When did ships get wheels?

We sailed on Lady Washington yesterday, and she was steered with a tiller. (A fake wheel was used in POTC.) One of the crew said that ships’ wheels did not come about until the 19th Century – I think.

When were tillers replaced by wheels on ships?

And yes, I’m cringing at the inevitable posts about ships that roll along on wheels.


Just want to say, my best friend was a crewman on the Lady Washington two years ago. He was also on Hawaiian Chieftain.

If I recall my Burke correctly, ship’s wheel entered service about the time European sailors started rigging their craft with both square and lateen sails. So…15th century or thereabouts.

Pics linked in this thread.

Really? Early-19th Century seems too late to me (but I may have misheard), but 15th Century seems a bit early.

Wiki says 1700, with no cite.

I re-checked Burke, and his reference was to stern-post rudders, not wheels, so I was off on the 15th century. remembered the rudder but not the way to move it.

Dup post. NM.



Yesterday, after the hydro flipped, one of the announcers made a comment about her wheels coming off. The other announcer quietly said “They don’t have wheels.”

About the time treadmills came into existence.


Actually, I recall from watching the thunderboats mumble-mumble years ago* that the prop was frequently referred to as the wheel, as in “they’re going to try a wheel with a different pitch.”

Doesn’t mean that the first announcer wasn’t something of a dunce, though.

*Back when the boats actually, you know, thundered. I know that the turbines are faster and more reliable, not to mention less likely to incinerate the driver; but compared to the old Allisons and Merlins, they just don’t sound right.

History of the ships wheel - looks like originally, on the larger ships, they had two wheels. Right around the time when the British royal naval was formed…according to that short article.

From personal experience, people seem to enjoy a smaller rig like JY13 or sunfish with a small tiller, it’s easier to race when you can lean waaay out and not dump it or lose your baring.

Good article. I had to look up ‘whipstaff’, mentioned earlier, as I’ve never seen one.