Southern Charm and Boater Store Hydraulic Steering

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Troubleshoot Your Hydraulic Steering System

Steps to troubleshoot hydraulic steering problems

If your steering is harder than you think it should be.

Remember that unless you have a power-assist steering pump that is attached to the engine (like your car) or electrically driven in a seperate unit, you do not have power steering, simply hydraulic steering. Hydraulic steering generally makes turning the steering wheel much easier than manual steering, but it is almost never ‘one finger’ steering. Most vessels under 35 feet in length will not have power-assist.

If you just purchased this vessel, try to ascertain from the previous owner whether the steering was always hard or if this is a new problem.

If you have owned this vessel since it was new and the steering has gotten harder over time, go through the following steps:

  1. Make certain that there are no kinks in the hoses of your steering system
  2. Make sure you have a full reservoir of fluid.
  3. Remove the bolt(s) that attach the steering cylinder to your engine, outdrive, or rudder and attempt to turn your engine, outdrive, or rudder by hand.  If it moves freely, turn the steering wheel and see if it is still hard to turn while the cylinder is still disconnected..
  4. If the wheel turns very easily at this point and your engine, outdrive, or rudder also turns very easily, Lube all the fittings on the engine, outdrive, or rudder as preventative maintenance and re-attach the cylinder.
  5. If the wheel is still hard to turn, even with no forward or reverse motion of the vessel and the engine out of gear, while the cylinder is disconnected from the rudder tiller or the outboards, try to turn the rudder or outboards by hand. If they are hard to turn you will need to correct that problem by lubing the outboard motor couplings or fixing the too tight rudder on an inboard. Frequently we find the stuffing box nut is so tight that the rudder will not turn.

If you turn the wheel and the engine, outdrive, or rudder turns slowly, only partway, or only in one direction: probably your cylinder needs to be serviced and re-sealed.

If your steering is slow or ‘mushy’:  You probably have air in the system. Consult your owner’s manual for bleed instructions. You did not get air into the sealed system unless someone opened it or there is a leak somewhere.

You have a leak around the helm shaft behind the steering wheel: Your helm needs to be serviced and re-sealed. STOP! This is not a do-it-yourself job! Unless you are experienced at hydraulic repairs and specifically familiar with the inner workings of your brand of helm, we do not recommend that you attempt repairs in the field. Call us at 800-745-0765. Small leaks won’t prevent your system from operating as long as you keep the reservoir topped up with fluid, but you should not operate this way any longer than necessary to get back to port.

Bumpy helm operation, or if the wheel feels like it is jumping as you turn it: This can indicate air in the system. Try bleeding the system first. If this does not change it, there is probably trash in one of the check valves in the helm. This is not a do-it-yourself job.

If your boat drifts off course even though you are not changing the steering wheel or rudder angle: You may have a check valve in the helm that needs servicing or the cylinder needs servicing or both.


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