When maneuvering a vessel in tight quarters, the ability to have a quick visual reference of your rudder angle is very important. A collision could jeopardize the safety of your passengers and of others. It could damage your boat and your pride. Luckily for us, technology provides a solution.
A rudder angle indicator is a nautical device which monitors your rudder’s horizontal position. It is also referred to as a rudder reference gauge, rudder locator, or a rudder position sensor. We took a look at several different types of rudder angle indicators and reviewed them for you in this article.
The first type we reviewed are gravity driven rudder angle locators. These simple devices attach to the center of your steering wheel and use gravity to pull a needle downward as the gauge moves in synch with the wheel. These units are inexpensive and easy to install with no cabling or drilling required.
During testing we found that these rudder locators to be inaccurate and unreliable. Any time that the boat rocks from side to side, the needle swings back and forth making it virtually useless in choppy water. On vessels with hydraulic steering, these indicators give poor reference of the rudder angle due to variances in hydraulic fluid pressure. Our Score: 3/10
The second type of rudder indicator we reviewed operates using a mechanical arm. Mechanical arm rudder locators are the most common type on the market. Arm-driven units like come stand-alone or as a part of auto-navigational systems.
These mechanical indicators consist of a dashboard gauge and an arm (often sold separately) that connects to your rudder or outboard motor. A downside to these devices is that on some vessels the rudder moves further in one direction than another, this cannot be read by the mechanical arm. Otherwise, these units are accurate and reliable. They are somewhat pricey though, ranging from $350-$2000 and typically require expert installation. Our Score: 6/10
Last but certainly not least, we reviewed cable-driven rudder angle indicators. Unlike other indicators, these units work for both in-board and out-board motors. A company called SmarTrac inc. currently holds a patent on the system which is used in their product the SmarTrac Rudder Locator.
The SmarTrac rudder angle indicator has a sending unit (also
called a potentiometer) that is mounted near your rudder or outboard motor. A steel cable is then pulled from the sending unit and hooked to your rudder linkage. This unique cable driven system allows the device to measure the entire range of rudder movement.
The sensor sends data through a 3-conductor cable to the dashboard gauge which then calculates a reading using a built-in microprocessor. The microprocessor is easily programmed to match the specifics of your vessel. This product is effective for use on hydraulic steering systems because it connects directly to the rudder linkage. Accurate, inexpensive ($199), and easy to install, this new technology could make a big splash in the nautical electronics market. Our Score: 10/10