The first boats with rudders were steered by a long oar, or ‘scull’, at the stern. When a second rudder was added to allow for steering in the other direction, it was placed on the left side, opposite the first rudder. This was because of the way that most people are right-handed, and it allowed them to steer with both hands on one side of their body.
It wasn’t until later that steering wheels became common; when they did, they were always placed on the left side of boats because people were already accustomed to steering this way.
Today, there are some exceptions: some small boats have steering wheels on the right side, because this makes it easier to operate winches and other equipment mounted on that side of the boat.
Last modified: October 24, 2022