The Importance of Weather Helm

Weather helm might feel like a constant force that you battle against as you sail across the water on a reach, but this constant nuisance is actually intentionally placed there by your yacht designer. 

Imagine a perfectly balanced yacht, with the sails set perfectly balanced and the rudder straight. The captain can lock the helm and relax as she steers herself through the waves. Now imagine that this captain slips and falls overboard with his perfectly balanced sails and rudder straight! He will float in the water as he watches his yacht and salvation sail off into the distance at hull speed! At this point, he is in incredible danger of drowning as no one knows he has fallen and is not coming to his rescue!  His best hope of salvation is speeding away at a pace he can never match through the water.

Now imagine the same scenario with a yacht that has a bit of weather helm (not too much, but just a bit). The sails are not balanced, so he must hold the helm to keep the rudder just a bit to leeward. When he falls overboard, the force on the rudder will push the rudder straight, no longer fighting the weather helm and the yacht will then turn upwind. With no one at the helm to keep the course, the yacht will point up into the wind and stall, coming to a stop or even tacking over and heaving to. This means that the yacht will come to a stop and the wet captain will be able to swim over to his yacht and  climb aboard; saving his life and getting him home again to tell the tale!

While excessive weather helm is a nuisance and a problem, a little bit of weather helm is a great safety feature that should be praised instead of cursed!