Any avid sailor will recognise the importance of being able to feel the sensation of the rudder moving through the water – it provides valuable insight into how the vessel is balanced and responding in relation to its sail trim and weather conditions. As sailing yachts increase in size and loads become greater, hydraulic power has been needed to move the larger rudders and, as a result, there is little-to-no feeling in the helm. As an innovative solution to this, Baltic Yachts has developed a force feedback system to bring back the feeling that is so intrinsic to sailing.

By further developing technology used in car power steering, Baltic’s engineers worked with Swiss specialist engineering company Esoro to design a system that mimics the loads created by the action of waves and side forces from water flow on the rudder and simulates the feeling electronically through to the yacht’s helm. This steering system essentially gives the helmsperson a true sensation of the yacht’s behaviour. 

“When we started looking into such a system, there were some hydraulically-driven solutions available on the market,” explains Roland Kasslin, head of research and development at Baltic Yachts. “But we wanted to develop a system with true feedback, which meant the use of electrical actuators, load sensors and small electrical drives behind the helm with no physical mechanical link between the rudder and the helm. Electrical actuators operating via a lever arm to the rudder transfer signals of the loads they are experiencing to the helm station electrically, meaning that there can be an unlimited distance between the rudder and the helm station.”

“We wanted to develop a system with true feedback, which meant the use of electrical actuators, load sensors and small electrical drives behind the helm with no physical mechanical link between the rudder and the helm.”

This makes the system very applicable to large yacht projects, where the helm could be located at a considerable distance from the rudder(s). The system can be scaled up and down depending on the size of the project and is particularly beneficial for saving on internal volume around the rudder stock as it does not require a large steering quadrant to assist with the loads. The technology has so far been installed on Baltic 175 Pink Gin, and it was thanks to the client’s passion for innovation that the system was developed in the first place. 

“The steering system works very well and both the crew and professional racing helmsmen have been impressed with the feeling whilst sailing,” comments the captain of Pink Gin. “The ability to feel the forces through the rudder when sailing is very important and the system has delivered this function well. Minor glitches are expected in such a system that is first off the shelf but we have suffered very few, we are now pushing the boundaries of what is possible with this intelligent system, any future takers will benefit from the knowledge that it has been fully tested on Pink Gin.”

“The ability to feel the forces through the rudder when sailing is very important and the system has delivered this function well.”

The system was designed to be as flexible as possible, with the ability to customise the amount of assistance the helmsperson requests, depending on their preference for feedback, and have these settings saved under different user profiles on the display. Baltic engineers are able to monitor the system remotely to ensure safety and reliability and to make any additional software changes the crew may desire. 

“Having sailed over 60,000 nautical miles, Pink Gin has offered plenty of feedback on the system and, as a result, there has been continuous development and upgrading of the system’s software,” says Kenneth Nyfelt, sales director at Baltic Yachts, adding that Pink Gin’s recent participation in regattas has subjected the system to further scrutiny from top helmspersons. “We have been getting constant ideas about how to further fine tune and optimise the system, including intelligent learning of a helmsman by the system, for example more assistance requested downwind and less upwind.”

The force feedback system is representative of Baltic’s dedication to keep innovating. Having been unable to find an existing solution that suits its clients’ needs, the superyacht builder has instead invested in researching and developing its own. This showcases Baltic’s ability to cast aside traditional approaches, draw on a variety of internal and external expertise, and create a reliable system that gives the true feeling of sailing back to superyacht owners.

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