Tiller Taming with Two Fingers

TillerClutch takes a familiar approach to locking the tiller in place.


During the past decade, Practical Sailor  has looked at a number of devices designed to hold the tiller while the helmsman can attend to other important business­­-such as trimming a jib sheet or popping open a frosty cold beverage.


Theres the Davis Tiller-Tamer (Oct. 1, 1992), the Tillerstay (April 15, 1997), the Tillermate (April 1, 2005), and the Steer-iT (April 1, 2008). Except for the Steer-iT, all of these systems involve some form of line-clutch device on the tiller. The clutch “grabs” an athwartship line that passes through it. The line then leads back to cam (or clam) cleats on either side of the tiller that can be used to tension or release the line.

When the right amount of friction is applied, the clutch will lock the tiller in place, yet still allow the helmsman to adjust the helm by simply pushing the tiller to port or starboard. There is no need to adjust the clutch itself, unless the amount of weather helm increases significantly. The Steer-iT replaces line with a solid acetal plastic rod that extends to one side of the tiller

The latest device to tackle this task, the TillerClutch, is what PS calls a tiller brake. Using a lever-activated cam to grip the line, the device improves upon a similar braking device PS tested in 1992 called the Tiller Lock. (The Tiller Lock, it seems, is no longer available). Made of milled anodized aluminum and stainless steel, the TillerClutch closely resembles a conventional rope clutch. A flick of the locking lever engages the clutch, and a light touch on the lever releases pressure so that the tillers position can be adjusted, as needed. Although you can’t simply push or pull the tiller to tweak the amount of helm (as you can do with other clutches), the lever requires just two fingers to release for adjustment, and to reset.

Because the TillerClutchs principal components are galvanic enemies, aluminum and stainless steel, we are interested in how well it will hold up in the saltwater environment. The unit is covered by a lifetime warranty, but a regular freshwater rinse will go a long way toward warding off any corrosion issues. We will be installing the device on one of our Florida test boats this winter and will report any findings. Made by WaveFront Marine, the Tiller Clutch costs $70; a pair of fairleads and cam cleats to complete the installation add another $8.

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Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.


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