Why I’m building the B&B self-steering design…

The idea of self-steering is, for all practical purposes, a pretty simple concept and most all self-steering systems reflect that. Or at least the good ones do.

The problem with the idea of home building a self-steering gear, for most people at least, is that they tend to have a certain amount of mechanical parts which tend to be just a little bit fiddly to construct and sourcing various fiddly parts is more than just a little problematic.

Some time ago, I designed a self-steering gear that, with the exception of the auxiliary rudder and trim tab, consisted of off-the-shelf items made by a single company which made sourcing the “fiddly” bits simple, cheap, and required zero machining or welding. The downside of the design was that as soon as I started to sell plans for the self-steering the company that made the fiddly bits was absorbed by another company who’s first decision was to discontinue sales of the parts in my design. Bummer.

Since then, I’ve pretty much advised folks interested in building their own self-steering gear to do what I do and just build a clone of the Auto-Helm gear as it is dead simple, has a minimum of “fiddly” bits, fairly cheap to build and works very well on just about any boat.

A little over a year ago one of my favorite sources of dinghy plans, B&B, mentioned that they were currently working on a DIY self-steering gear and, looking at the available information at the time, I said to myself that it’s pretty much a clone of the Auto-Helm but noticed one big difference…

The B&B rudder was not mounted to the transom but to a “rudder post” that allowed the rudder to kick up in the event of hitting something. Better yet, the rudder post also lets you raise the rudder out of the water if you needed to motor in reverse (an issue for auxiliary rudder systems) or just stow the self-steering gear upside down above the transom when not needed. A small but truly brilliant improvement.

Now, I’ll admit, my first thought was to simply build my normal Auto-Helm clone and just purloin the rudder post idea but, since the plans were only $50 bucks and in my view the rudder post idea was easily worth more than that, I decided to just buy the plans.

Now that I’ve actually received the plans I’m glad I did because they are excellent as well as incredibly detailed and pretty much tyro proof. Obviously B&B has sold tons of dinghy plans and in the process they’ve learned  how to design plans that are easy to build. The plans are actually more than enough to build the gear but they also include a “Builders Guide” which goes that little bit further to answer any possible questions one might have in the how or why things go together.

At the moment they have three sizes of Windvane self-steering gears, the Rover, Nomad, and Wayfarer which are size appropriate to fit most any boat you might have. In our case we’re going with the Wayfarer…

So, that’s the self-steering I’m about to start building and hope to get into it in the next week or so, “H” season willing. There are three potential storms heading our way as I write this.

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1 thought on “Why I’m building the B&B self-steering design…”

  1. Good luck with your self-made self-steering. You may be interested in my experience with trim-tab self steering. In the 1990s I lived aboard and cruised a 35-foot 10-ton steel cutter that originally had a vertical-axis windvane with trim-tab-on-rudder self-steering. I found that the gear simply lacked the power to steer the boat at all. When the March 1993 "Storm of the Century" bent the vane beyond reasonable repair I decided to replace it with a servo-pendulum model. The power available to move the tiller from the servo-pendulum, and the sensitivity to the wind of a horizontal-axis wind paddle was so dramatically better at steering the boat that I suggest you approach a trim-tab based system with great caution. I'd definitely try to sail offshore on boats with both types of systems and you will see what I'm talking about. It shouldn't be hard to find a berth as delivery crew on a boat equipped with a servo-pendulum vane, but you will be hard-pressed to find a boat with a trim-tab type vane. I haven't seen a trim-tab system on a boat in a really long time. If you haven't already, check out John Letcher's 1974 book Self-Steering for Sailing Craft. It's dated but still a great resource. Cheers!

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