Building a custom emergency tiller
Building a custom emergency tiller

"Prepare for the unexpected while sailing with your family by building a custom emergency tiller for your boat. Read on to discover why this crucial piece of safety equipment is essential and how to create one tailored to your boat's specific needs."

Building a Custom Emergency Tiller

Sailing the open seas with your family is an incredible experience, but it’s essential to be prepared for any situation that may arise. One crucial piece of safety equipment that every boat should have is an emergency tiller. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of building a custom emergency tiller for your boat, ensuring that you’re ready to face any challenges that come your way.

Table of Contents

Why You Need an Emergency Tiller

An emergency tiller is a crucial piece of safety equipment that can help you maintain control of your boat in the event of a steering system failure. While modern boats are designed with reliable steering systems, failures can still occur due to wear and tear, corrosion, or damage sustained during your sailing adventures.

Having a custom emergency tiller on board ensures that you can quickly regain control of your boat and navigate safely to your destination or a safe harbor for repairs. Additionally, having an emergency tiller can be a requirement for certain sailing certifications and insurance policies, so it’s essential to have one on board.

Understanding Your Boat’s Steering System

Before you can design and build a custom emergency tiller, it’s essential to understand your boat’s steering system. There are two main types of steering systems found on boats: wheel steering and tiller steering.

Wheel Steering

Wheel steering systems are commonly found on larger boats and use a wheel connected to a series of cables, pulleys, and gears to turn the rudder. In the event of a failure in this system, an emergency tiller can be attached directly to the rudder post, bypassing the damaged components and allowing you to steer the boat manually.

Tiller Steering

Tiller steering systems are more common on smaller boats and involve a simple lever (the tiller) connected directly to the rudder. If the tiller breaks or becomes damaged, an emergency tiller can be used as a replacement to maintain control of the boat.

Materials and Tools Needed

To build a custom emergency tiller, you’ll need the following materials and tools:

  • Measuring tape
  • Marine-grade plywood or hardwood (such as teak or mahogany)
  • Saw (jigsaw, circular saw, or handsaw)
  • Sandpaper (coarse, medium, and fine grit)
  • Wood glue
  • Wood screws
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Marine-grade varnish or paint
  • Ratchet and socket set (for attaching the emergency tiller to the rudder post)

Designing Your Custom Emergency Tiller

Before you start building your emergency tiller, you’ll need to create a design that’s tailored to your boat’s specific needs. Here are some factors to consider when designing your custom emergency tiller:


The length of your emergency tiller should be long enough to provide sufficient leverage for steering your boat, but not so long that it becomes unwieldy or difficult to store. As a general rule, the length of your emergency tiller should be approximately 1.5 to 2 times the length of your boat’s regular tiller or the distance from the steering wheel to the rudder post.

Rudder Post Connection

Your emergency tiller needs to connect securely to your boat’s rudder post. This connection will vary depending on your boat’s steering system and the design of the rudder post. Some common connection methods include:

  • A square or hexagonal socket that fits over the rudder post
  • A U-shaped bracket that clamps around the rudder post
  • A custom-machined fitting that matches the shape of your rudder post

Take the time to carefully measure and inspect your boat’s rudder post to ensure that your emergency tiller design will provide a secure and reliable connection.


Consider the ergonomics of your emergency tiller design, as you may need to use it for an extended period in an emergency situation. A comfortable grip and a design that allows for efficient steering will make it easier to maintain control of your boat.

Building the Emergency Tiller

Once you’ve designed your custom emergency tiller, it’s time to start building. Follow these steps to create a durable and reliable emergency tiller:

  1. Cut the wood: Using your saw, cut the marine-grade plywood or hardwood to the dimensions specified in your design. Be sure to make clean, straight cuts to ensure a strong and secure emergency tiller.

  2. Sand the wood: Smooth the edges and surfaces of the wood using coarse, medium, and fine-grit sandpaper. This will help to prevent splinters and ensure a comfortable grip on the emergency tiller.

  3. Assemble the emergency tiller: Using wood glue and wood screws, assemble the various components of your emergency tiller according to your design. Be sure to use marine-grade hardware to ensure durability and corrosion resistance.

  4. Seal the wood: Apply several coats of marine-grade varnish or paint to the emergency tiller, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next. This will help to protect the wood from moisture and UV damage, ensuring a long-lasting emergency tiller.

Testing and Storing Your Emergency Tiller

Before you set sail, it’s essential to test your custom emergency tiller to ensure that it fits securely on your boat’s rudder post and provides adequate steering control. Practice attaching and detaching the emergency tiller and steering your boat with it in a controlled environment, such as a marina or calm anchorage.

Once you’re confident in the performance of your emergency tiller, find a suitable storage location on your boat where it can be easily accessed in an emergency. Be sure to secure the emergency tiller to prevent it from becoming a hazard during rough seas or sudden maneuvers.


Building a custom emergency tiller is an essential safety upgrade for any boat, providing peace of mind and ensuring that you’re prepared for any steering system failures that may occur during your sailing adventures. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can create a durable and reliable emergency tiller tailored to your boat’s specific needs. So set sail with confidence, knowing that you’re ready to face whatever challenges the open sea may bring.