Blue Turtle Cruising

DIY Steering Wheel Wrap – French Whipping with Paracord

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If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you might have noticed that we’ve been in the Smokey Mountains for the last couple of weeks. The company Randy works for is located in Knoxville, TN, and since he was needed there for a couple of weeks, we decided it was a good time to take a break from the August heat of the boat to spend some time in the mountains. Thankfully, Blue Turtle is sitting pretty in a friend’s slip in Kent Narrows, Maryland waiting for our return to continue our cruising journey. Since Randy would be working and Blue Turtle is moored in a marina, I decided this was the best time to attempt rewrapping the steering wheel on Blue Turtle. And why not just take the wheel with us to the mountains where I would have lots of room in our Airbnb to work?

Wrapping the wheel is called “whipping.” French whipping is a form of whipping that uses a series of half hitches. There are many different ways and knots to use when whipping the wheel. For the purpose of this post I’m only focusing on French Whipping since that is the technique I used.

Our sailboat’s steering was already french whipped when we bought her. I’m sure it once looked great when it was first done, but over the years it had become badly stained and was literally falling apart in some places (see before pics below). I started searching for a solution to replace the wrap that was currently there and after several youtube videos and sailing forum threads, I was ready to try my hand at whipping.

I got the idea of using paracord from a sailing forum thread. It’s inexpensive, very strong and comes in hundreds of colors. For our 30″ (diameter) steering wheel, I used a spool of 250 feet and still had some left over. That spool on Amazon cost me about $26. The project took me a total of about 9 hours over two days. I spent about 3 hrs to remove the old wrap and prep the wheel. The next day, it took me about 6 hours to wrap the wheel. I added the turk’s head knot later on another day.

Be sure to check out the end of this post where for tips and video resources for this project.

Why would anyone want or need to wrap a steering wheel?

There are several reasons you might see a boat steering wheel wrapped. Below are a few reasons for wrapping your wheel.

  • Aesthetics – You might have an ugly wheel that you want to “dress up” to cover stains or marks, or you may simply like the looks of nicely wrapped wheel.
  • Function – A wrapped wheel adds texture and therefore better grip if your hands are sweaty or it’s raining. It can also add a bit more comfort as well.
  • Strengthening – A wheel that might have a few flaws or cracks can be wrapped to help with the structural integrity.

Removing the old wrapping

The first thing I had to do was remove the old wrap. While it was falling apart in some places, it wasn’t an easy task. It appears it was expertly wrapped and very tight around the wheel. I used a pick-like tool of Randy’s to wedge it in between the wraps and removed it a piece at a time. As I unwrapped the wheel, I noticed a large crack and several smaller ones in the stainless. Perhaps the wheel was wrapped originally to help strengthen and hold it together. I carefully removed the rest of the wrap and cleaned the wheel thoroughly. Some videos recommend polishing it but I didn’t bring any with me to the mountains. I made sure it was clean so that the paracord would be able to wrap tightly and have good contact with the stainless.

French whipping the steering wheel

Starting at the center of the wheel or rudder indicator, I started with a single half hitch and pulled it snug. I continued with the series of half hitches, making sure to always go in the same direction. Each hitch was snugged up against the previous one and I would pull the paracord in 2 different ways (back and forth) to make sure it was tight. I used a thick glove on the pulling hand to keep from getting blisters. When I got to the spokes, I just made sure to pack as many half hitches on one side before moving over the spoke to the next side. After I had completely wrapped the wheel, I cut the paracord and used a lighter to melt the ends and pressed the melted ends to the wheel using a flat knife.

Finishing the wheel with the Turk’s Head knot

Our steering wheel had a turk’s head knot indicating the center of the wheel. Since I started there at the center and ended there, the spiral didn’t line up and you could also see where I melted the ends. This didn’t matter since I was planning to tie a turk’s head knot there and it would cover it. I originally practiced with the same dark blue color but I didn’t like that there was no contrast. So I ordered another 25′ of a lighter blue from Amazon to use as the turk’s head. I really liked how it came out and the wheel showcases Blue Turtle’s colors.

My Project Tips and Resources

Tip #1: Don’t get discouraged. There are tons of videos books and tutorials out there to learn from. I must’ve watched the turk’s head knot tutorial 10 times before starting, then I watched and paused it every step of the way.

Tip #2: Before I started the project, I bought this book from Amazon about Outdoor Paracord Projects. It doesn’t show you how to whip a wheel, but it does show pictorial instructions on tying the half hitch, the turk’s head as well as other very useful knots. If you’ve never used paracord before like me, it also gives good info on handling paracord and types of tools that may be useful in projects.

Tip #3: Use good gloves. You will need them after repeatedly pulling on the cord for that long. Even with the gloves, my hands were still sore after.

Tip #4: When wrapping the half hitches, make sure the cord doesn’t get twisted. It will twist on its own so try to keep it untangled and untwisted. A twist in the paracord will make the knot look odd and not lie flat as it should.

This is by far the best turk’s head tutorial I’ve found on youtube

I was so impressed with how well this project came out. Other than the investment of time, the project’s total cost was $45.50 for the 2 colors of paracord and book. FINALLY, a boat project that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! We can’t wait to get back to Blue Turtle to install the wheel and start using it.

This project has led to other paracord projects as well. I’ve made myself a watch band for my Apple watch and have paracord on order to make a new leash for our pup Sophie. I think it’s going to have many other uses once back on Blue Turtle, like lanyards, zipper pulls and other items. Learning new knots is not a bad thing when you live on a sailboat!

My Apple watch band made out of paracord, using the soloman bar

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