Windvane self steering

Hey guys,
I am building what I have dubbed the PeeWee Nip. It’s about 9 inches long. It is a little too small for electronics. I was wondering if anyone had plans or could just give me a good idea how to build a mini windvane self steerer. I know they have been used in model yachts before.


Check out the U.S. Vintage Model Yacht Group site, there’s a link from They have lots of articles on the basics of how they work (I think)

Interesting Idea! those were the days (Vane steering) when model yachting was a real sport.

The URL is:

You probably don’t need to bother with self-tacking. We have lots of other material. PM me if you have questions.



Hi there 35 doh, I have built a vane steering system for a FOOTY some time ago that may give you some ideas to play with.
I used some of the plastic cogs from inside a stuffed servo.
I will post pictures rather than trying to describe the whole device.
If you have questions then come back to me. Good luck.:witch:

ps… some clarification… It is attached to a transom in the photos.

How would a steering vane work on a small boat like that? I know Brett’s BobaBout came from a larger model, but how does it scale down to something small?

Did you use a specific gear ratio? Or would it be possible to rig up the same thing with a belt drive?

Mate I used whatever I had.
It is not critical.
Yes you could use a belt drive but you need to reverse the rotation between the vane and the rudder and I don`t know how you could do that with a belt drive.
Just build it and see. Not a big outlay in parts or time just effort.
Every time you build something you will learn more.:nuts:
That has to be worthwhile. Good Luck.:fish:

Well maybe I should ask then how it basically works:
The vane will point into the wind, if the wind shifts to the right, then you want it to turn the rudder as if you were pulling the tiller toward you, and vise versa?

How to you “set” it initially?

The vane operates to keep the apparent wind angle over the stern a constant.

To set:

  1. Point the boat in the direction you want it to go.

  2. Turn the vane feather so that it is pointing dead down wind.

  3. Release boat.

There are other issues with a “break back” (self-tacking) vane which are not really relevant to the question asked in the original post. Speaking of which, Nat Herreshoff (who invented the vane gear in 1985) controlled his vane with a turkey feather. Not a bad idea for a nine inch boat :slight_smile: Vane sailing is a great way to learn the dynamics of wind against sails – there really isn’t any distraction from closely watching what your boat is doing.



Oops, forgot to add (don’t grow old – it’s a bummer):

The ratio between vane and rudder has been established by long experience when vanes were all the control model yachts had; with the vane feather “hard over” at 45 degrees, the rudder should be at 20 degrees or a little less.

Vane feathers should be about 4x to 6x the area of the rudder, too much is preferable to too little.

If the boat lacks lateral area, causing the vane to “hunt” (overcorrect) a centering or damping rubber may be called for, especially on a run.

The boat should be trimmed to sail on balance alone on the beat, by locking the rudder to center and adjusting the position of the sails.



If you look at my middle photo you will see that the vane itself can be lifted up and rotated to the desired direction with the rudder held amidships ( sailor talk for straight ahead)
In practise I would have a tiny piece of rubber tube on the bottom of the vane shaft to prevent it coming completly out.
So turn it to the right direction and lower it down to engage the teeth.
All done , chuck it in.:bravo:

Yep, vane turns left… rudder turns right, and reverse.:winking:

Hi Earl

Absolutely fascinating stuff, thanks!

This caught my eye. In RC sailing, a slight touch of weather helm is sometimes considered helpful, making sure the boat keeps on the wind. Have any of the vane mechanisms been developed to allow this, do you know?

Yes, in the larger classes (10R and A), with very precise vanes, such as the “Highlander” model. Smaller classes, like the 36Rs we sail, bounce around so much that the refinement is lost. As a rule, the vane will hold the boat on the wind quite well, and in fact this is why they replaced Braine gear, where the boats sailed on the beat on balance alone.

Things get complicated when using self-tacking vanes, as it is necessary to keep the vane from “breaking back” or guying prematurely in the middle of the pond, especially when a gust causes the boat to head up sharply.

They get even more complicated when the sliding rig is used. While the primary use of the sliding rig is to change sail balance on the run, it can also be used to maintain balance in the face of differing wind speeds (on different days) on the beat. The conventional method of doing this was to find a good “average” position for the rig and then adjust the vane angle for the difference in apparent wind. Gus Lassel’s method was to keep the vane angle constant and slide the rig to change the sail balance to compensate. This is the method I use on my 36Rs, and it works – at least, as well as anything I do works :slight_smile:



Minor point-
The vane needs to have a counter weight so that if the axis of rotation is tilted by heeling, gravity won’t cause it to turn the wrong way. I’m probly stating the obvious, but you never know.

Very interesting