the middle setting – but not the right hand setting if going fast – chance of rudder stalling) to minimize the yaw. With less yaw the vessel will be more comfortable (HOW CAN BAD WEATHER BE CALLED COMFORTABLE?) and travel a shorter route for a faster passage. The main rudder can provide the greatest yaw resistance only if it is fixed – meaning the Hydrovane system has a ‘natural stability’ in heavy weather. The Hydrovane’s rudder, in its more levered position further aft, responds almost instantaneously to course changes. It is not as big as the main rudder but it is faster and smarter.
LIGHT AIRS– Hydrovane’s superiority in light airs is because it can be set in a ‘light air mode’ and there is so little inherent friction. No other system can match these capabilities. The ‘light air mode’ – the vane set in the vertical position for maximum power and responsiveness and the rudder perhaps in the most powerful setting (far left) the Hydrovane should perform in apparent winds of 3 to 6 knots – depending on the sea state (a rolly sea can throw the vane off course). For the purists or those without enough fuel the next step would be to have a small tiller style autopilot fitted onto the Hydrovane tiller for the lightest of airs. OFF THE WIND– Sailing off the wind in lumpy seas is precarious sailing – the toughest for any steering system. Sail trim is critical. Simply engaging the Hydrovane does not assure the boat will hold its course. The secret to trim in downwind sailing is in securing or stabilizing the sails. If the sails are able to flop about there is no hope of balancing the boat…..and any self steering system, needs a balanced boat to work with.
CONCLUSION– Hydrovane owners marvel that their Hydrovane’s performance is superior to any helmsman or even their autopilot – in the worst and lightest of conditions. There is no reason why the HYDROVANE should not be used 100% of the time when sailing. Racers report that when going upwind their boats can go closer to the wind with a Hydrovane than by human or autopilot. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate that conclusion to other points of sail – just harder to prove. An added bonus is the more consistent or calmer boat machine. ‘Sea sickers’ typically report a helpful, improved boat motion.

The following is a copy of the text of an email sent to a solo circumnavigator who was at sea and reporting poor performance from his Hydrovane. Like many, his first time using the Hydrovane was not a sea trial but when he finally got on his way. In fact, he had not looked at any of the instructions…….of course! What he had not yet understood is that the Hydrovane needs a balanced boat to work with (ESPECIALLY AS HIS BOAT WAS QUITE HEAVY – 20 TONS (40,000 LBS. OR 18,000 KGS.). The boat can only be balanced by trimming the sails and positioning the main rudder when it is locked so that the boat wants to go in the same direction as the desired course. If the boat is poorly trimmed or the main rudder not set in the right direction there could be, especially as the wind increases, too much force for the Hydrovane to overcome. Shortly after sending this email we received a response – A Eureka! kind of realization:   “Ah ha, now I understand” – he has since completed his polar circumnavigation from the UK around Cape Horn, up to Alaska then crossed the Arctic portion of Russia and back to England – all steered by his Hydrovane. Your problem (Hydrovane’s poor performance) is very solvable. You are going to learn a lot more about your boat and sail trim. The Hydrovane delivers it certain amount of steering – and that is all. If it is not working for you the solution lies in sail trim. “The boat must want to go in the same direction as the Hydrovane is trying to steer it”. I have put quotation marks around that comment for emphasis – same for the next comment. “The Hydrovane is the instructor”. If it is not functioning well you need to look at your sails and sheeting and the position of the main rudder. The boat must want to go in the same direction. If the boat has a tendency to go elsewhere that makes it hard for the autopilot or human helmsman as well as the Hydrovane. The solution for any wandering should be found in either the trim of the sails or the positioning of the main rudder. If the Hydrovane is having a tough time then disengage it and take the wheel to feel what the Hydrovane feels. Is there weather helm? Ease the sheet on the main….then do the same on the jib. Does any of that help? With autopilots many sailors have sloppy sailing methods oblivious to the strain that the autopilot must deal with. In fact many cruisers simply hoist the sails, cleat the sheets and leave it at that.

  • A baggy main – the luff of the sail could be luffing while the roach is sheeted too hard and driving the boat hard to windward.
  • Genoas have awful shapes for cruisers – only efficient when on the wind. As its sheet is slackened it opens at the top – soon luffing at the top and yet too hard at the bottom.

The single handed racers spend enormous time trimming their boats. You would be amazed at how light their wheels/tillers are as they work hard at balancing their boat by trimming their sails. The Hydrovane concept is simple. Trim the sails to balance the boat so that the boat naturally wants to hold its course. Then set the main rudder at a position that holds the course or compensates for any weather or lee helm. The Hydrovane should do the rest – its rudder correcting to keep on course. The quantity of sail is important for balance. Experiment with different amounts of reefing. We so often hear from Hydrovane owners that they learned so much about sailing their boats from their Hydrovane. The Hydrovane is giving its certain amount of steering power to make corrections. If the boat it is working with is not balanced then as the wind gains strength the HV will have a tougher and tougher time. You must deliver to the Hydrovane a ‘balanced’ boat. The owner of an Oyster 55 that weighs 25 tons told me that it took him some time to get ‘in tune’ with the Hydrovane. Eventually he found himself using it much of the time. I can tell you of other over weight boats that are happy enough with their Hydrovanes. You have to learn about your sails and trim. The Hydrovane is the instructor. The suspects for your problem are:

  • Sail trim
  • Position that you lock your main rudder


‘WORKING’ SAILS – My technique for family cruising involves just our ‘working sails’ – jib, staysail and main – and a spinnaker pole. Furlers are a big help. The jib was a cut down genoa with a high clue that provided visibility. The jib should not be too big – a 110 to 120 max. – about the same surface area as the main. Ideally the pole is that length that can hold the jib taught. A spinnaker is not much use for us – a fun sail to use on an afternoon when many hands are available. It is too frightening to have a spinnaker up in the middle of the night with building winds. That is when s___ happens. WING-ON-WING – For downwind sailing we had the jib poled out to the windward side with a course 15 to 20 degrees off a dead run. We had great control with that configuration. The two sails set can be kept at about equal size – hence the balance. Even with too much sail for the conditions the boat was stable. Reefing was achieved on the run. The jib was furled and the main was muscled down. It was hard work furling if you wait too long in building weather but it was better than the alternatives. THE POLE – The spinnaker pole is critical to all running and much of the reaching. In a heavy sea on a beam reach the jib would collapse in the wallow of the waves then fill with a brutal bang on the wave peaks. By putting the jib on the pole, and sheeting it taut that collapsing and filling with a bang was stopped completely – so much easier on the crew and the boat. For less strong or agile crew the extra cost of a carbon fiber pole is not a bad idea. SELF STEERING SYSTEMS ARE EXCELLENT TEACHERS – All of the tried and proven windvane systems work well. If they did not perform they would be out of business a long time ago. So, if a system is not working on your boat you should treat the system as the teacher and try to discover the problem. (There are some exceptions though – some boats with friction or steering problems might not be suitable for servo pendulum systems that try to drive the main rudder.) The HYDROVANE system is completely oblivious to whatever the main steering system is. If the HYDROVANE does not perform well the cause is probably in the rig or sails. By adjusting the sails or rig and observing changes in performance you will learn a lot about sailing your boat. In due course you will not only discover what works and what does not work but also find that the boat has a more comfortable motion – probably heeled less and definitely less yaw.



The Hydrovane offers the single or short handed racer or rallier some advantages not available with any other gear: ALTERNATIVE STEERING SYSTEM – Qualifies as an ‘alternate steering system’ as required for most races. STEERS A MORE EFFICIENT COURSE

  1. Sophisticated ability to hug the wind keeping the sail trim perfect for the conditions optimizing boat speed and comfort on board.
  2. The direction of the wind is constantly varying by at least 10 degrees. Mechanical systems naturally exploit those wind shifts. Electronic systems steering a magnetic course are more often out of trim than in trim. And as the wind shifts direction mechanical self steering devices alertly detect each change – whereas our human watch-keepers are not always so interested or willing or available to make adjustments.

HYDROVANE AND AUTOPILOT IN TANDEM – An autopilot on the main rudder can be engaged simultaneously with the Hydrovane. With a Hydrovane, once surfing conditions are encountered the autopilot can be engaged in tandem. Then the autopilot will compensate to keep the boat on course when the boat goes through dramatic speed changes while surfing down a wave. This system actually works! It is also helpful for sail changes etc.   ENORMOUS REDUNDANCY – With a Hydrovane you are no longer vulnerable to any of the thousands of things that could go wrong to cause: no power, no autopilot, no steerage, no rudder.   LESS ELECTRICITY – Considerably less time, effort and stress over maintaining and operating the power generation system. QUIET – A quieter boat with so much less time running generators or engines – closer to nature – and better sleep!   A SINGLE-HANDERS BEST….AND ONLY CREW! INSURANCE (PHSYCHOLOGICAL)- Owners are not always able to stay with the boat for the return trip and the delivery crew is typically more prone to have mechanical difficulties. A Hydrovane is perfect insurance against much of the unforeseen.   INSURANCE FOR LOSS OF BOAT – Some insurers, shall we say the more knowledgable ones, acknowledge the added reliability and survivability of your vessel with a Hydrovane – offering either a reduced premium or providing insurance for a boat with short handed crew that would otherwise be precluded from insurability. IDEAL FOR CRUISING POST RACE/RALLY – All the above features are compelling for the short handed cruisers.



MOTOR SAILORS – Many sailors are content to set their sails and turn on the engine, only stopping the engine in ideal sailing conditions. Because they have a strong bias towards running the iron staysail any notion of the rather sophisticated and finicky mechanical self steering devices seems very unnecessary. The HYDROVANE is different than the other systems. Although more sophisticated in design it is much more easy to use and more versatile. The reasons such a motor sailor might consider a Hydrovane are:   EMERGENCY STEERING – A complete back-up steering system all in place ready to go. Consider it insurance. EASE OF USE – Simply click it into gear – no lines into cockpit that need constant tensioning and adjusting – just too easy to use.



The Hydrovane is a wonderful tool for any boat. But it does have its limits. The question is often asked: “What would a Hydrovane do for a boat well over your suggested 40,000 lb. (18,000 kg.) limit”. The answer is that it will produce its certain amount of steerage power no matter how big the boat. In heavier and lighter winds it might not be adequate. Given a balanced boat it could well perform most of the time. If need be in difficult conditions, light or heavy, the autopilot could be clicked on to assist – two rudders being better than one – and the autopilot would not have to work nearly so hard. The trump card is always its ability as a back emergency steering system. In an emergency a Hydrovane can adequately steer any boat. PERFORMS – Only need to sail more conservatively AUTOPILOT IN TANDEM – Can always click on the autopilot in challenging conditions – see section above “HYDROVANE AND AUTOPILOT IN TANDEM” EMERGENCY STEERING – No matter how big the boat the Hydrovane is an ideal backup rudder and steering system.


TUNE UP OR RE-BUILD – We no longer provide a ‘rebuild’ service for older units. So, now our UK customers must do what all other Hydrovane owners in other parts of the world must do – that is to do the tune-up themselves – or perhaps turn it over to a local tradesman. Any good machinist should be comfortable with it. This TIPS section combined with the PARTS and INSTRUCTIONS sections should make you or your helper comfortable in handling whatever needs doing. Typically it is the bottom bearing and drive sleeve need replacing – see INSTRUCTIONS #12 and #14. Please feel welcome to contact Will ( or John ( for any advice or simply send any parts orders straight to OXIDATION – The Hydrovane is not designed to be absolutely immune to corrosion. In fact we allow for a bit of oxidation to occur in certain joints of the bracket assembly – it strengthens it – like a weld. Although the aluminum used is the most corrosion resistant because of a high magnesium content oxidation eventually occurs. Although these old units can have some oxidation, none of it is damaging to the extent of compromising its strength or integrity. The exceptions are in situations where electrical current was allowed to pass through the bracket or the brackets were permanently submerged in salt water. The tricks to loosen those frozen parts:

  • Bathe in Penetrating Oil – Frequent spraying or, better yet, immersion over a period of time. See the last item in the first section above on ‘Penetrating Oils’
  • Boil it – Yes, like vegetables. The heating and contraction of the differing metals can cause a separation.
  • Heat – Better than boiling it, but riskier, is putting a blow torch onto the frozen segments. Take care not to overdo it.
  • Impact Tools – Machinists use special ‘impact tools’ that twist a screw or bolt just a fraction on impact.
  • Skilled Machinists – We have yet to see a unit that we could not take apart. Before damaging it you might consider taking the unit to a qualified machine shop where they have the proper tools and savoir faire.

From the Forums:

  • A large soldering iron or  soldering gun used to heat the screw before you use the impact driver can help.
  • The only thing that is guaranteed to work is heat. Heated hot enough the oxide turns into sand and falls away.
  • I watched an outboard mechanic deal with stainless screws stuck in aluminum many times. He would use a torch to heat the aluminum and the screws came out with no problem. Yes the aluminum expands much more than the stainless. When he reassembled it, he would coat the screws with Permatex 3. If the engines came back again, the screws would come right out with no corrosion

For re-assembly: Loctite ‘green’ – use Loctite or equivalent when re-setting the screws. Corrosion Inhibitor – The castings, especially the brackets that are nearer salt water, should be sprayed with a corrosion inhibitor to protect against electrolysis. Some are:

SHAFT HOLE IN RUDDER IS GROWING – Normal wear causes the shaft hole to slowly enlarge – worsened by any bits of sand that act as a grinder – causing the rattle of the rudder to worsen. Of course, as the hole gets bigger the wear accelerates. For those over sized holes the best solution is a new rudder – especially if you have a boat over 15 tons (14,000 kgs.) – our new rudders are bigger and more powerful. An alternative is for a good machine shop to re-bore the hole and insert a stainless steel or bronze sleeve. The boring requires a precision low speed drill with coolant and the rudder locked in position – not a job for amateurs or inadequate equipment.