Steering the Ship
In normal steaming conditions, the helmsman is normally a nonrated
Seaman from the Deck Department. However, only QMs qualified as
master helmsman man the helm during situations where precise
shiphandling is required ( unrep, restricted waters, and special
evolution). Keeping a ship exactly on course can be a tough job,
especially in heavy seas. As you advance to higher paygrades, you will
be required to complete PQS and stand watch as helmsman and master
The following discussion will cover standard orders to the helm, effects
of wind and current, and steering the ship for special evolutions.
Note: Conning officers are usually assigned from the ranks of junior
officers. Increasingly, senior QMs are tasked with standing watch as
conning oficer and even OOD on smaller ships. The study of
shiphandling theory is highly encouraged. A excellent reference is
Crenshaw's Naval Shiphandling.
The courses the helmsman steers must be ordered by the conning
officer. The helmsman should have the ship on course before he or
she surrenders the wheel to his or her relief. This does not apply to
The words port and starboard are never used when giving orders to
the helmsman. When an order necessitates a change of rudder angle
to right or left, the direction of change is always stated, such as
right full rudder.
The helmsman always repeats all orders back to the conning officer,
as they were given (word for word). Standard orders to the
helmsman and their corresponding meanings are as follows:
RIGHT (LEFT) STANDARD
Varies on different ships (usually 15° rudder). It is the
designated number of degrees of rudder angle that causes the
ship to turn within a prescribed distance called standard
tactical diameter. You must find out what standard rudder is
on your ship.
RIGHT (LEFT) FULL
Usually means 30° on the rudder angle indicator.