Emergency Steering? You Can Jury-Rig a Drogue For That

You’ve hit something and your rudder’s gone. What’s your plan? Here’s a bit of seamanship that applies to both the coastal and blue-water sailor.


I had been driving my 34-foot catamaran down the Chesapeake Bay at 8-9 knots all morning, propelled by a fresh breeze. “Thud … thud.” The boat lurched slightly to port, telling me I had struck something substantial on that side. I hadn’t struck bottom—I was in 50 feet of water. I eased the sails and dashed below to check for water in the bilge and crash tanks (thankfully, none), and took a moment to absorb what had happened. The autopilot beeped an off-course alarm, common enough in gusty conditions, but when I disengaged the autopilot to make a manual correction … nothing. The wheel would not budge and the boat was turning very slowly to port…and the shoreline.

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Drew Frye
Drew Frye, Practical Sailor’s technical editor, has used his background in chemistry and engineering to help guide Practical Sailor toward some of the most important topics covered during the past 10 years. His in-depth reporting on everything from anchors to safety tethers to fuel additives have netted multiple awards from Boating Writers International. With more than three decades of experience as a refinery engineer and a sailor, he has a knack for discovering money-saving “home-brew” products or “hacks” that make boating affordable for almost anyone. He has conducted dozens of tests for Practical Sailor and published over 200 articles on sailing equipment. His rigorous testing has prompted the improvement and introduction of several marine products that might not exist without his input. His book “Rigging Modern Anchors” has won wide praise for introducing the use of modern materials and novel techniques to solve an array of anchoring challenges.