All About Rudders

Rudders are what separate a yacht from a barge. Having the ability to steer a course and move in an intentional direction is wildly important! This video explains the ins and outs of rudders along with their styles.

As with everything on a boat, the rudder is a mash-up of compromise. The strengths and weaknesses of each design are discussed, as well as an explanation of the target sailor who will appreciate the characteristics of each of these rudders.

Welding Aluminum Quadrants

If your aluminum rudder quadrant shatters, you might be tempted to simply have the pieces welded back together! This will work as a temporary solution, but it will never be as strong as the original. 


Our rudder quadrant shattered, and we did just that! We paid a welder to "glue" it back together so we could keep sailing along. We knew we would need to replace it with a new one, but the further we sailed, the less we thought about replacing the quadrant.

Several months passed by, and securing a replacement went from a top priority to another item on the list should we happen to stumble upon it at a consignment shop. 

Then we had a serious mishap occur and the rudder quadrant shattered again! 

Looking at the cross section of the break, you can see that the welded aluminum has a different crystaline structure when compared to the cast portion. You can also see the depth of penetration of the weld. This means that only the outside of the quadrant was re-welded, and the inside merely sits approximated but not welded. 

I don't weld, so I can't really judge on the quality of this weld, but I can state that this welder also fabricates stainless steel and aluminum towers and railings for boats. The quality of his other jobs gave me the confidence that this repair would be as best as he could do it. 

Rudder Quadrant Replacement

Our old rudder quadrant was made out of aluminum, and has had a tough life.


A few months ago, it was shattered while we were towed off a shocking in North Carolina. The pieces of the quadrant were then welded back together, though this was more of a patch than a fix. 

Cast aluminum doesn't weld well, so this shouldn't be thought of as a permanent fix. That being said, we sailed over 400 miles of blue water with it before it shattered again. Again, it shattered as we were being pulled off a beach on the coast of Florida. 

The patch worked very well, but it shattered on the welds (and one new place) this time, so we knew it was time to replace the entire unit with a stronger material: Bronze. 

Bronze is preferable over aluminum in a boat because it is stronger, corrosion resistant, and less likely to break. The biggest downside is the weight of the unit. The aluminum quadrant was only a few pounds while the bronze unit weighs almost 22 pounds (10kg)! 

Since bronze is so much stronger, it doesn't need the middle spoke that the aluminum quadrant required. If severely punished, the bronze quadrant would wrack or bend, rather than shatter into pieces. This will mean that your steering will be a bit off, but still operational.

The choice to switch to bronze was simple, but the costs were not. A bronze quadrant will set you back hundreds of dollars! Ours cost a wee bit over $700.  

Hopefully, with better watch keeping and deeper cruising waters, we won't have to torture test the new quadrant like we did the old quadrant. 

Rudder Damage

The rudder did not break during the beaching, but actually during the recovery process. The rudder had dug itself into the sand, and when the boat turned during the salvage, the rudder wanted to stay put. 

The keel rotated around the rudder (instead of the rudder on the keel) and turned past the limits of the rudder. 


The top and bottom of the rudder snaked into the keel and chipped off bottom paint as well as producing some damage on the rudder's skin. 

The first step in the repair process is to sand away the area to reveal any hidden damage or cracks. All cracks are then ground out. The core of the rudder is then inspected for water intrusion and moisture. 

Luckily, in our case, the rudder is filled with a foam that will not accept water, so there was no moisture in the body of the rudder. The bottom only suffered a compression, but no crack. 

The voids were filled in with fiberglass and epoxy with 406 thickening agent and allowed to cure. This was then covered with epoxy and 407 fairing compound, making it easier to sand the final fix into the airfoil shape of the rudder blade. 

Steering is critical, it means the difference between a yacht and a shelter! This was the repair needed for the external damage to the rudder, but we still have to deal with the internal damage that occurred: the rudder quadrant.