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  1. #1
    Vice Admiral 5150abf's Avatar
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    Default Why are boats righthand drive?

    Always wondered since all of our cars are left drive it just seems odd.

    I am sure there is some long standing nautical tradition dating back to the vikings at work but I have just always been curious.
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  2. #2
    Captain sasto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Prop torque...a prop turning clockwise would cause the starboard side to lift somewhat. On the right side to balance this effect.

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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by sasto View Post
    Prop torque...a prop turning clockwise would cause the starboard side to lift somewhat. On the right side to balance this effect.

    Happy Thanksgiving!
    I don't think that's quite correct. It goes back much, much further than the propeller does. I believe it dates back to the days when boats were controlled by the "steering board". Basically, the steering board was a rudder most commonly attached on the right side of the boat (since most people are right handed). This is also where the term starboard came from. Now when a boat was brought in to port, it was tied up on the opposite side of the steering board (or the left side). This is where the term "port side" came from.
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    Lieutenant Junior Grade marine4003's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    correct-a-mundo..Capt!
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  5. #5
    Captain sasto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by smclear View Post
    I don't think that's quite correct. It goes back much, much further than the propeller does. I believe it dates back to the days when boats were controlled by the "steering board". Basically, the steering board was a rudder most commonly attached on the right side of the boat (since most people are right handed). This is also where the term starboard came from. Now when a boat was brought in to port, it was tied up on the opposite side of the steering board (or the left side). This is where the term "port side" came from.
    Ye, the Brittish way, and you are correct. Red right return and docking to port played a part in this.

    I do think manufactures these days take in to consideration prop torque. Least they tell me so.

    Interesting question, maybe an engineer will clarify this more.
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    I think Britian is the main influence. They were the first modern major sea power and just like automobiles they probably reversed the pilots side on their boats and unlike automobiles the odd placement prevailed.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    dunno, I have operated both left and right hand.
    mostly its because the general population is right handed,most boats have side or flush mounted controls so the right hand wants to operate the throttle.
    I think the word is ergonomics.
    I have rigged a few center console boats with the binnicale to the left of the helm cause left handed folks like to use the left hand for the throttle.
    that about sums it up.
    its marketing.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by sasto View Post
    Ye, the Brittish way, and you are correct. Red right return and docking to port played a part in this.

    I do think manufactures these days take in to consideration prop torque. Least they tell me so.

    Interesting question, maybe an engineer will clarify this more.
    Balancing the prop torque is a definite benefit from a right hand drive. I'm just saying I don't think it's the reason for a right hand drive. Most boats (certainly not all) have been right hand driven for far longer than the prop has been around.

    Not all boats are right hand drives.

    Engines can be either right hand, or left hand turning.
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  9. #9
    Captain sasto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    I did some research..........Capt Ron started this tradition, he was blind in the left eye!
    "Andrea C"

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  10. #10
    Petty Officer 1st Class lprizman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    mines in the center,,,whats this all about,,,

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  11. #11
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Seen this question posted many times over the years with lots of answers that make sense and sound correct. The one about the steering board and port side seems to be reason that has oldest reasoning behind it. The engine torque is usually posted along with the controls for right handed folks.

    When we recently got our current which is a center console I thought it would be hard getting used to location of helm but its been pretty smooth adjustment.
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  12. #12

    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    A few weeks ago I was watching a movie where the cruiser they were using was left hand drive. It was in England.
    It was the only boat in the movie where I happened to noticed which side the wheel was on, so I don't know if that is the norm over there..
    I thought it was interesting, if that was the norm, that over there where their cars are right hand drive, the boat was left hand and just the opposite over here.

  13. #13
    Captain sasto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Go figure, my ladies boat has stbd console with left hand controls, upper and lower. That boat is out of the ordinary....as she is!

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  14. #14
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    so here's a stumper... Why do most older jet boats (and a fair number of speedboats) have the driver on the left side?




  15. #15
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    dunno
    its simply the manufactures choice and what they think they can market.
    same as why over the years I have rigged hotfoots on the left side, cause thats what the customer wanted.
    same as one customer,has two boats both with twin lever morse controls, he rigs them so the throttle handle is all the way fwd for idle and you pull it all the way back for WOT.
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    about all I can say is its unbelievable the starting RPM you can get on an F100.
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Its just the right side for a steering, I always wondered y americans have their steering on the wrong side of their car, instead of doing the right thing, and putting it on the right.

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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    My guess on the jet boats is that it was race car/hot rod enthusiast that started to make them and so they just kept the controls on the left side like their cars. But like I said that is my speculation.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    IMHO, its purely because of prop torque. RH prop = RH drive. I don't think the designers today are old enough to have ever heard of a steerboard...LOL.

    I don't think you'll find a left hand drive boat being manufactured today in the USA. Jets are a hybrid so maybe they don't fit in this discussion. And of course all single marine engines were standardized on RH props many years ago.

    But if you look at classic and antique boats and antique outboard motors you'll find that half were RH and half were LH. My own 1952 boat is a left hand drive and it originally came with a Merc of the same vintage with a LH prop. I have 2 Evinrude Rowboat motors from the 1920's that were manufactured 2 years apart and one has a RH prop and the other a LH.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Right hand drive also gives a clearer view (unobstructed) of boats (and that red light at night) approaching or crossing from your right. Maybe one more reason?
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  20. #20
    Petty Officer 1st Class Sharp Shooter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    I've never had a right hand steer boat and boats come in rt or left hand prop drives so the "prop torque" theory doesn't hold any weight.

    Boats also come in center steer configuration.

    Some of you guys live sheltered lives and don't realize the world isn't limited to fishing boats and 40 mph cabin cruisers.

    And another thing, why do some boats have a gas pedal and some have a throttle handle?

    Center steer.






    left steer.



  21. #21
    Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris-R's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by IllesheimVet View Post
    Right hand drive also gives a clearer view (unobstructed) of boats (and that red light at night) approaching or crossing from your right. Maybe one more reason?
    That's what I learned in one of my boating classes with the Coast Guard Auxilliary. They said the typical setup whether you have one, two, or three engines is on the right side because you have to give way to boats coming towards your starboard side so you need maximum visibility. Therefore, left hand drive is not preferred. They said to think of and look at your navigation lights as a set of traffic lights on the road. Green is on your starboard side and red on your port. If a boat is coming towards you and sees your green nav light, then it is the stand on boat and has the right of way. If it is coming towards you and sees your red nav light, then it is the give way boat and has to either slow, stop, change course, etc...whatever avoids a collision.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    I think post #3 pretty much answered this one.

    Years ago I owned a 16' Glasspar that had a left hand helm, I believe the model was a Tacoma from the early 60's. It was cable and pulley steered, had a big chrome hub behind the steering wheel and the speedometer and tach were mounted dead center in the dash. It looked to me like they built the dash and drilled all the gauge holes so it could be laid out either way. I've not seen another one like it since I sold mine about 30 years ago.

    If controlling prop torque were the reason, I don't think my current boat would sink lower on the right side with me at the helm and no passengers when I apply power. If the helm were on the left, I think that would be corrected. I generally sit off to the left of the helm just to balance out the boat better. Even with the battery and fuel tank mounted to the port side and my 325lb self on the starboard side, the boat still lists right at rest. When I step out and have to load the boat, I have to move the fuel tank to the right to balance the boat so it self centers on the trailer.

    Since I'm right handed, I often navigate around the marina standing in the center steering with my right hand, I've often thought that having the controls to the left of the wheel would be big plus.

    I had an old Bayville center console from the mid 1960's that had it's controls mounted to the left of the wheel. The console was attached to the left side of the boat and the deck, but extended to the middle of the boat where there was a single seat behind the helm. The controls were to the left, to go around the console, you walked to the right and went up to the bow area. The placement of the console often made it a real pain to load gear onboard at the dock as the loading ladder at the dock was at the port side and almost right at the console location. This often led people to use the console as a step, which led to it's demise after a few years. There wasn't enough water to back in, the prop would be in the mud at low tide.

  23. #23
    Seaman rcmickey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Well me thinks you all have beaten this sea/horse to death......Happy Thanksgiving everyone!:-(>
    Just when you think you know all the answers to all the questions........they change the questions!!!

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by smokingcrater View Post
    so here's a stumper... Why do most older jet boats (and a fair number of speedboats) have the driver on the left side?
    This style of boat is often used in competition, typically involving a ccw course, (left hand turns). The driver needs to be on the left to easily see and pass marker pylons.

    I don't see the prop torque affecting the boat much, since it's well below the hull. However, the engine, in the boat turning ccw (looking at flywheel end) will try to twist the boat cw, (stbd side raised). Logically, the driver should be on the left to counter it.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Why are boats righthand drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JimS123 View Post
    And of course all single marine engines were standardized on RH props many years ago.

    I wouldn't exactly say 'all' marine engines. Its becoming more popular in the wakeboarding world to have prop rotation direction as an configurable option to match the owners primary forward foot. For wake surfing, the prop rotation creates a nice wake on one side, and a foamy rolling edge on the other. (lh = standard, rh = goofy foot boarding)

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