Steering commands.


Alex Clark

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Mar 24, 2012
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What kind of measurements did they use for helm orders other than midships, hard-a-starboard and hard-a-port? Did they use degrees of rudder angle like on modern ships? I heard or read somewhere that they used the wheel spokes as a measure of how far over the helm was.
 
Apr 17, 2020
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For example: Port 5, starboard 10, steady as she goes, meet her, etc. are common steering commands. From the sailing ship era remaining were the swapped directions when they were conning the ship. I not heard something about the wheel spokes, but sounds logic and interesting. Maybe somebody else can help with it.
 

Georges Guay

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Feb 26, 2017
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As far as I know, there was a wheel-elm mechanical indicator on the steering pedestal and an electric rudder indicator somewhere in sight from the steering stations. The mechanical indicator showed where the wheel was set while the electric indicator showed where the rudder was actually set. The electric pointer was confirming the mechanical one. Even if you could turn the wheel in 6 seconds from amidships to hard-over, it would nevertheless take around 16 seconds for the rudder to be over 40°and confirmed by the electric rudder indicator. This is called lag time.

As an example, if the quarter master would receive an elm order of starboard 20, he would first repeat the order, turn the wheel anticlockwise until the mechanical indicator showed starboard 20, then look at the electric rudder indicator and when it was also showing starboard 20, he would shout; «rudder starboard 20 sir». To come back amidships, he only had to let go the wheel as it was spring loaded and the steering gear having a hunting gear to follow.
 

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Georges Guay

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Hi Samuel,

If it normally took 8 to 10 seconds to turn that heavy spring loaded wheel, it meant a lag of 6 to 8 seconds, no! Nowadays, it takes a second to turn the wheel over, if wheel there is. Nevertheless it takes 14 seconds for the rudder to be over to 35° or 28 seconds for hard over to hard over on two steering pumps. It means a lag of 13 seconds from amidships to hard over!

The advance and transfer, tactical diameter, rudder surface ratio and so on, are all meeting today’s standards very closely. I don’t see why the rudder rate of turn or lag would suddenly be so different. If the rudder would turn too fast, would there be a chance of producing heavy turbulence that would reduce in proportion the lift thus the transfer and advance?

16 seconds for a 0.014 rudder to 40° is quite similar for a 0.017 rudder to 35° in 14 seconds, no? I could be wrong as well but my pretentions seem to follow maritime rules.
 
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Doug Criner

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Another common helm order: "Shift the rudder" - for example, if the rudder were Left 15, then the helmsman would change the rudder to Right 15. During maneuvering, the engine order telegraph would be used to order speed changes on each engine. For minor speed adjustments while cruising, the OOD would order, for example, "drop two turns," meaning drop the rpm by 2. Course changes would be by ordering the new course, for example, "Come right to course zero-nine- zero." Instead of "Steady as she goes," I've also heard, "Steady, steady so."

Sometimes, if the OOD suspected the helmsman of inattention, he would say, "Helmsman, mark your course," which meant tell me the ship's present compass heading. If the helmsman's answer was off the ordered course, the OOD would say, for example, "Steer zero-nine-zero," a mild rebuke.

If steering control from the bridge was unexpectedly lost, the OOD would order, "Shift control to after steering," whereupon a watch-stander in the after end of the engineering spaces would become the helmsman.

This is all based only on my ancient navy experience - not sure about Titanic. Nowadays, everything is probably controlled with joysticks and computer mice - and verbal helm orders digitized and sent directly to the steering and propulsion machinery. ;)
 
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Alex Clark

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Righto. So essentially the same as a modern ship. I’m familiar with modern ships having steered them in the past and even in my current work, having spent time on the bridge, rubber necking or attending briefs.
 

Georges Guay

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I was reading a book recently about a British tramp ship on a winter journey across the North Atlantic in 1960, partly loaded with crates of Vat 69 Scottish whisky. The captain used to recount one of his adventures when he was a young wheelsman;

Sparks; «Those are the biggest waves I’ve ever seen, captain»
Captain; «Ah, this is a bugger all, Sparks» he shouted above the roar of wind and waves. «I sailed through the great storm of 1918. We were nearly turned turtle off the west coast of Scotland. Bloody great waves smashed the wheelhouse, made matchwood of it. I was at the wheel. Couldn’t hold the bugger. Got my bullocks tangled in the spinning spokes. Lost a ball I did,» he grinned, as if this was a hilarious moment!

If I remember well, he came back to the wheel soon after! One of the most realistic seaman’s stories of that era I ever read. Unreal!

1588206386004.png
 
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Stephen Carey

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Those are all US terminology! I doubt anything much has changed over the years on British ships.
"Starboard ten"
"Ten degrees of starboard wheel on, Sir"
"Ease to 5"
"Ease to 5, aye aye Sir"
"Midships"
"Wheel amidships Sir"
- and so on.
Engine orders were per telegraph and not voice except in the RN, where both helm and engine orders were different to a certain extent.
"Steer 185, 156 revolutions"
"Steering 185, 156 revolutions passed and repeated, Sir" meaning to the engineroom via a Stoker on a stool next to the wheel. That's probably changed now on warships.

I'm an engineer not a fish head, but spent enough time on MN and RN bridges to remember most of it!
"Right full rudder" and "Ahead Flank" and the like were never UK terminology, that would be "Hard a-starboard, Full Ahead" in English...
 
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Bo Bowman

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I was reading a book recently about a British tramp ship on a winter journey across the North Atlantic in 1960, partly loaded with crates of Vat 69 Scottish whisky. The captain used to recount one of his adventures when he was a young wheelsman;

Georges, your comment reminded my of the delightful little book "Whisky Galore," by Compton Mackenzie. It made me fall in love with the Outer Hebrides, which I've never seen - yet. Thanks to you, I've just now lesrned it was made into at least one, possibly two movies. Must find them.

Blessings from Wyoming's sagebrush sea, where nothing satisfies like a good sea story on a winter's night.
 

Alex Clark

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Thanks for the info. I’m familiar with the modern terminology through my time on a few container ships and also RFAs. The RFA uses a lot of RN speak. In the container ships I sailed in, the crew were all non British and were much less sharp in the orders and responses but essentially they were the same. I just didn’t know how far back it went.
When did ‘Right Ahead’ become ‘Dead Ahead’?