1. Who is your biggest competitor?
  2. Why are there no imitators to the HYDROVANE?
  3. How can a small Hydrovane rudder steer a boat as well as the much bigger main rudder?
  4. If an autopilot works so well for the ‘around the world racers’ it must be more than adequate for me?
  5. Why do I need mechanical self steering when I already have a good autopilot? Have the more powerful ‘below deck’ autopilots rendered the mechanical self steering systems obsolete?
  6. A good autopilot costs just as much as a mechanical self steering system. How can I rationalize both of these expenditures?
  7. So you say forget the autopilot and get a mechanical steering device?
  8. Tell me again or summarize for me what a self steering system will do for me.
  9. Does the Hydrovane have difficulty in performing on longer keeled boats?
  10. Does chronic weather helm affect the Hydrovane’s ability to perform?
  11. If my boat is larger than your recommended limits and I did install a Hydrovane what kind of performance can I expect?
  12. Can the Hydrovane manage my 20 ton boat as well as a servo pendulum system? 12B: More on boat boats.
  13. Can a HYDROVANE function in tandem with an autopilot – both on at the same time?
  14. Does a HYDROVANE work on a multihull?
  15. Will it work off centre?
  16. If my main rudder extends aft of the transom how much separation do I need between the boat’s main rudder and the Hydrovane rudder? Does an offset help or solve this separation issue?
  17. How effective is a HYDROVANE in a storm?
  18. What are the causes of poor performance of the HYDROVANE?
  19. I hear a broad reach is the worst point of sail for steering and especially self steering systems. How well does the Hydrovane cope in those conditions?
  20. Why is the HYDROVANE one of the more expensive units?
  21. Why would I choose a HYDROVANE over a servo pendulum type of system?
  22. What do experienced sailors who have used many different servo pendulum self steering systems say when comparing a Hydrovane to the others?
  23. Why is that? Why are those converts happier with a Hydrovane?
  24. I too have heard that servo pendulum systems are more powerful then the Hydrovane. Is that true?
  26. How does it work? 26B: How can such a small vane be powerful enough to steer my boat?
  27. How can such a small rudder steer my boat?
  28. What is a balanced rudder? Is the Hydrovane rudder a spade rudder?
  29. Is the HYDROVANE a servo pendulum system?
  30. Now I know that HYDROVANE is NOT a servo pendulum. But what is a servo pendulum?
  31. Why are so many other self steering systems of the servo pendulum type?
  32. So, is the servo pendulum system a good solution?
  33. Does the HYDROVANE work as well?
  34. What do you hear most from customers who have experience with many systems?
  35. What do you mean by ‘back-up emergency steering system’?
  36. Tell me why you say the HYDROVANE is superior in light airs?
  37. Does it corrode? Is the difference of metals a problem?
  38. How strong is it?
  39. How easy is the HYDROVANE to install?
  40. What about my bimini, dodger, arch, wind generators, davits and solar panels?
  41. What can I use for a backing plate?
  42. When reversing my boat in a marina will the Hydrovane rudder make the boat even more difficult to control?
  43. What do I need for spares?
  44. Under what circumstances would you deem the A bracket to be necessary?
  45. Where is it made?
  46. Where is your office?
  47. Who designed/invented it?
  48. How long will it take to get one?
  49. Are there any additional costs?
  50. Didn’t I just read about you somewhere?


1. Who is your biggest competitor?

The servo driven auxiliary rudders are our prime competitor –  all are roughly as expensive as the Hydrovane. They are the hybrid of several of the main servo pendulum manufacturers. Incidentally, there are now fewer of them because some have quit that production line because of cost and breakage. Unlike the standard servo pendulum systems  such auxiliary rudder systems are directly steering the boat with their own rudders. The loads they are dealing with are huge in comparison – hence the big cost. The plain servo cousins are merely pulling a line 10 inches/25 cm. or so – a far easier task – and cheaper to build. Other brands of self steering equipment are certainly competitors too but we do offer many features that they do not have …and the HYDROVANE does cost more….so our customers have to discover on their own the benefits that they get for that extra cost. Many of our customers have experience with various other systems – and finally traded up! Other brands of ‘auxiliary rudder’ systems:

  • Windpilot – Germany
  • Fleming – Australia
  • South Atlantic – Argentina
  • Autohelm – US
  • Sailomat – US  – produced for only several years
  • at least one other in production but with minimal marketing
Brands of  standard servo pendulum systems:
  • Windpilot – Germany
  • Fleming – Australia
  • Sailomat – US
  • Monitor – US
  • Aries – Denmark
  • Cape Horn – Canada
  • various others still in production but with minimal marketing

2. Why are there no imitators to the HYDROVANE?

The servo driven auxiliary rudder systems are in part imitators and their prices are about the same as ours. We were the first and only to drive our rudder by its vane. Theirs came latter but powered by the water versus ours which is powered by the wind.  The big obstacle to producing an auxiliary rudder system is in making it strong enough – as the loads on the rudder can be enormous in the worst of conditions. Breakages are not good for business. The method of making the Hydrovane so strong  is in the quality and cost of components. A 2 inch OD tube of 10 gauge thickness might look like any other tube from the outside – same for our super duplex shafts, solid nylon rudder or 20 or so castings all designed to handle the bigger loads. Our industry is a small one with plentiful competition – means not much volume for the manufacturers. Certainly if the volume were in the thousands prices would tumble. Our prices might look high but any businessman with a calculator can see there is good value in these units. My guess is that all the manufacturers of auxiliary rudder systems that I have referred to including ours have lower margins than the simpler servo pendulum systems that are just pulling a line.

3. How can the small Hydrovane rudder steer a boat as well as the much bigger main rudder?

The Hydrovane rudder has a surface area of  nearly 3.5 sq. ft. or 1/3 of a sq. m. It does provide plenty of steering power. The trick is to trim the boat to optimize its power. If the sail trim is working against holding course some of the Hydrovane power is wasted in compensating. A big part of the Hydrovane steering formula is the position of the main rudder – locked, not on the center line, but in that position that holds the boat ‘on course’ – compensating for any weatherhelm – leaving the Hydrovane with a perfectly balanced boat that is happily holding course by itself. Then, only when the boat is pushed off course, does the Hydrovane rudder, in its levered position further aft,  click into gear to bring the boat back on course. The main rudder gives the boat ‘directional stability’. Nothing stabilizes a boat more than a fixed main rudder. The simple answer to the question  is that “two rudders are better than one”:

  •  The big main rudder:
    •  Balances out the boat – neutralizes any weather helm
    •  Stabilizes – gives directional stability
  • The Hydrovane rudder in its much more levered position aft, nimbly jumps into gear as soon as the boat heads off course, competently bringing the boat back on course.

If the Hydrovane is struggling to do its job the solution is always in the boat’s sail trim.

4. If an autopilot works so well for the ‘around the world racers’ it must be more than adequate for me?

On discussing autopilots with some of those ‘around the world racers’ I made some surprising discoveries:

  • An ‘Open 50 or 60’ is so easy to steer – very little load on the autopilot
  • Big effort to keep their autopilots alive
  • Intense focus on keeping the boat ‘balanced’ – always trimming sails

SAIL TRIM – Remarkably, their wheels are very light to the touch – meaning that their rudders are well balanced as is their sail configuration. They also sail very carefully – keeping constant attention to the boat’s balance of its sails. Of course they must! ….. they have to be paranoid about getting knocked out of the race with a gear failure. We cannot help but to believe they are sailing ‘on the edge’ but in reality, yes, they are sailing as hard as they can – sailing hard means constantly balancing/trimming the sails – but never overloading that ‘balance’ equation – their wheels are always easy to move with very little load. A typical cruiser is much more lax about sail trim causing even more load on their autopilots.

ON RAILS – Another major factor that we did not know is that their boats track so well – unlike our cruising boats (most of us) – those machines sail like they are on rails – another explanation why their wheels/rudders are so undemanding.

NKE and B&G AUTOPILOTS – Although their boats are actually easy to steer the effort to keep their autopilots operational is enormous. They all have two complete and separate systems fully operational and ready to go – most use the French built NKE or Brookes & Gatehouse high end unit– cost about US$10,000 each. If/when one system has problems it is simply switched off and the other system is switched on. The challenge then is to solve/repair the broken system. For this they carry boxes of replacements and a back-up team of experts on stand-by that they can communicate with to trouble shoot. Side note – Those boats have up to a dozen different methods of communicating with the outside world.

POWER – In the background of this discussion of the racers efforts to keep their boats well trimmed and maintain their autopilots is another big need – to keep that constant flow of electricity for the autopilots and communications equipment. Again – duplicate gear, boxes of replacements and on line support – and lots of time maintaining that gear. I remember talking to Steve Pettinger of Hunter’s Child. He sounded more like the Chief Engineer of a warship than a sailboat racer.

CONCLUSION – The expenditure of $25,000 for one of the very high end autopilot systems would deliver high performance but is still subject to the same limitations:

  • Declining reliability with usage
  • Impossible to repair electronic black boxes
  • Insatiable need for electricity

The big surprise is that the demands of a cruising boat on their autopilots are far worse than those of the racers – hence bigger loads on the autopilot – higher probability of break-down:

  • Cruising boats are much harder to steer than racing boats
  • Cruising boats are typically not nearly as well trimmed/balanced
  • Such a comparison with racers is not a good basis to judge the performance of autopilots for cruisers.

5. Why do I need mechanical self steering when I already have a good autopilot? Have the more powerful ‘below deck’ autopilots rendered the mechanical self steering systems obsolete?

Quite the opposite. Autopilots are ideal for local sailing but once offshore they cannot compete with self steering:

  • Autopilot can be the biggest consumer of electricity on board – especially in heavy conditions
  • Might not be ‘man enough’
  • If operated on a compass course it is a deplorable sailor – sails can never be trim as the wind’s direction is always meandering
  • Risk of breakdown

Aside from their voracious need for power – especially when the going gets tough – the Achilles heel of autopilots is the inevitability of mechanical break-downs. For a short handed crew the only alternative of hand steering is dangerous due to the exhaustion it will cause. Even if the autopilot itself never fails any one of thousands of other failures of other devices can stop the flow of electricity and, in turn, render any autopilot useless. The probability of being without the autopilot, especially in bad conditions, is simply too great………and the resulting risk should be unacceptable. Recreational boat owners have come to develop a certain confidence in their autopilots. That comfort changes when a full day of usage becomes twenty four hours instead of six or eight hours, there is no ducking out of bad weather and the batteries cannot be ‘plugged-in’ for an overnight charge. That is when mechanical self steering proves to be indispensable. Ironically, users of autopilots do not always pay attention to the balancing needs of their sailboats. Especially in deteriorating conditions but even when anxious to ‘make miles’ such sailors often ignore the stress on their autopilots and carry too much sail and/or have the sails untrimmed causing excess loads on their autopilots. An autopilot is like the upset employee who never complains but one day just quits – and their black boxes are typically not repairable. The only back-up for a dead autopilot is hand steering. Most sailors have only had pleasant experiences at the wheel or tiller – daysailing, motoring in and out of port or the honour of being allowed time on the wheel on a well crewed race boat. For a short handed crew the chore of hand steering is exhausting – at max. only several hours in pleasant weather and only a fraction of an hour in bad weather. Mistakes or accidents through poor judgment or lack of strength are the risk – it is usually not just one thing that goes wrong at a time – especially on a boat in bad conditions. Disadvantages of having only an autopilot:

  • Excessive dependence on power – failure of any one of thousands of parts can render the autopilot useless.
  • Autopilots cannot run forever – break-downs are inevitable.
  • Magnetic course is not good enough – The wind direction is never constant. When sailing, the course should always be the same angle to the wind – requires a wind sensor not a magnetic course.
  • When conditions are bad the probability of failures grows exponentially.
  • Adequacy for heavy weather – speed and power
  • Hand steering is not an acceptable back-up for a short-handed crew.

Advantages of having both a mechanical self steering device and an autopilot:

  • The autopilot is a wonderful device. It is the only solution for motoring and very adequate for short passages. A mechanical self steering device is the ideal solution for long passages:
  • No electrical demands for steering when sailing
  • Your boat will sail better with self steering – always trim to the wind
  • No worry of break-downs that can render the autopilot useless
  • Removes a major user of electricity
  • Peaceful and quiet operation of self steering – no motors or engines
  • Security of steerage – ensures rest and relaxation for crew
  • No matter how ‘improved’ autopilots become the role of a mechanical self steering for an offshore cruiser will always be the primary workhorse for the extended passage. It is your best crew: tireless, dependable and quiet…..and it requires no electricity.

A STORYtold to us by George Day of Bluewater Sailing Magazine

Smaller Boats with Self Steering Beat Bigger Boat with Only an Autopilot

Three boats left Fiji together all heading to New Zealand – 35, 45 and 55 footers. The smaller two had self steering but not the big boat which depended on its autopilot. The course was mostly to weather. The smaller boats beat the larger boat by a considerable margin because of their self steering. The reason is that the self steering systems allowed those boats to hug the wind, always keeping their sails trim – optimizing both their sail trim and course. With an autopilot the big boat had to keep falling off its course in order to keep its sails full – to avoid being headed. At the dock or at an airfield watch the Windex at the masthead or windsock at the end of a runway. They are constantly changing direction – even minute to minute – and it only becomes more dramatic over longer periods of time. The wind direction is constantly in flux. If the course of those three boats could be plotted second by second the result would show the course of the boats with self steering looking akin to a plotting of the stock market – very jagged with considerable overall diversion in direction. Whereas, the autopilot generates a virtual straight line course – which one might assume is shorter and faster – but not so. The big boat was hardly ever in trim – almost always untrimmed, sailing inefficiently – neither optimising its sails nor its course. Conversely, the boats with self steering, although sailing ‘all over the place’ they fully exploited their sail trim keeping their boats precisely at the same direction to the wind – optimizing boat speed and achieving the best possible course. (Another example of the superior speed of self steering over autopilots see Tony Gouch’s website story “Windvane vs. Autopilot” – http://www.taonui.com/ ) NOTE – Many autopilots do have a wind sensor option which would solve the above issue – subject to any positioning and electronic issues. For whatever reasons, not many wind sensors are sold for autopilots.

6. A good autopilot costs just as much as a mechanical self steering system. How can I rationalize both of these expenditures?

The expenditures on autopilots are an ongoing chain of costs that involve periodic upgrades and/or replacements of not only the autopilot but also of the entire power generation system. Conversely, the purchase of a mechanical self steering system is almost a once in a lifetime event. Typically self steering equipment requires little or negligible further expenditure. Many times we have heard: “Of all the expenditures I have made on our boat the purchase of the HYDROVANE was one of the more intelligent things I have done – with absolutely no regret”.

  • Autopilots – Expenditures on autopilot, upgrades and related electrical support system are never ending.
  • Mechanical Self Steering – The cost of a mechanical self steering system is largely a one time event – only the initial purchase – ongong expenditures are almost non-existent – and they last for decades.
  • …………. and there is no product that is easier to sell than a used self steering system.

7. So you say forget the autopilot and get a mechanical steering device?

No. The autopilot is a necessity for motoring ……and easy for local sailing. But, for offshore sailing, the choice is a ‘no brainer’ – the quiet simplicity of a boat powered by the wind and steered by the wind is too compelling. Issues of countless types of break-downs are eliminated. The confidence of the captain and crew in their boat is so enhanced with self steering. …..and a non electronic self steering system simply steers a better course than the electrical versions.


8. Tell me again or summarize for me what a self steering system will do for me:

  • Biggest of all – it will give you a big boost in confidence in your boat and equipment – because:
  1. Steers better than an autopilot or human
  2. Consumes nothing
  3. Tireless,works day and night
  4. Never breaks down
  5. As long as there is wind, light or strong, it can do its job

9. Does the Hydrovane have difficulty in performing on longer keeled boats?

A long keel boat does have more directional stability than a fin keel. Once trimmed and balanced it will hold its course better than a fin keel but conversely, once off course it does take more effort to get back on course. A big help to the steering of full keel boats is in achieving a well balanced boat which means attention to sail trim. A Hydrovane has no problem with long keeled boats – unless there are trim and balance issues that only need some attention.

10. Does chronic weather helm affect the Hydrovane’s ability to perform?

Every boat should have a bit of weather helm – helps the helmsman feel his way. That does not present any problems. But chronic weather helm has a significant affect on any steering system. The auxiliary rudder system has a big advantage in that the main rudder can be set to compensate for the weather helm. This does work but only until the wind strength changes – causing the amount of weather helm to change meaning a re-adjustment for that locking position of the main rudder. So, it does solve the issue but it is more management intensive than one would like – all depending on the extent of the weather helm. We did meet one customer who had severe weather helm and found he could cope well enough doing as described above. Then he went to the effort of solving the weather helm by re-stepping his mast to where it should have been. He reported a phenomenal difference – and a blissful performance of the Hydrovane in the improved configuration.

11. If my boat is larger than your recommended limits and I did install a Hydrovane what kind of performance can I expect?

We used to suggest maximums of 40,000 lbs. (18,000kgs.) or 50 ft. ( 15m.) but since have ‘happy enough’ reports from even 60 footers or 25 tonners. In each case for these over weight boats the customer must help gauge the suitability. At the minimum they will get an emergency steering system! The Hydrovane’s steering power diminishes as the size of the boat increases and is challenged at higher boat speeds starting at perhaps 10 to 12 knots. Ameliorating or worsening that issue can be the inherent balance of the boat and the sailor’s ability to trim the sails to the conditions. A well experienced self steering user on larger boats tells others that ask about self steering that “before engaging the self steering effort must be made balancing the trim of the boat so that she is practically ‘self steering’ herself. The test is to steer the boat by adjusting the sheets. When in doubt try to ease some sheets and then take the wheel and feel what the self steering would have to deal with. Only when well trimmed should the self steering be engaged.” We regularly hear positive reports from 25 ton yachts with Hydrovanes……those that were expecting limitations – then pleased enough with what they do get. Over the years we have done considerable work to exploit the Hydrovane’s capabilities – focused on larger and faster boats:

  • New in Fall 2015 ‘XT Vane’ –  more power for light airs:
    • Extendable by an extra 20 in./50 cm.
    • Adjustable – always vertical for maximum exposure no matter what angle of the Axis
    • Large – the size of the Stubby but extendable
  • Summer of 2011 we feel that the rudder is perfected – longer, fatter and better balanced – more powerful but easy to control
  • January 2009 – Switched the rudder shaft to ‘Super Duplex’ steel – nearly three times as strong as the predecessor ‘316’ stainless steel
  • January 2010 – new Con Rod assembly  – 33 times stronger but more importantly provides a tighter and smoother transition – more responsive
  • 2008 – improved bearings

But better than hearing it from us, go to EMAIL TESTIMONIALS   where our customers ‘unsolicited’ emails are reprinted verbatim – no editing – and include the sender’s email address if you want to contact them. Please note that some  of them have older units with smaller rudders. In particular for bigger boats see:

  • Callisto 45 (steel) – 23 tonnes/25 tons November 2014 (with old small rudder!)
  • Motiva 49 – 24 tons – February 2013 – lost main rudder in ARC 2012
  • Liberty 458 – 25 tons – February 2013, August 2011 & December 2009
  • Hallberg Rassy 49 – 28 tons – October 2012
  • Grand Soliel 52 – 23 tons – September 2012
  • Custom Aluminum 52 – April 2012
  • Maple Leaf 50 – 23 tons – November 2011
  • Nauticat 44 – 22 tons – October 2011
  • Beneteau 50 – March 2011
  • Wauquiez Centurion 47 – February 2011
  • Garcia 46 – 17 tons – January 2011 & July 2010 & May 2009
  • 20 ton cutter  – September 2010
  • Van de Stadt 50 – 25 ton steel – May 2010

If your interest in a Hydrovane is because:

  • You are a good sailor who can appreciate the bliss of non electronic self steering
  • Your boat is well balanced – minimal weather helm
  • You are aware of Hydrovane’s trump card as a complete emergency steering system ‘in place and ready to go’ – in itself worth the price

Then we feel comfortable in encouraging you to get a Hydrovane.

12. Can the Hydrovane manage my 20 ton boat as well as a servo pendulum system?

Yes! At the toughest point of sail, close reach in boisterous conditions – the servo might have an edge on some boats – all debatable though – the difference cannot be much, if any. Let me explain……… In order for a servo system to be effective at all on a big boat it does need a certain configuration. The ideal is tiller steered with well balanced spade rudder in an aft cockpit very near to the transom. Any corruption of those ideals produces limits of performance as boat speed decreases. If you have a self steering system you want it to function in typical conditions – light to moderate winds from aft of the beam. Fast boat speed is ideal for a servo system. Depending on the inherent friction in the system there will be a certain point, as apparent wind speed declines, when it cannot cope. An old circumnavigator, member of our club, was raving to me about the performance of his servo system – “spectacular” he told me. Then I asked how it was in light airs. Immediately he said “must be 20 knots of wind” – that was for downwind sailing – his 33 foot boat needed 15 knots of apparent wind for his servo system to work! That is an extreme – but the point is made. A servo system does look ‘spectacular’ in heavy weather as it viciously tugs its lines this way then that way – competently keeping the boat on course. That strength diminishes as the boat slows down. Not so for a Hydrovane. It can handle the heavy weather but equally performs in the lightest of airs.

  • A servo system cannot match the configuration of locking your main rudder to render your boat perfectly balanced. That leaves a lot less work for the Hydrovane to do – or put another way: makes the Hydrovane’s rudder much more effective.
  • In a heavy sea the locked main rudder adds enormous stability to the vessel – again making for less work for the Hydrovane.
  • Hydrovane’s light air performance is stellar – as there is so little friction in the system

A servo pendulum system must perform a lot of steering that a Hydrovane does not have to do:

  • On every turn it must deal with the forces of any weather helm or lee helm – not so for an auxiliary rudder system which has no weather or lee helm to deal with as the positioning of the locked main rudder compensates for such ‘pulling’ by the positioning of the main rudder – neutralizes any weather or lee helm!
  • Yaw caused by steering – A servo pendulum cannot be adjusted for conditions. It cannot help but to over-steer or under-steer. The activity of the main rudder flapping back and forth exacerbates the steering difficulties of a heavy sea. If the same boat had its main rudder fixed it would be far more stable.

These issues are complex and hard to understand. I am guilty of a bit of hyperbole in making my point but the concept of the stability of auxiliary rudder systems is well worth appreciating. It alone makes the auxiliary rudder concept superior to any other method of self steering. Adding to that the sophistication and the unmatched versatility of the Hydrovane…………… The auxiliary rudder concept of locking the main rudder to neutralize any weather or lee helm considerably reduces the steering needed to keep the boat ‘on course’. Conversely, a servo pendulum can struggle with the forces of weather or lee helm on every turn. A locked main rudder reduces boat motion considerably – making it far more stable in heavy seas – better stability means easier to steer. Comparatively, a servo pendulum configuration requires a lot of extra steering.


Question received Jan. 9, 2006: I am interested in a Hydrovane for my Scandi 52. I am headed offshore this spring but, although the boat is very well balanced, and only 36,000 LBS loaded, I am concerned: 1) Vane isn’t large enough for this size boat And more important, 2) I don’t have a clear air flow to vane – especially close hauled, because of life raft, outboard, etc on stern rail- permanent bimini, etc. Your thoughts? Evidence?

“POWER FOR BIG BOATS – We are so concerned about the suitability of a Hydrovane for bigger boats…..and just how big is big. We are now at the London boat show where we get a chance to really query long-time and high mileage users. I am constantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm. The first person that I saw at the booth this year has a 45’ steel boat nearly as heavy as yours. He has done a couple of Atlantic crossings with his Hydrovane over the last six years. I thought he would be a prime candidate for our new rudder – both bigger and better balanced. Surprisingly he clearly thought it was unnecessary – even when I pressed him about his Hydrovane’s ability in heavy weather. He simply said that it does the job in all conditions. Another story is an old Hydrovane user who recently bought a new Jeanneau 49. It is not heavy but it is fast – readily surfs at +10 knots. In those conditions his Hydrovane was getting overpowered. That is because the apparent wind is not enough to give the vane enough power to push the rudder – his old rudder was conservatively balanced – takes a fair bit of power to turn at high speeds. So we sent him a new improved rudder. He was at the show a few days ago to report that he has not yet had surfing conditions but he can tell that it is greatly improved – and is confident it will perform. New technology used by our rudder fabricators has allowed us to make big improvements with the rudder. I should explain that the rudder is key – size, strength and balance. A perfectly balanced rudder is non functional – needs to be slightly unbalanced – light to the touch but still controllable. Its hydrodynamics is also critical. A bulky plug of a rudder has a harder time on that balance issue than a finely shaped foil. We are very excited about our rudder. No one else has anything remotely like it – unbreakable but a true NACA (engineering standard for foils) shape that is relatively thin. Your boat is well within our size comfort zone – 20 tons has been our recommended max. for some time (20 years) although we commonly encouraged boats up to 25 tons depending on their sailing ability and boat balance. Now we have the much improved rudder – much better equipped to handle big boats. So I have no reluctance in encouraging you to get a Hydrovane.


CLEAN AIR FOR THE VANE – As the Hydrovane’s sole source of power is the wind, its vane is particularly large. Many other systems do have problems with blanketing of the vane by above deck structures – but not Hydrovane – our vane is plenty big – always finds the wind. Actually, upwind sailing/steering is not much of an issue – the easiest point of sail for steering. Conclusion – it is simply not an issue.”

13. Can a HYDROVANE function in tandem with an autopilot – both on at the same time?

Most certainly. That is a feature of only auxiliary rudder systems – and is such a convenience! In situations of fast changing weather conditions or even the simple process of engaging and disengaging the HYDROVANE an easy management technique is to click on the autopilot. Once sails have been adjusted and control achieved then the autopilot can be turned off. Finally you take the wheel or tiller and find that ‘sweet spot’ or position to locked it off. It is that simple. In major storms many have used this technique when the Hydrovane appears to be challenged to the maximum and needs all the help it can get. That is often the case in the early hours of a storm when the seas are square and chaotic. Once the storm has blown for a while and the seas become more regular then the autopilot can be turned off. Incidentally, the HYDROVANE is proven to be quite capable of steering the boat in very high winds. This technique is also ideal for the aggressive sailors – for surfing conditions – to compensate for rapid changes in apparent wind direction. Many set the autopilot to respond only for course deviations greater than 10 degrees or more – so the autopilot is dormant most of the time and only activates when needed.

  • Unlike other systems a HYDROVANE and an autopilot easily function in tandem/together
  • When used in tandem each helps the other – in total, enormous steerage power – or less work for each
  • Ideal for dramatic weather changes requiring major sail adjustment
  • Many use this technique even for engaging and disengaging the HYDROVANE
  • Comforting to use in storms when uncertain – can turn off once control is regained
  • Ideal for aggressive sailors in surfing conditions or to be safe when carrying too much sail – set for course deviation of greater than ten degrees

Note – This technique is not to be confused with retrofitting a tiller style autopilot onto the HYDROVANE. That is an entirely different feature. To clarify – this tandem function involves the engaging of the main autopilot that operates the main rudder while, at the same time the HYDROVANE is also engaged and operating – two rudders are better than one.

14. Does a HYDROVANE work on a multihull?

 The suitability of a HYDROVANE for a mutilhull is subject to all the same criteria as a monohull: How well balanced is the boat? Any weather helm? How easy is it to steer? If it is a good sailing boat and easy to helm then a HYDROVANE would be a perfect compliment – that would give you 3 rudders instead of 2 ( or 2 instead of 1 for ‘tris’) – and a back-up steering system to boot. All the benefits of a HYDROVANE can be enjoyed by a slower mutihull: ease of use, complete back-up steering system, enormous reliability etc. Surprisingly, or not so, Hydrovanes have been positioned almost everywhere on cats and tris – way off centre – and even at the extremity, at the end of a pontoon/hull which is probably the best location for optimal leverage and separation from any high superstructure.   Perhaps mutihulls have even more vulnerability to rudder failure than monohulls because their rudders are unprotected and unsupported – usually simple spade rudders lacking a protective keel or anything like a skeg or bottom support. Hence having a separate independent rudder and steering system should be of enormous value.  

  • Hydrovane equally suitable to multihull as monohull – same criteria for both
  • None of the installation difficulties of servo pendulum systems – can be positoned almost anywhere with a big preference to the end of one hull for the better leverage and to get away from high superstructure.
  • Multihull rudders more vulnerable – Even greater need for HYDROVANE as a back-up steering system

15. Will it work off centre?

No problem! POTENTIALLY DISASTROUS FOR SERVO PENDULUM SYSTEMS – BUT NOT AN ISSUE FOR AUXILIARY RUDDER SYSTEMS – We often hear such a concern probably because this issue is so critical for the servo pendulum type systems. If their blade/paddle lifts out of the water the boat could instantaneously ‘spin out’……imagine that in a storm! An auxiliary rudder system has neither the likelihood of its rudder popping out of the water and even if it did not much would happen because:

  • The rudder is longer, reaching much deeper in the water
  • The rudder does not swing from side to side like the servo systems. Theirs might even lift out of the water when amidships.
  • Even if it it did lift out of the water, which would last for only a few seconds, the boat should hold course as the main rudder is locked ‘on course’ – preventing any ‘spin out’.

The only performance issue of the offset for the Hydrovane is if the rudder is deep enough in the water in order to do its work. When reaching or going downwind the boat is never heeling much and the Hydrovane rudder is deep in the water regardless of which tack it is on. Only when heading upwind and heeling substantially might the rudder, if on the weather side, be largely out of the water – and even then it probably does not matter much as that is the easiest point of sail for steering. If need be the entire unit can always be set deeper in the water to accommodate such situations. Because the Hydrovane has a longer rudder than any other system it is even less likely to have any such problem. See the Wauquiez 40 report in the TRUE STORIES section. His unit is 30 inches (75 cm.) offset and he raves about its performance. Of interest – about half of the 15 boats in the 2006 ARC that had Hydrovanes had off center installations.

  • Yes, a big problem for servo pendulum systems but not much of an issue for auxiliary rudder systems … and best handled by a Hydrovane.
  • We used to recommend a 12 inch (30 cm.) maximum – but no longer – having received excellent reports from far greater offsets and knowing no reason why it should be a problem.
  • Only a few 50 foot speedsters found with water flow issues at the transom requiring amidships positioning

16. If my main rudder extends aft of the transom how much separation do I need between the boat’s main rudder and the Hydrovane rudder? Does an offset help or solve this separation issue?

The Hydrovane rudder needs ‘clean’ water to do its work. It must not be confused by turbulence caused by the main rudder. We have always stated that the two rudders, the boat’s main rudder and the Hydrovane rudder, need 8” (20 cm.) of separation on a fore and aft basis. This is a nebulous science as who knows from boat to boat how the Hydrovane’s power is affected by distorted water flow from the main rudder….and the boat to boat comparison even gets harder considering various offsets. The Hydrovane generates all its power from the action of its rudder. When its rudder turns the water pressure against rudder will push the rudder and hence the boat in the opposite direction – yes, just what you expect of a rudder. Our 8” (20 cm.) notion is certainly conservative as we do know of installations much tighter where the Hydrovane is said to operate ‘beautifully’. Surprisingly we do not have any such criteria for offsets. Common sense says the further the Hydrovane rudder is moved laterally from the main rudder the less affect the wash from the main rudder will have on the Hydrovane rudder – in fact, why would there be any affect – we just do not know. I have had long discussions with the Hydrovane inventor/engineer and he too agrees that the offset certainly will ameliorate this issue – we just do not know how much. Incidentally we are now recommending that catamarans install their Hydrovane’s near the end of a pontoon, but on the inside and generally lateral to the main rudder (one of them). This usually results in 18” or so of lateral separation. A customer with a Vancouver 34 with an external transom hung rudder recently installed his Hydrovane virtually side by side with 12” – 15” of separation. He was happy to do this with a plan that if it did not work he would build an extension to move the Hydrovane further aft. We have not heard from him since. In fact we have heard nothing from any customer that would tell us that such lateral separation is problematic – and we do know that Hydrovane owners have positioned their units in lots of different places. So we cannot make a conclusion but we can surmise that it should be OK. We do want more guinea pigs though – especially ones that report back to us.

  • The rudder separation issue is certainly ameliorated by offsetting the Hydrovane – creating lateral separation – we simply do not know how much is adequate.
  • We surmise that such separation is OK – but waiting for reports from users to verify this.

17. How effective is a HYDROVANE in a storm?

No human or autopilot can come anywhere near to matching the ability of a Hydrovane in comfortably (as possible) dealing with storm conditions. The secret for this superior performance is the stability of the boat resulting from the main rudder being fixed/locked. Nothing improves a boat’s stability in a storm more than locking the main rudder in a fixed position. This ability is unique to auxiliary rudder systems like Hydrovane. The result is the auxiliary rudder is steering a relatively stable boat. Your serious storm tactics need only a Hydrovane and a small storm sail – perhaps a staysail or just a handkerchief of a furled jib. Each boat’s methods of storm management is certainly different. My notion is to keep the boat running at 15 to 20 degrees off the wind with perhaps a staysail (or other small sail on the fore triangle) sheeted hard amidships to keep the bow from rounding up and trailing a warp or drogue (300 feet or 100 meters) to keep the boat speed under control. The HYDROVANE would be engaged and you can also turn on the autopilot if need be – see section above about tandem use of autopilot. A human helmsman is not an acceptable tactic. In those situations the crew is best to be kept rested to maintain strength and mental acuity so that they can attend to critical maintenance and sudden breakages, regularly perform chafe patrol and maintain radio contact with maritime support. If the desired course when faced with a storm is upwind the technique should be just the same with the addition of a parachute style sea anchor off the bow with 300 feet (100 metres) of scope – Hydrovane holding course, main rudder locked, and a staysail or tiny bit of jib sheeted hard amidships. One of the big risks in a storm is if the boat is thrown sideways or backwards with the result of breaking the boats’ rudder. Loss of steerage in a storm would be the beginning of a bad story. Hence, we present our point of view of keeping the vessel moving forward at a controlled speed in a following sea or ‘anchored’ to a parachute in a headwind.

  • HYDROVANE engaged throughout
  • Suggested tactic is running with the storm, Hydrovane steering, dragging a warp/drogue, staysail sheeted hard amidship -or using a sea anchor with the Hydrovane holding course in a headwind
  • If required, autopilot can be engaged in tandem with the HYDROVANE – two rudders being much more powerful than one
  • No human helmsman in a storm – save energy to avoid exhaustion and be ready for the unexpected

A story told to us at a recent London boat show:

“A sailing family bought a new boat that already had a Hydrovane. Although they had been unfamiliar with it or other types of systems they quickly came to enjoy it. One day the weather suddenly blew up and the boat was caught in wild conditions. The father quickly assumed the Hydrovane was not handling things well and took the wheel himself. He immediately realized he had just made things worse so he clicked on the autopilot only to discover control was precarious so he went back to engage the Hydrovane………..and the boat suddenly felt a realtive calm as control was regained!”

18. What are the causes of poor performance of the HYDROVANE?

See the TIPS tab for an in depth discussion on this issue… We have seen dialogue on the web discussion groups about a particular self steering unit that worked well on one boat but not on another or about very different performance reports of the same type of unit on the same model of boat. How can this be? A HYDROVANE like any other self steering gear should perform beautifully on any boat that sails well, easily holding its course. If it is easy to helm it will also be easy for the self steering system. The causes of poor performance are:

  • Unbalanced boat – difficult to steer by human or autopilot – take a sailmaker for a test sail – try re-tensioning of rig – change rake of mast or even position of mast – consider cutting boom or sail – buy new sails
  • Unbalanced sails – sheeted too hard or over-canvassed – difficult for helmsman as well – let the Hydrovane be the INSTRUCTOR – it will teach you how to trim/balance the boat – ie – ‘sail better’
  • Main rudder locked on the centreline – when it should be in that ‘balancing position’
  • Baggy sails – old sails are harder to trim
  • Improper installation – rudders too close
  • Faulty set-up – rudder not centered – bearings are binding, especially the bottom bearing – too much play, axles need re-positioning – See TIPS section for ‘tests’ and corrections
  • In light airs – dirt in bottom bearing – bottom collar binding on the bottom bearing – other friction that should be corrected by adjustment – counter-weight is too light –
  • See TIPS section for ‘tests’ and corrections
  • Adjustment features not being used properly – ratio control or inclination of vane

Typical 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 – many do. I should point out that it is the experienced racers who invariably report that when they initially engage the Hydrovane for their first sea trial that it works perfectly – requiring no adjustment. That is because racers are attuned to sail trim – they intuitively trim their sails. Not so for the typical week-end cruiser – set the sails and turn on the autopilot – with no care to see how much work the autopilot must do to hold course. Their first experience with the Hydrovane might not be that perfect. They must treat the Hydrovane as the teacher – if it is not happy the answer is in the sails. If you are experiencing poor performance in any conditions please contact us or go the TIPS section of this website.

19. I hear a broad reach is the worst point of sail for steering and especially self steering systems. How well does the Hydrovane cope in those conditions?

The trim of the sails and balance of the boat determine how well the Hydrovane can do its job. There are techniques to keep the boat trim and balanced even in such bad conditions. In a bad sea often the headsail is guilty of corrupting the balance of the boat as it twists, collapses and fills while the boat careens up and down waves. BROAD REACH – The toughest point of sail for helmsman, autopilot and self steering is the broad reach in a boisterous sea. Headsails contort and maybe even fold as the boat gyrates along in rolly conditions. The trim of the boat is constantly in flux – the Hydrovane is dealing with a constantly changing ‘balance’ of the boat – sail trim, on that point of sail, is a moving target. I believe the best solution is to put a spinnaker pole on the jib – to stabilize it – the outboard end of the pole would be secured with one or better two (one fore and the other aft) downhauls. I would also try to flatten the jib by either bringing the pole back to the shrouds then furling the jib (assuming you have a roller furler) to the extent that it hardly pulsates. Then the jib would not be compounding the aggravation caused by the rolly sea. Stabilize the jib and then the Hydrovane will have an easier job to do – perform better. If you do not want to go through the hassle of setting up a pole put a ‘tweaker’ on the clue of the sail – a second jib sheet that stops the clue from rotating up and down. 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. 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). Coincidentally a ‘140’ genoa becomes about a ‘110’ yankee type jib – an ideal sail for cruisers – as its sheet is slacked off the sail evenly changes its shape. 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 because it is not designed for reaching. 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. SPINNAKER POLE – I believe the spinnaker pole is just as valuable to a cruiser as it is to a racer. Midway between Mexico and Hawaii we encountered those same conditions – well worse: the jib was folding in the trough of some very big waves then virtually exploding as it re-filled when the boat mounted the next wave top. The result was a colossal bang that prevented sleep and caused a nagging concern for the rig. After a day of it, on our scheduled ‘net’ with two other boats, one of the skippers announced that he had just set up his spinnaker pole and tightened the jib to completely solve the problem – bliss had returned. Surprisingly, until then, none of us had thought to use the pole – after all, we were on a close reach! CONCLUSION – Like all other points of sail the Hydrovane can match or better any other system but it does need help in doing its job – it demands a ‘balanced boat’. The Hydrovane is the teacher. When it is not coping something must be done. Once the problem is solved the results are blissful.

20. Why is the HYDROVANE one of the more expensive units?

Primarily because it is so heavily constructed – as it has to be – and it is much more sophisticated than other systems requiring many more working parts. It is a complete steering system and must be capable of withstanding greater loads than non auxiliary rudder systems. The servo pendulum and trim tab systems are ancillary to the boat’s main steering. They do not have to bear the loads of directly steering the boat as the HYDROVANE does. Not only must the HYDROVANE be so much stronger as it is doing so much more but we have made the HYDROVANE tougher yet – to ensure its integrity in the worst of conditions. We do claim that a Hydrovane should handle a circumnavigation without any breakages, repairs or replacements. With our cast nylon rudder, solid shaft and over engineering no other unit can claim to be better made. RUDDER -For example, the rudder alone is quite expensive – approximately £300 or US$550 or €500 (depending on exchange rates). It alone justifies a portion of the price differential. It is made of solid ‘N6’ nylon. The same material that is used by pile drivers – installed on the top of the pile to absorb enough energy so that no damage is done on impact between the pile and the driver! No doubt it is the biggest piece of nylon that one might ever see. No other manufacturer uses nylon and no other manufacturer uses an NACA profile – a true foil – has a hydrodynamic shape. The other rudders and paddles are made of more brittle material like fiberglass, plastic composites, wood or stainless steel – and shaped crudely. Our nylon rudder has proven to be almost indestructible over the past 20 years we have used it. CASTINGS – The Hydrovane uses over twenty different aluminum castings (a high magnesium aluminum – best for a marine environment). The use of such castings provides for optimal strength and complex connections. The purpose of castings is to provide strong connecting points at critical junctures. No other system uses so many castings. All castings are anodized to a certain high quality creating a shell against corrosion. STAINLESS STEEL SHAFT AND TUBES – The stainless steel tube in the shaft assembly is made of relatively thick 10 guage (1/8″ or 3.175 mm) ‘316’ SS.  Outwardly all tubes look the same. The tube we use is actually stronger than the solid 1 1/4″ (3.175 cm.) shaft. It must be. The shaft is made of a ‘super duplex’ stainless steel which is 3 times stronger than our older versions which were made of ‘316’. The change was made from ‘316’ to the ‘super duplex’ in January 2009. For example, the drive shaft in all boats are made of ‘316’. WEAKEST POINT – The system is designed so that the shaft at the connecting point at the top of the rudder will bend under severe load. It does happen – we hear of such every few years. STRONGER – Must be far stronger – better engineered, better built to withstand greater loads SMARTER – More sophisiticated with more moving parts and ingenious adjustments – ‘smarter’ than any other system.

21. Why would I choose a HYDROVANE over a servo pendulum type of system?

  • A unique ‘user friendly’ system – easier to operate than other systems
  • Back-up/emergency steering and rudder system – fully operational ‘ready to go’ and better than other methods
  • Unmatched course control – can straighten the wake and reduce yaw – more comfortable, faster and safer
  • Naturally stable with fixed main rudder-less yaw, more comfortable, faster and safer
  • No unwieldy lines in the cockpit – just ‘click’ into gear – no constant attention to lines, adjusting and re-tensioning
  • Superior in light airs downwind – very little friction in the system
  • Elegant, clean profile – permits use of davits, boarding ladders, swim platforms etc.
  • Flexibility in positioning of brackets- no critical location requirements
  • Can be installed ‘off center’ – to accommodate boarding ladders, swim platforms etc.
  • Suitable for situations that are difficult or impossible for servo pendulums: multihulls, off centre, hydraulic steering, external rudders, centre cockpits and stiff steering
  • Unlike servo pendulums – can be used in tandem with autopilot on main steering – helpful in storms, convenient for sail changes
  • Normally used 100% of the time when sailing
  • Negligible maintenance and virtually indestructible

22. What do experienced sailors who have used many different servo pendulum self steering systems say when comparing a Hydrovane to the others?

Those that have converted from a servo pendulum system to a Hydrovane usually do so to regain the use of their cockpits and to have the comfort of knowing they have an effective back up steering system. Once they have experienced the Hydrovane they report to us:

  • The pleasure in no longer having those lines in the cockpit.
  • Surprise at how easy it is to engage and disengage – remembering the hassle of tensioning and fiddling with those lines.
  • “Magical” they say about its performance downwind in light airs.
  • No regrets – nothing lost in performance
  • Confidence and comfort in knowing that a back-up steering system is in place

23. Why is that? Why are those converts happier with a Hydrovane?

They are happier, certainly, for all those reasons listed above – but we want to emphasize that all servo pendulum systems, when matched against a Hydrovane, are comparatively unsophisticated. Once engaged they do a meandering sort of course correction without any means of tuning or straightening its course. In a flat sea you are stuck with a ‘snake wake’ – extra miles traveled – but far worse is the exacerbation of the yaw in a heavy sea – meaning a more uncomfortable (how can one gauge comfort in a bad sea?), longer and less safe passage. With a Hydrovane you can straighten that wake to within a few degrees of a perfect course in a calm sea but far more importantly is the significant reduction of yaw in a heavy sea because: NATURAL STABILITY – Only with the main rudder fixed can the boat be stable in a bad sea. You can imagine the stability produced by having the main rudder fixed in its balancing direction. SENSITIVTY ADJUSTMENT – The vane axis can be set in a position that greatly tempers the response of the vane. The vane is the sensor that triggers all activity. The Hydrovane vane axis can be adjusted from a vertical position to up to thirty degrees off vertical. That adjustment does not sound like much but what it does is dramatic. It changes the physics of the transmission of the sensory instruction from the vane to the delivery system that turns the rudder. In comparison all servo pendulum systems lack this adjustability for sensitivity and are set at a fixed axis setting – no ability to adjust for sensitivity. Hopefully we shall see you at a boat show someday where we can demonstrate to you this major affect. RUDDER SETTINGS – The Hydrovane has three different settings for the degree of rudder angle – can change amount of steerage applied. The natural stability of the fixed main rudder combined with the unique ability to tune the system for sensitivity and steerage sets Hydrovane apart. HYDROVANE IS SOPHISTICATED – with ease, it gives a more comfortable ride:

  • More direct course – faster
  • Calmer – less yaw
  • … safer!

24. I too have heard that servo pendulum systems are more powerful then the Hydrovane. Is that true?

NEED SPEED FOR POWER –  The answer is yes, a servo pendulum does generate a lot of power – but only when the boat is moving quickly through the water. Put another way, in heavy weather all self steering systems have more power than they can use. The converse is the case when the boat is moving slowly – it is deficient in power – a condition that is worsened if there is any excess friction in the system – stiff rudder, arduous connecting lines etc. We have too often heard owners of servo pendulums that are very proud of their units but advise that they only work, when off the wind, in a minimum of XX knots of wind!! See our comments elsewhere on the ideal application of a servo pendulum system – high friction systems have significant weaknesses. It is worth noting that all systems including the Hydrovane have more power than they need in the heavy going. POWER IN LIGHT AIRS – Of major significance is that this whole discussion is reversed if the issue is power in lighter winds. The Hydrovane always has enough power whereas the servo systems vary significantly from boat to boat – and can only match Hydrovane’s power on their optimal configurations. For big boats the ideal application for a servo pendulum system is like the boats used by long distance solo racers: a balanced spade rudder on a balanced boat that is steered by a tiller that is located near the transom – the tiller should be so light to the touch, even in bad conditions. In that configuration a servo pendulum is at its best.

  • Power is only an issue for larger boats
  • Many boats are not ideal applications for a servo pendulum
  • Powerful display of a servo pendulum is deceiving – some of which is overdone – to rectify self inflicted over-steering
  • Hard to compare power in heavy weather – the elements produce such opposition – technique is to de-power the vessel so that steering system can manage
  • Hydrovane system is more efficient in its use of power
  • Hydrovane is tolerant of many inadequacies that would hurt the performance of a servo pendulum
  • Be wary of acquiring a system for its power and suffering inadequate performance in normal and lighter conditions


Please go to the COMPARE webpage for the answer  – see http://www.hydrovane.com/self-steering/compare/ The current popular servo driven auxiliary rudder systems are:

  • Windpilot’s ‘Pacific Plus’
  • Fleming’s ‘Global Auxiliary Rudder’
  • South Atlantic’s Auxiliary rudder system S 500 – S 600

The issues:

  • OFF CENTRE – All servo systems should be installed on the centerline or very close to it.  – see http://www.hydrovane.com/our-product/off-center/ for an explanation. At least 60% of Hydrovanes are off center. Even extreme offsets of 40 inches/1000 mm or more have no effect on performance.
  • RISK OF STRUCTURAL FAILURE – The servo driven rudders have two items in the water with the aft servo blade a distance behind the auxiliary rudder. The challenge is to make that much more structure strong enough. Even if plenty strong the two items in the water adds to their vulnerability.  The HV is very compact, close to the transom with a record of only the rarest of failures: several years since a bent shaft at sea (only one or two since the switch to a Super Duplex steel in 2009 and no factures) and many more years for a broken rudder. In fact our new heavier design of rudder (2009) has yet to have a breakage.
  • RISK OF DAMAGE IN MARINAS – Bigger structures are simply more vulnerable.
  • YAW DAMPENING – All servo systems have little or no method of adjusting their performance. They will always over steer or understeer to whatever extent is inherent – hence a certain extra yaw. The auxiliary rudders are big improvement to the yaw as ‘nothing stabilizes the boat motion more than having a fixed main rudder’. Only the Hydrovane can adjust its performance to the extent that in a flatish sea it can steer a straight course which translates to a straighter course in bigger seas. This is done because the HV has two methods of adjusting its performance: 1) 3 Ratio settings (3 gears so to speak) that provide changes to the amount of rudder applied and 2) its Variable Axis (all other systems have fixed axes) can adjust the responsiveness of the vane from a ‘nervous nellie’ in the vertical to a very tempered response when fully inclined to deal with ‘washing machine’ conditions in heavy weather…….. and any position in between.
  • POWER –The steering power for all auxiliary rudder systems is dependent strictly on the size of its rudder. Coincidentally, all the systems we are comparing to seem to have about the same size rudders. That means that they all have about the same steering capacity as long as they can turn their rudders. Such power issues are a big issue for the conventional servo systems as each boat needs a certain boat speed in order to have enough power to do its job. That is one of the main reasons why the servo manufacturers developed servo driven auxiliary rudder systems – to solve the lack of power for those certain boats (center cockpits, stiff steering etc.). All systems have all the power they can use when the wind is strong. The differentiation is in lighter airs. The HV needs about 4 to 6 knots of apparent wind to perform. The servo/auxiliaries need about 2 to 3 knots of boat speed I believe. Hydrovane is now developing an extendable vane for the speedsters – light big boats that can do 7 or 8 knots reaching in less than 10 knots of wind leaving little apparent wind for the HV vane. Experiments have proven the effectiveness of bigger vanes.
  • REMOVABLE RUDDERS – Only Hydrovane’s rudder is designed to be removed when not in use – and so easily dropped off by ‘popping’ out its locking pin – it just drops off…… and equally easy to reinstall – stick the rudder onto the bit of shaft the protrudes (5 in./125 mm) and insert the pin. All other systems have cumbersome arrangements that mean the rudders are more likely to be left on when not in use which means: growth on the rudder, extra wear of bearings, affects steering when motoring and rattling noises when at rest in sloppy anchorages/marinas.
  • RUDDER – The HV rudder is a solid single piece of nylon poured in a mold to make a shape that is a true NACA profile that slips cleanly through the water with minimal drag. None of the other rudders can match the HV version, for strength or shape. As mentioned already we have yet to see the current version break – even after severe impact with whales.
  • SEMI BALANCED RUDDER – The Hydrovane rudder is not only a true foil (like the wing of a plane) but its shaft hole is in a position that minimizes the power needed to turn the rudder.
  • PLATFORM/STEPS MUCH MORE USABLE – All servo systems are anything but an enhancement to the transom – generally an obstacle that occupies more than its fair share of space. For boats with a scoop or platform transom the Hydrovane will make the platform/steps safer and more usable:
    • OFFSET – Can be offset to one side to preserve the platform/steps, passageway and swim ladder
    • HANDHOLDS – The 2 inch (50mm.) tubes of the shaft and the struts of the brackets can be configured to enhance the platform – not obstruct it……. will double as ideal handholds – finally easy to board and de-board your dinghy.
    • PRICING – All these auxiliary rudder systems are about the same price – a good bit more than the standard servo systems – a difference that is well worthwhile for its improved performance and their ability as emergency steering.
    • EMERGENCY STEERING – The HV comes with its Tiller installed. Push the Ratio out of gear and its Tiller directly turns the rudder – just like a dinghy. It is emergency steering that is ‘in place’ and ‘ready to ‘. The servo auxiliary systems require a little more doing to achieve the emergency rudder. The standard servo systems that offer an emergency retrofit end up costing as much as a Hydrovane with a very cumbersome structure to install in the event of an emergency.
    • COMPACT PROFILE – We would like to say that the Hydrovane has an elegant appearance.


26. How does it work?

Put simply – The HYDROVANE’S vane/sail drives its own rudder which in turn steers the boat. The vane is aimed with its leading edge directly into the wind – so it would be ‘in irons’ if it were a sail. When the boat goes off course one side of the vane would become more exposed to the wind and consequently pushed over. That pushing is the power that causes the HYDROVANE rudder to turn and bring the boat back on course.

  • When on course the vane is set with its leading edge into the wind – “in irons”.
  • Lock the rudder/wheel/tiller – not on centreline but in that ‘on course’ ‘sweet spot’
  • ‘Click’ into gear…… and that is it!
  • When the boat goes off course the wind pushes the vane over which causes its rudder to turn and bring the boat back on course

26B. How can such a small vane be powerful enough to steer my boat?

First, the vane is many times larger than those on other units and is positioned far higher. If there is any wind about it will find it. The vane is over 4 1/2 feet (1.5metres) tall and reaches 7 feet or over 2 metres above the deck. Second, there is a sophisticated mechanism that multiplies the forces on that vane by many times and finally the rudder is a balanced rudder, meaning that it takes very little effort to move it. Actually, the normal settings for operation involve a de-powering of the unit as there is usually more power than is needed.

  • Its vane is many times, maybe quadruple, the size of other vanes – and reaches at least twice as high, 7 feet or over 2 metres above deck level
  • Leverage and gearing
  • Balanced rudder
  • Generally needs de-powering

27. How can such a small rudder steer my boat?

First, the main rudder, although fixed, still provides considerable stability and steerage as it is set to compensate for any weather helm or lee helm tendencies. Second, the HYDROVANE rudder is further aft – hence has a more levered affect. Finally the HYDROVANE rudder surface area of nearly 3.3 sq. ft. or .3 sq. m. does generate enormous power. Have you ever tried to put a paddle in the water from a moving boat? Or have a look at the size of rudders on large power boats.

  • The main rudder becomes a big ‘trim tab’ – although not moving it is still doing some of the work of a steering the boat – causes the boat to be ‘balanced’ and ‘stable’
  • Hydrovane rudder is in a more levered position further aft
  • Hydrovane rudder is so nimble – near immediate response
  • Hydrovane can be tuned to be very efficient or ‘smart’ – avoids ‘over-steering’ or ‘under-steering’ and confidently not over-reacting to the ‘fakes’ that would have fooled a human helmsman
  • Rudder is not small

28. What is a balanced rudder? Is the Hydrovane rudder a spade rudder?

First to clarify – it is not really a ‘balanced rudder’ but a ‘semi balanced rudder’. The balancing is a matter of the position of the rudder shaft in the rudder – its pivot point. By positioning the rudder shaft at different locations further and further back from the front of the rudder it becomes easier and easier to turn – until a certain point when it becomes indifferent to its direction – hence out of control. So just forward from that ‘out of control’ position is a ‘sweet spot’ where only a light hand on the tiller is needed to control the rudder. Although we call it ‘balanced’ it is actually ‘slightly unbalanced’ or ‘semi balanced’. A spade rudder is a ‘balanced rudder’. A balanced rudder or spade rudder is common on racing boats and for cost reasons and simplicity it is now the most common rudder on production boats – which is not ideal for cruising boats due to its vulnerability to damage from obstacles or from the loads presented by a heavy sea. Spade rudders are (semi) balanced rudders

29. Is the HYDROVANE a servo pendulum system?

No. In jargon the HYDROVANE is called an ‘auxiliary rudder’ type of system. It means that it is steering the boat with its auxiliary or extra rudder.

30. Now I know that HYDROVANE is NOT a servo pendulum. But what is a servo pendulum?

A servo system pulls lines that move the steering wheel or tiller – enough to bring the boat back on course. Such a system includes a blade or paddle, called a servo blade, in the water that swishes from side to side, like a pendulum, directed by its windvane sensor. That oscillating blade is attached to certain lines that are connected to the main wheel or tiller. As the boat goes off course, the vane is pushed over; that pushing motion twists the blade in the water; once twisted it moves with force to one side; that movement pulls the lines that turn the tiller or wheel that moves the rudder. Once on course the vane flops back to vertical/neutral and the servo blade reverts to trailing in the wake. A servo system does not have its own rudder like the Hydrovane. It simply pulls lines that cause the boat’s steering system to keep it on course.

31. Why are so many other self steering systems of the servo pendulum type?

They are less expensive to build. Less moving parts and less structural strength required. The servo pendulum does not have to steer the boat – only operate the wheel/tiller. Whereas the HYDROVANE does have to steer the boat. Secondarily, it is easier to derive power from water than air. If you were setting out to design a self steering system it would be far safer to start out with a system as powerful as possible. The HYDROVANE system is more sophisticated. It is a very simple notion to have the wind drive a rudder but it takes considerable engineering to achieve it – no one else has.

  • Servo pendulums are less expensive to produce
  • Easier to derive power from water than air

32. So, is the servo pendulum system a good solution?

Yes, it can be.

33. Does the HYDROVANE work as well?

Yes………well, we humbly say that it is actually better!

34. What do you hear most from customers who have experience with many systems?

They all are so pleased to get their cockpits back. You must envisage how intimidating the wheel/tiller section of the cockpit is with taught lines yanking back and forth under great loads. There is not much space on board and when you take away a good portion of a prime seating area – or make it impossible to lie down – you realize how space greedy a servo pendulum system is. Next is the delight at not having to be constantly fiddling and adjusting with those connecting lines. The simple HYDROVANE engage and disengage process is a delight – merely move a knob – like changing gears with a gear shift. Finally, is the peace of mind that any mechanism failure with the main steering or rudder system will not forebode enormous difficulty or worse.

  • Pleasure in no longer having those lines in the cockpit.
  • Surprise at how easy it is to engage and disengage – remembering the hassle of tensioning and fiddling with those lines.
  • “Magical” they say about its performance downwind in light airs.
  • No regrets – nothing lost in performance
  • Confidence and comfort in knowing that a back-up steering system is in place

For more comments on ‘servo pendulum systems’ and comparisons:

  • scroll up to the previous HOT TOPICS section


  • go to the COMPARE tab

35. What do you mean by ‘back-up emergency steering system’?

Essentially the HYDROVANE is comprised of a true rudder, like a spade rudder, that is set up on your transom with extremely strong brackets, connected via a rudder shaft to a drive unit that has its own tiller – a rudder and tiller already in place. To make the emergency scenario complete a simple retrofit of a tiller style autopilot onto our tiller receptacle rounds out the emergency steering requirements – the vane engaged for sailing and the tiller pilot for motoring.

Referring to the Hydrovane as an ’emergency steering system’ is an understatement. That connotation of ’emergency steering’ suggests some sort of retrofit or a temporary arrangement. Far from it – the Hydrovane can function as a secondary steering system at any time. It is ‘in place’ and ‘ready to go’ – just remove the locking pin and it is fully functional and capable of steering any size boat ….. indefinitely.

  • A true secondary rudder and steering system ‘in place’ and ‘ready to go’
  • A separate tiller to operate that rudder by hand
  • A standard tiller style autopilot can be fitted onto that tiller for motoring or even sailing

36. Tell me why you say the HYDROVANE is superior in light airs?

The HYDROVANE unit has so little inherent friction. It is not trying to pull any lines or move a huge rudder. Usually if there is enough wind for the sails there will be enough wind for the HYDROVANE. In order for a servo pendulum to function in light airs it must first be moving in the water and secondly it cannot manage if there is too much pressure on the control lines. So, the servo pendulum might be equally effective as a HYDROVANE on a light displacement boat with a spade rudder but if the hull is sluggish or the rudder is hard to move then the servo pendulum may lose its effectiveness long before the wind dies.

  • Very little friction in the HYDROVANE system
  • Other systems need considerable power to move their main rudders
  • In light airs servo pendulums work best on light displacement boats with balanced/spade rudders that are light to the touch and are steered by a tiller, not a wheel

37. Does it corrode? Is the difference of metals a problem?

MIX OF METALS – The Hydrovane is well engineered. A ten or twenty year old unit should look much like a new one. Once you get a chance to have a hard look at one you can identify that separation between metals has been provided for at all critical joints – lots of plastic/delrin sleeves. All the castings are either LM5, a high magnesium aluminum alloy of superior marine grade. Those castings are all anodized – again high quality and designed to minimize electrolysis. There are also two silicon bronze castings – no corrosion issues there as they hold stainless pieces – and those two are copasetic together. The stainless is all of marine grade ‘316’. Of interest, we do have the stainless tubes of the brackets clamped onto the aluminum castings. A bit of oxidation does occur in those joints (ameliorated by the anodizing) – which we like – as it produces a sort of weld. The only other items that are not separated are the grub screws – 8 of them. All mast builders and manufacturers of marine equipment often employ a mix of stainless and aluminum. Care must be taken as there are do’s and don’ts of mixing such metals but they certainly can be used together – never big hunks of each in contact, quality of aluminum is important (some grades melt like butter in the sun)…and worse if submerged – but little SS screws with Loctite (corrosion inhibitor) sunk into our magnesium aluminum have negligible current flow. Until recently we did offer a re-build service for old units (too busy for that now). Geoff tells me that he has yet to find one that he could not take apart – and some were 30 years old.

Derek Daniels, the Hydrovane inventor who is a professional engineer (University of Nottingham), delighted in identifying a problem and finding a solution. Certainly compromises are made but in our five years at the helm we have learned that all issues have been carefully thought out. If you do buy a unit you too will delight in its proven engineering. Our easiest sales are always to engineers…as they know.

  • A system of isolating differing metals has been developed over the years
  • Older units have minimal oxidation and certainly no negative impact

38. How strong is it?

Generally, it is stronger than it needs to be. That is because there is always the potential of the ‘extraordinary’. The HYDROVANE has been designed to handle almost everything – but not collisions with concrete jetties, tug boats etc.

The rudder is a solid cast nylon. No one else makes anything nearly as strong. That rudder has been in service for 20 years with a virtually perfect record.

The shaft is a solid 1 ¼” (31.75mm) and its supporting tube is 2” (50mm) in diameter and 1/8” (10 guage or 3.175mm) thick. We believe those specifications are incomparable.

  • Extremely durable
  • Breakages are virtually non-existent


39. How easy is the HYDROVANE to install?

It must be the easiest. First because its brackets can be positioned almost anywhere………..there is considerable flexibility in their location – unlike most other units that require absolute precise positioning. There are only 4 or 6 bolts required with, as already stated, considerable leeway in the choice for their location. Any surprise obstructions on the inside of the transom are not ‘stoppers’. Aside from keeping the shaft vertical there is nothing else to worry about.

  • 2 or 3 flanges require 4 or 6 bolts
  • takes perhaps 6 hours +/-
  • considerable flexibility in the location of the flanges
  • unit comes almost completely assembled

40. What about my bimini, dodger, arch, wind generators, davits and solar panels?

WIND INTERFERENCE – Other types of self steering with smaller vanes can suffer from wind turbulences caused by above deck structures. Not so for the HYDROVANE. The vane is positioned higher than other vanes and it is far taller than any of the others. It reaches at least 7’ (2m.) above deck level as well as being well aft. Its 4 sq. ft. (.37 sq. m.) (or 5 sq ft. (.46 sq. m.)for the ‘stubby’) of surface area tends to catch the actual prevailing wind.

  • No windage problems with above deck structures
  • Re operating interference – The HYDROVANE vane needs certain space to function. Usually we are able to solve any limitations by: using the ‘stubby’ vane, off-setting the unit or by using a longer or shorter shaft to get the unit either higher or lower.
  • The vane needs room to function
  • Can use the ‘stubby’ vane or offset or change height of unit to deal with obstructions

41. What can I use for a backing plate?

Ideally the backing plate would be a piece of stainless plate of similar dimensions to the attached flange. Certainly that would be overkill, especially with well built transoms. Minimally a build up of stainless washers could be acceptable. Marine plywood can also be used. Any cavities between the plate and the hull should be filled with something solid like fiberglass resin – make the plate flush to the nuts. The objective is to insure that the unit is absolutely rigid. If any of the anchor points start to ‘work’ it will not be long before a problem develops.

  • Stainless steel, marine plywood – flush to nut
  • Fill cavities with resin
  • Must be absolutely rigid – cannot ‘work’

42. When reversing my boat in a marina will the Hydrovane rudder make the boat even more difficult to control?

Maneuvering in a marina is tricky anyways – yes, the Hydrovane could be restrictive………but it could be a help.

If the Hydrovane rudder is locked in the fore and aft position, as it normally is for motoring, you will loose some maneuverability. BUT, if you have an extra pair of hands who can operate the Hydrovane tiller and rudder you will find your ability to turn in tight spaces considerably enhanced as the rudder is further aft – more leverage, cleaner water.

Of course, when reversing any boat at slow speeds the rudder has so little affect, if any – as the boat is steered largely by the propeller and ‘prop wash’ – not by the rudder. Not until the boat gets some ‘way on’ does the rudder have any control. In any event the Hydrovane rudder is more effective because of its position further aft.

Most install the Hydrovane rudder only for passages when they know the Hydrovane will be used and remove it on entering a marina – the locking pin is easily ‘popped out’ with a boat hook and the rudder shipped aboard with its tether.

If you are contemplating the installation of a tiller pilot style autopilot on the Hydrovane you should consider the remote control option – then, in those tight marinas, you can manage both rudders from the cockpit – two rudders being better than one.

43. What do I need for spares?

We suggest a spare vane cover and some locking pins. The vane covers do last a surprisingly long time but eventually the sun and wind does destroy them. As they do last some years it is probably best to simply order one when you need it. With email and modern air shipping it is easy for us to send parts to wherever. Ditto for the pins. There are three of them – all the same. They tend to get dropped overboard although they do come with tethers. The rudder pin should be changed periodically as it can suffer from metal fatigue. It is the only one that is under some load. So, you should rotate the rudder locking pin from time to time.

Please note that both of these items are easy to ‘jury rig’: patch the vane or use a screw driver or even a nail to temporarily serve as a locking pin – ¼ inch OD.

The next level of replacement parts requested are things that wear down after a circumnavigation or so – a bushing and a bearing. Oh, and some have inadvertently spun a locking knob off and dropped it overboard. Again, a ‘jury rig’ with a nut and washer will do temporarily.

In conclusion, any ‘spares’ requirements are NOT absolute necessities as temporary fixes are easy to do and perfectly adequate… and we are only an e-mail away.

  • Critical spares – none … maybe a locking pin or two
  • Parts that wear out:
    • Vane cover – several years
    • Bushings or bearings – after minimum of 25,000 miles – usually just bottom bearing and drive sleeve
    • Rudder locking pin – 2,000 miles
  • We offer an OFFSHORE SPARES that includes these parts
  • Parts that are prone to be dropped overboard:
    • Locking pins
    • Locking knobs
    • Rudder
  • All replacement costs, except the rudder, are nominal

44. Under what circumstances would you deem the A bracket to be necessary?

We always prefer the ‘A’ – cost and ‘the fit’ are the only negatives.

The single strut ‘E’ has two weaknesses:

  • The tube can work free from its clamps if the ‘tightening sequence’ is not strictly adhered to – it’s a difference of the tube being pinched at the edges or completely gripped by the clamp.
  • We set a maximum length of 18 inches. The system is designed to handle that much leverage…… but the bigger rudder and for bigger and faster boats we do get nervous.

Next vulnerability is flimsy transoms. The ‘E’ will probably attach in the open area of the transom – unfortunately, not near an edge where there is more fibreglass and structural integrity. If the fibreglass can ‘work’/flex or the bracket ‘works’ then it is only a matter of time before a failure will occur. The Hydrovane must be absolutely rigid.

Sounds scary, but …….. The history is that not many have worked loose – all suspect for ‘tightening sequence’ issues – and only once have we seen a casting fail.

Finally is the unforeseen – a collision with a floating object or more likely errant vessels in a marina. An ‘A’ bracket is simply far stronger and able to withstand loads or blows from directions other than what it was designed for.

45. Where is it made?

Our production facility is in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England. Lee Colledge manages it and Geoffery Town, our master craftsman, who ran the shop for over 30 years is semi retired but still on call.


46. Where is your office?

We are in West Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. HYDROVANE is a family business. All sales and administration are conducted from there – thanks to the web, phone and fax. We routinely ship HYDROVANES worldwide. All shipments come from the production facility in England.

HYDROVANE has been in business since 1968 – always with only this one product. It is a true hybrid. We bought the business in 2002.

47. Who designed/invented it?

Originally there were two partners – one was an engineer and the other took care of sales. Eventually, the engineer, Derek Daniels bought out his partner. Derek has been the sole developer of the product until he retired in 2002. It was his life’s work.

48. How long will it take to get one?

We try to keep units in stock. The shipping normally takes a week or so. Payment of a deposit insures priority when we have a backlog of orders.

49. Are there any additional costs?

Aside from shipping and taxes the only extra cost is for 4 or 6 3/8” (10mm) bolts. As discussed above there is no real requirement to keep any spares and the normal requirements for spares for a circumnavigation is nominal.

50. Didn’t I just read about you somewhere?

  • The Windvane Self Steering Handbook by Bill Morris, published by McGraw-Hill in 2004
  • Yachting World – June 2006 and 2005 – The Great Atlantic Gear Test – ARC 2004 and 2005 Gear Survey
  • Sailing Today – May 2005 – Wind-Vane Steering – Its evolution and great benefits – “The Silent Crew Member”
  • Yachting World (page 70 – “Hydrovane steering has been faultless over 9,310 miles) October 2003
  • Yachting Monthly (page 23 – Libby Purves says: “A gold medal to Hydrovane…..”). October 2003
  • Cruising Helmsman In the June 2003 issue of Australia’s Cruising Helmsman the HYDROVANE was rated in a feature story as “peerless”. That story is included on our website under the SELF STEERING tab.
  • “Modern Ocean Cruising” by Jimmy Cornell
  • “All in the Same Boat” by Fiona McCall and Paul Howard – “What a magic piece of equipment”
  • “Greenwich to the Dateline” by Rory and Sandra Burke
  • “Managing Your Bluewater Cruise” by Rory Burke and Sandra Buchanan