Dear Straight Dope:
Why are boat steering wheels on the "wrong side?"
SDStaff Jillgat replies:
The “wrong” side? Not if you’re British, Japanese, or (east) Indian, you ethnocentric pig. Interestingly, though, even in countries where people drive cars on the left, boats enter and leave harbors in the right lane. I don’t know why, but I don’t have to, because that wasn’t your question. My co-worker Mark, who tends to make shit up, says this has been true since the time of the Phoenician ships. Go figure.
Who would think there would be 32 boat shops and marine dealers in Albuquerque, New Mexico? I know, because I called most of them. Got enlightening answers to the question about the steering wheel like, “Because that is how boats are made.” “So you can look over the side of the boat.” That last person realized how stupid she sounded, so put me on hold for awhile to compose herself before referring me to someone who said, “More control on the throttle for right handed people.” I didn’t buy that for a second. I bet Cecil wouldn’t, either.
Finally I got a hold of Leon at Western Boat Store & Prop Shop, who actually knew. Boat propellers turn clockwise, sez Leon, and hulls used to be designed in such a way that when there was torque on the prop, the right side of the boat would rise up. So the wheel was put on the right, so the weight of these “healthy sized” fishermen would counteract that. As long as they didn’t put the beer cooler on the left, which would throw everything off. This is not a problem with modern hulls, but the design stuck. Racing boats, however usually have the wheel on the left, like American cars. I was impressed by his answer, but proceeded to call the rest of the boat shops in the book (my favorite name: Castles Afloat Houseboats). Partly to confirm Leon’s answer, and partly to show up these zen boat guys who seem satisfied that things is how they is because that’s how they is. Get a sense of curiosity, boys.
SDStaff Jillgat, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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