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Designing an Explorer Yacht Helm

Updated: Apr 20

Nothing is truly new on this planet. Consequently, a little sleuthing is an excellent place to start in a new design, if only for inspiration. We faced this scenario when the time came to specify the primary and flybridge helm positions. We looked for advice and thoughts on what others had previously done. Youtube - nothing. Forum - very little, Google - even less. Like a black hole where nothing escapes to the broader universe. We were short of illustrations and associated reasoning for the first time in a long time. So be it; we have a "blank sheet of paper" project!

Boat Helm Design

The first step was to look around at styles that we liked. We also have a shopping list of equipment we will need, plus the equipment needed to control or monitor the various systems installed on Vanguard. A lot can be learned from photo's once you recognize the various components installed.

It was a start, and that blank sheet of paper began to fill. Next, we considered how we would use each item, for example, to assist navigation when underway, report alarm functions, and monitor hotel systems or shore power when in port. Beyond that, we could split equipment by the main helm or flybridge location. There was a logical arrangement somewhere; we just needed to find order in the chaos.

Helm Navigation

For the sake of explanation, let's consider navigation underway. We need to see a chart of some form that will also display critical metrics, such as the Course Made Good or Speed Over Ground, easy enough to represent those on the chart display. We will need Radar and, in close quarters, perhaps also the FLIR. An additional screen for those would be helpful. We need to steer somehow that brings in either an NFU Jog Lever (None Follow Up), a Wheel, or a Tiller for FFU (Full Follow Up) control. Autopilot should be somewhere if we need any freedom at all shorthanded. You will need to access Horn, VHF, and, less urgently, Navigation light controllers. Engine controls are the obvious addition, but in our case, that also includes energy management for the hybrid drives plus emergency stops that are hopefully never used. Regarding emergencies, we need to know about alarms, but the navigator does not need to focus only on a sizeable MIMIC display, so let's keep that away for now. This set of functions defines the flybridge and what is forefront on the main helm.

What is left are those panels and associated information, relegated to a supporting role. The Victron Cerbo displays how we use the power within the vessel and solar performance. Deployment of the stabilizers, setting the shore power connections, radios, MIMIC displays of Vanguard's systems and alarms, Satellite Communications, etc.

Do you see a pattern emerging here?

Helm Lightening & Navigation Lights

No systems work in isolation, so we also thought about redundancy. One good lightning strike may take out the Praxis steering system electronics, but can we still function using the Wills Ridley electro-mechanical systems buried more profoundly in the engine room? If so, a jog lever at the helm bypassing the Praxis system would provide duplication. An electrical short in the Wills Ridley steering controls would take out Praxis and the local electrical system. Still, we can rely on mechanical and hydraulic steering as a backup. Maybe I'm approaching the edge of paranoia here, but if we can gain redundancy by nothing other than a bit of thought, it's worth it. Similarly, do we connect the main jog lever to the autopilot or the Praxis steering system? If the autopilot is not enabled, it must connect to Praxis directly.

Read also: Explorer Yacht Main Helm Design

So having consumed a few coffees, followed by a few beers later in the day, we came up with a list of what fitted, which function they held, and if needed for daily navigation and on which helm station they would best reside. We then researched the various installation manuals and added their footprint to our growing spreadsheet. A spreadsheet of the equipment considered is available below.

Helmstation Equipment-C-A
Download XLSX • 13KB

Naval Yachts prototyped the physical form of the Flybridge Helm. So now it was a matter of placing the equipment in ergonomically suitable locations. Once agreed upon, we would mirror this form onto the larger main helm station so that they retained a familiarity of purpose. The main helm station also carried additional navigation-related equipment, placed conveniently.

Lastly, we added the remaining equipment unrelated to navigation, placed offset from the navigation systems. This is all associated with the main Helmand and not the flybridge. Shore power control, MIMIC display, Victron Cerbo display, chart light, stabilizers actuators, watch control, fire alarm system and on and on.

Chris Leigh-Jones

Very few times during my 10 years in the merchant navy did I have the opportunity to actively steer a large ship. My first such as in the Persian Gulf, 50,000 T parcel tanker out from Dammam. Thirty minutes of total concentration only to be told by an amused Second Mate - its still on autopilot. Hmm.

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