Do Cruise Ships Have Wheels?

Have you ever wondered if a cruise ship has a wheel and is one used for driving the huge cruise ships of today?

If it does have a wheel, how big is it, and even how many wheels are there?

Let’s take a look.

Do Cruise Ships Have Wheels?

Cruise ships do have wheels, and they are surprisingly small.  They are nothing like the size of the old-fashioned sailing ship wheels with spokes sticking out the sides.

Instead, they are much smaller, more similar to a steering wheel in a car but more like the size of a go-kart steering wheel, sometimes fully circular, sometimes a half-wheel type in its design.

Cruise Ship Steering Wheel

It’s the “Main Wheel” of the ship and is located on the cruise ship’s bridge.  

The ship’s wheel is often referred to as “the helm”, which refers to the area you steer the ship from.

The main wheel is linked to the electronics of the ship.

Modern Cruise Ship Steering Wheel

Captain Kate McCue gives a great insight into how to drive a cruise ship from the navigation bridge in the video below, where you can also see the cruise ship steering wheel in use.

She also shows the “mini-wheel,” which is used.

If you turn the wheel to the left, the ship will move the port side (to the left).  If you turn the mini-wheel to the right, the ship moves starboard (to the right).

If you sometimes forget your port and starboard, check out our 15+ ways to remember port and starboard and pick the easiest one for you to remember.

Not all cruise ships have a mini wheel, some have a mini joystick.

She is the captain of the Celebrity Edge, a 130,818 gross tonner cruise ship.

When is The Cruise Ship Wheel Used?

Although cruise ships have a steering wheel, it is rarely used except for docking.

The ship wheel is only used when the cruise ship is coming into a tight port with the assistance of a local pilot who might request manual support as the ship is guided into port.

Docking a Cruise Ship

One of the most difficult parts of navigating a cruise ship is docking them into narrow ports.  Sometimes there are only meters to spare on either side of the ship and tight angles to navigate. 

This is a well-planned and brief process by the captain to the bridge crew to ensure safe passage.

The bridge crew works with the pilot, factoring in the weather conditions and the pilot’s knowledge of the local water currents and depths, obstacles to avoid, and such.

The wheel is used again when the ship departs the port with the harbor pilot’s aid.

How to Drive a Ship?

Most of the time, the cruise ship uses a track and control system to drive the ship.

The ship’s direction can be controlled via a mini-wheel, more like a knob, you turn on a dashboard or a small joystick.

Who Drives a Cruise Ship?

The officer of the watch is responsible for driving a cruise ship.   This is usually one of three officers on shift at any one time.  Those shifts are rotated periodically with another two teams of  3 qualified officers.

The team is made up of the following:

  • Officer of the watch
  • Assistant officer of the watch
  • Quartermaster lookout

Did the Titanic Have a Wheel?

The Titanic had no less than three ships’ wheels.  You might associate all of the large variety with old sailing ships and large spokes sticking out the edge.

There are no photos of the Titanics master wheels, but there is one of her sister ships, RMS Olympic, which you can see here, which would have been very similar.

The three wheels on the Titanic were:

  • Master wheel – in the wheelhouse
  • Second wheel – on the navigation bridge
  • Third wheel – docking bridge aft.

As the name suggests, the Master Wheel was the main wheel and was housed in the Wheel house located behind the bridge and not as open to the elements like wind and rain, although it was open from the sides.

Vintage Ship Steering Wheel
Vintage Ship Steering Wheel

The sailor at the helm of this wheel did not have a view of the sea, they were simply following steering orders given by the officers and navigating via compass.

In front of the Master, the wheel was the second wheel used for guiding the ship into ports by local pilots.  Only one of these wheels would be used at a time.

Pilots are still used today, but they give advice on the local waters rather than take the helm.

The third steering wheel was at the stern on the docking bridge of the poop deck and would maneuver the stern when it was departing ports or when required in emergencies situations..    From the docking bridge, they had a first-hand view that would otherwise be visible from the wheels at the bow.

Here’s a good short video that highlights all of the above:

Do Cruise Ships Use Wheels to Get into the Water?

Cruise ships do not use wheels to get into the water, a method you may have seen used for smaller boats.

Instead, cruise ships are built or brought in for maintenance to huge dry docks.  

When it’s time for the cruise ship to be launched into the water the dry dock is flooded.

Once the cruise ship is floating, it can set sail.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Helm of a Ship?

The helm of a ship refers to the area from which the ship is steered.  This includes the main wheel and other controls related to the ship’s steering.

Where Is The Helm Located On A Ship?

The helm of a ship will be in the bridge, at the front of the ship, often located in a central area of the bridge.

What is a Ships Wheel Called?

The ship’s wheel is often called “the helm” by seafarers.   Others may refer to it as the ship’s wheel.  Or if it was on a boat, the boat wheel.

With modern ships, everything is done electronically, there is no need for a large wheel to directly move the ship via the as would have been the case in the past.  

These days modern ships use electro-hydraulic steering systems.

Why Do Modern Ships Have Small Wheels?

Modern ships use electro-hydraulic steering systems, which don’t require any of the leverage that a large old sailing ship’s wheel would have provided.  

Minimal effort is required to move the modern steering wheel, compared to the, at times, great efforts in stormy seas that were required to move the ship’s wheel actively, sometimes needing more than one helmsman to move it.

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