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Sealing off rudder post for bluewater cruising?

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Still contemplating projects to be done prior to a Hawaii attempt, and a conversation with a recent crewmate has me contemplating glassing a bulkhead in somehow to seal off the rudder post. I don't know how this would be possible on the 32-3 without causing all sorts of headaches and making it impossible to work on the rudder tube in the future.

The other side of the brain is contemplating rudder damage at sea and how much water can come in through that post in no time at all, and how many recent Transpac boats have incurred rudder damage. The sea is full of garbage, sadly.

I know Christian didn't do this, but has anyone else considered it?


Member III
Yeah - everything's a trade-off.
Having a spade rudder is the only design weakness I think my 32-3 has for offshore work (I'd probably prefer a skeg-hung rudder).
Of course, on the other hand, the 32-3's rudder is large and very well-balanced, so the boat steers like a boss!

Here's how I calm my worry-wart mind about the risk of severe rudder damage, or total loss, on an offshore passage ...
... it seems to me relatively unlikely that I'll strike a significant obstacle just with the rudder while underway at speed - seem's more likely to me that the bow and/or keel will strike most objects first, slowing or stopping the boat before the object then hits the rudder (or perhaps even gets deflected enough to avoid the rudder). Perhaps this is Pollyanna blue-sky thinking.
However, if an amorous or angry whale charges my rudder, it's going to be severely damaged. But, in this context, I saw a recent episode of the 'How to Sail Oceans' vblog in which a French solo sailor was interviewed, who recommended completely stopping the boat when in company with a whale that's overly interested in your boat (he provided interesting anecdotal data to support this practice).

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Blogs Author
I agree with the Frenchman. Otherwise there's not much to hit out there with your rudder.

I don't consider a spade rudder a weakness--full keels are history, and a skeg is probably not much help in a rudder-destroying collision.
Rudders are more vulnerable on fast sailboats--planing sailboats. Six knots, the essence of passagemaking, reduces forces. So does reducing sail in hairy conditions.

I figure if the rudder tube and post and back of the boat gets knocked off, you sink. Emergency life raft and sat phone for that. It's very unlikely.

Naturally the rudder and all its associated stuff needs inspection before heading around the world, but if it works as intended and has no weak points it ought to be fine. Most steering issues that occur are repairable, and every crew will want to inspect the steering and quadrant periodically offshore ("what's that funny noise I keep hearing?"). For that reason total accessibility of rudder, stuffing box (Dripless), transmission, engine, plumbing, exhaust and so on is necessary therapy. Not a storage location.

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
I think I know in my heart of hearts that I'm not going to design and install a fiberglass/plywood bulkhead around my rudder quadrant. I just want to feel better about it - and I think you both give some good reminders. I'm not going to be a 40+ foot performance boat flying a huge spinnaker 24 hours a day, I'll be a nicely appointed 32 footer toddling through the waves, wing-on-wing, trying not to spill my coffee.



Member III
Blogs Author
A spade may be slightly more suseptable to impact, but what it lacks in protection it more than makes up for in performance. I'd much rather have a ballanced rudder that reduces loads in the whole system under 99.9999% of the situations it will operate in than an unbalanced spade rudder that's slightly more protected.

If you're worried about an impact ripping out the rudder tube and breaching the hull, you could reinforce the tube to distribute the impact load.

(full disclosure, this opinion is coming from someone who's never left the salish sea, and rarely sails in conditions over 25 knots)

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
FWIW, if worried/concerned, you can always just glass in some bracing for the rudder tube, on the inside of the boat. Remember that in a severe impact a part of the rudder blade can be sheared off, acting as the sacrificial part of the system.
It's like having a strong and large backup plate under each stanchion, so that sufficient force might lay the stanchion over without ripping it loose from the deck.

i.e. given enough force, something will have to yield.

There is an older thread here where one of our members with a lot of offshore experience cited boats with skegs that had their skegs sheared off by wave forces. It is difficult to build a really strong skeg on a production boat without a price increase. Molding out a skeg laid up in a long hollow is jolly difficult to do right; or build it in halves and glass them together; or mold it out in solid glass with a flange at the top that is bolted and glassed to the hull.... Point is that doing it 'right' is costly in labor and materials.
And when done, you still have an unbalanced rudder that also causes heart burn when backing up.

Better, IMHO, to be sure that the rudder tube on the spade rudder scheme is very strongly attached on the inside. Rudder might break, shaft might bend, but... boat remains watertight.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
I've had similar thoughts - that at least a "crash bulkhead" similar to the one in the bow ought to rise above the waterline forward of the rudder post somewhere. Feasibility probably depends on each particular boat design - but retrofitting one would likely be like building a ship in a bottle. My boat had no access to the rudder post to begin with - so I had to create some. Once I could look at it up close, I wasn't convinced that either the tube or its attachment are particularly robust.
In doing the thought-experiment of glassing in a "crash bulkhead," possibly the trickiest bit would be dealing with the large number of bulky hoses that would have to pass through, over, or around it. Engine vent hoses, bilge pump hoses, etc.