Slip Sliding Away (Without a Rudder)

Yes, you can sail without a rudder, but it’s a huge pain. Sailing with a half-fast rudder is also ridiculous – so let’s talk some turkey about the often overlooked rudder.

The Pintle

The little round post that is on top of the leading edge of the rudder (the one that plugs into that hole in the bottom of the boat at the stern) that is the pintle. I grew up knowing that, but I can’t find it in the dictionary. Anyway, this pintle sometimes has a small “mold ridge” from the molding process. You should sand the pintle, using fine sand paper, just until it is round and smooth. Before installing the rudder you should also get in the habit of putting a little vaseline on the pintle.

Hint: Without snapping the rudder into the tiller, check for smooth turning of the pintle in the gudgeon – then what? Read on.

The Gudgeon

And the pintle fits into the WHAT? That hole in the bottom of your boat is called the gudgeon! So you stick your pintle into your gudgeon. Sailors have more fun! RC Lasers have two types of gudgeons since a manufacturing change was made around 1999. The earlier version has a plastic bearing tube that fits into the cavity molded into the hull, providing a better bearing surface for the rudder pintle. BEWARE – this short piece of tube CAN FALL OUT. It can’t fall out while the rudder is in place, but it can with the rudder off. Some folks have called me to ask, “What was that thing that popped out and fell in the water… and now my rudder is reeeeeaaaal loose.” Yes, I have spares.

If you have a boat with a gudgeon tube, you should inspect it carefully. At the top of the cavity which fits the tube, was a problem area for leaks. So if you are getting any water in your hull, and you have a boat with a gudgeon tube, you should check this area closely and maybe apply a little caulk. Use 3M-4200 and bed your tube into it before it dries. Don’t get sloppy and allow 4200 inside the tube or your pintle will be unhappy.

If you have a newer boat, you will find a piece of shaped plastic that serves as your gudgeon. It has a wedge type shape at the rear and fits tightly into the hull. You should not have any problem with this fitting or leaks in this area.

The Tiller

The tiller on your boat is fastened in place with a SS screw that passes through a tiller bearing. If you were to take the screw out, you will see that there is a removable bearing piece that keeps the screw from binding on the tiller itself – theoretically. But if you crank down on this screw too hard, you CAN apply unnecessary friction to tiller movement. A little Vaseline on this bearing will make things nice and slippery. Also it will prevent water from seeping around the screw in rough weather.

Hint: You need to unhook the steering horn from the servo so adjust the tiller screw. Otherwise, you can’t feel how easily the tiller turns.


When you are installing your Rudder, first line up the pintle in the gudgeon and then push the rudder up into the tiller until it snaps in place… right? Well, almost. You should always hold the tiller DOWN with one hand as you force the rudder snaps UP into the hole. This takes the upward strain off the tiller pivot screw and keeps your tiller bearing healthy. And by all means, make sure you see that BOTH the rudder snaps click into place – I have replaced too many rudders that have mysteriously “fallen off” while sailing! This ain’t no mystery, Jack!

Hard to Snap

If your rudder is hard to snap into place through the tiller, you may have what we call a “fat” boat. When these boats come out of the mold, they shrink considerably to their final size.  Unfortunately, the rudder is a fixed size (different molding system).  So if the boat is a little thicker (from top to bottom), then it can be hard to get the snaps to go all the way through the tiller and snap.  The good news is that it is easy to fix.

I recommend a file (even a course fingernail file will do) to file down the top of the tiller (never modify the rudder). You can leave the tiller mounted on the boat for this modification.  Simply file off the top of the tiller around the slot where the rudder comes through.  Filing off a slight more on the forward end of the slot can be helpful if the tiller still must be bent down to snap the rudder in.  File a little, check fit, and file a little more if necessary.

Frequent inspection and maintenance of your rudder system is an important part of making your sailing experience enjoyable. And remember, the pintle fits into the __________?

Submitted by Steve Lang of