Windvanes 101—Crash Course in Selfsteering Systems


From our founder, Hans Bernwall:
In November, 1970, I started a circumnavigation with my friend, Carl Seipel, a voyage that lasted nearly six years. For our 40-foot Alden cutter "Fia", we designed and built a vane gear that eventually steered Fia after much work and many changes. During our sail around the world we tried many different types of self steering, and as we traveled we exchanged experiences and ideas about steering with other cruisers.

Upon our return to Sausalito in 1977 self-steering became our business. Since then we have provided thousands of wind vane systems of different kinds. We have made a point of trying to sail with the vane gears we supplied as often as possible, and we think this has provided some rare experience of a type of equipment that is little understood.

These notes were written by Carl Seipel while a partner at Scanmar Marine. Since Carl's departure from Scanmar in 1987 there have been some changes in the self-steering area and accordingly some revisions and additions to this publication are now being made. These notes shed some light on questions often asked of us, in particular on the principles and limitations of vane gear self-steering and how vane gears compare to electronic autopilots. Few people, even in the marine industry have much experience with windvanes, beyond possibly the performance of one particular vane gear on one particular boat. Unfortunately, not all systems work the same or fit all yachts and the advice of the one-gear, one-boat expert should be used with caution. The opinions in this booklet are based on Scanmar installations and feed-back from our many customers. We request installation photographs from all of our customers and provide technical support for them if required. Many of our customers keep in touch as they cruise and we know first hand how their particular gear is performing for them on a particular boat, in particular conditions. If something is wrong, or right, we are the second to know, right after the owner. Thus we have accumulated a great variety and volume of information on self steering on all types of boats in all conditions.

These notes are meant to be an educational lesson on the subject of self steering and in general mention of brand names of steering gear has been avoided except to discuss particular characteristics.

Hans Bernwall
Founder, Scanmar International

Two Kinds of Self Steering