Why Are Boat Steering Wheels on the Right Side?
If you’re like most people who are just beginning their adventure with recreational boating, you may be wondering why steering wheels on boats in North America aren’t placed on the left side. After all, cars, buses, and other road vehicles have steering wheels on the left side, so it only makes sense that boats should, too.
When searching the internet for answers to the question, “Why are boat steering wheels on the passenger side?” you are likely to come across a variety of myths and misconceptions. Luckily, GemLux is here to set the record straight.
Read on to learn more about steering wheel placement in boats!
Common Misconceptions Concerning Steering Wheel Placement
There are several myths that attempt to explain the placement of boat steering wheels. One of the most far-fetched theories is that boat manufacturers in the U.K. managed to secretly place steering wheels on the right side even in vessels bound for the North American market. Meanwhile, a more practical account says that they’re placed on the right because many people are right-handed, and this placement makes it easier for drivers to access the throttle.
The likelihood of the first theory being true is slim, especially considering that the vast majority of recreational marine vessels have their steering wheels on the right – no matter which country they come from. There may be some truth to the second claim, but it doesn’t cover the whole story.
Why Boat Steering Wheels Are Placed on the Right Side
The rules put forth by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs) apply to vessels in all waterways and all countries of the world. This set of guidelines maintains that all boats should keep to the right of oncoming traffic. Therefore, having steering wheels on the right side of the vessel makes it easier for operators to keep an eye on nearby boats.
However, this isn’t always the case on smaller vessels – visibility of oncoming traffic may actually be better on the left side. For this reason, an increasing number of boat manufacturers are starting to place steering wheels on the left. Time will tell if this trend will gain momentum.
But why did the IMO choose the right side to maintain traffic flow? The rules indeed have to do with the large portion of right-handed boat operators, and this dates back to the days before modern boat rudders existed. Instead, oars were used to propel boats of all shapes and sizes through the water. A specialized oar called the steering oar was placed on vessels to provide the same functionality as modern-day rudders, and they were operated by sailors positioned at the stern. Because the vast majority of sailors were right-handed, these oars were placed on the right side, and the tradition lives on today. The right side of a boat is even called the “starboard” side, which originated from the word “steerboard.”
Upgrade Your Boat’s Steering Wheel with Help from GemLux
Modern boating enthusiasts who really want a steering wheel on the left side of the boat can very likely find a vessel that suits their needs. The overall quality of the steering wheel and system is far more important than placement, and that’s where GemLux comes in. We have a variety of boat steering wheels constructed with the highest-quality materials. All of our steering systems are designed to fit a 3/4-inch steering shaft and are made from maritime-grade stainless steel to resist corrosion.
For more information about our stainless-steel steering wheels or the other marine products we carry, feel free to reach out to us! Our team is happy to answer your questions and help you select the best boating accessories for your needs.