Try and think of the most iconic piece of equipment on a ship - it simply has to be the ship’s wheel, doesn’t it? You might consider the anchor, you might even spare a thought for a porthole or maybe the ship’s crest or the flag it’s flying but, when all’s said and done, if there’s one thing that defines a ship, it has to be the ship’s wheel.

How Long Have Ships Had Wheels?
Ships started to incorporate the classic ship’s wheel at the beginning of the 18th century and, indeed, it’s the great sailing ships from the 18th and 19th century that, perhaps, more than anything, supply us with our image of the classic ship’s wheel, usually made of fabulous polished wood and adorned with brass. Prior to this, a whipstaff would have been used to steer large ships, affording the sailor a good vantage point some distance above where the rudder was located – the staff itself would have been connected to a tiller and thence to the rudder.
One of the first ship’s wheels appears on the plans for an English warship in, approximately, 1705. The advantages included far greater and more accurate control of the rudder, whist a second wheel could be added to give greater power; an especially useful innovation during rough weather when up to four pairs of hands could be brought to bear to keep the ship on course.


So, Is This Where The Term ‘Steerage’ Come From?
More or less! If you imagine a classic sailing ship with a huge wheel now perched high up on deck beneath the masts then, clearly, there has to be some kind of technical interface between the wheel and the rudder. The wheels themselves were often made of teak or mahogany - basically the most expensive materials of all - in order to offer resistance to corrosive sea salt and high winds – after all, there’s no point having a wheel that comes away in your hands!
The ship’s wheel would sit on a pedestal and connection to the rudder would be via a substantial system of ropes and pulleys. Aside from the advantages listed above, the classic ship’s wheel also allowed the sailor to alter course by turning in the desired direction of travel; definitely not the case with the counter-intuitive tiller.
The ‘steering tackle’ that resolved this need to push the tiller in the opposite direction would run through a closed deck area and connect the rudder to the helm or tiller that does, indeed, give us the term ‘steerage’ i.e. if your berth was within this section of the ship, you’d be travelling ‘steerage’.


Does ‘Steerage’ Still Exist?
In a modern cruise context, certainly not! These days, passenger cabins are generally well away from the key workings of a cruise ship and, with balcony cabins coming to represent the new normal for cruise ship accommodation, you’d be hard pressed to find anything like a ‘steerage’ option today.


Steady As She Goes- Discover Stress Free Cruising!
You might not find a traditional ship’s wheel on your MSC cruise ship although, if you’re lucky enough to visit the bridge, you’ll see a battery of technology that allows these huge vessels to be controlled by a finger-tip with incredible precision. It’s sometimes quite a shock when modern cruise passengers visit the bridge of a brand new cruise ship and discover that there’s no wheel at all – at least not in the sense that they’ve imagined it!
But, best of all, your cruise will be setting a course for some of the sunniest and most exciting destinations right across the globe. So, why not plot your own course and discover stress free cruising with MSC?