Steering System Woes

Steering System Woes
Steering cylinder shaft, seals and fittings should be cleaned and inspected regularly for leaks.
What do you do when the you turn the steering wheel and the boat does not respond?

This article applies to hydraulic steering systems as the majority of medium-to-large horsepower boats are equipped with hydraulic versus mechanical steering nowadays.

When this "lack of response" occurs, it has probably been growing worse over time and, quite often, complete steering loss comes suddenlymaybe miles from the dock. A symptom of impending steering failure is a subtle bump-bump-bump transmitted through the steering wheel. Your steering pump is getting low on fluid Do not ignore it!

The most common problem is air entering the system due to fluid leaking out and there are two main areas to inspect regularly. The steering cylinder on the outboard motor has shaft seals at each end. Though very durable, they are susceptible to wear and damage. Sand, salt, and other debris collecting on the shaft can act abrasively and destroy the integrity of the seals, possibly scar the shaft itself. Regular cleaning of the cylinder shaft and seal area goes a long way toward preventing this.

The 90 fittings on the body of the cylinder are also common sources of fluid leaks. These fittings (and the hydraulic lines) should be inspected regularly. Quite often we find them damaged or loose. It is sometimes possible for the cylinder and/or fittings and hoses to come in contact with the transom or some other object (ice chest, opened hatch cover, jack plate, etc) when the motor is tilted to the extreme full-up position.

Wiping your finger under each cylinder end cap will indicate a leak if a yellow film is detected. Likewise, any presence of fluid on fittings or hoses should be investigated immediately.

The hydraulic fluid reservoir is located in the steering helm. There is a filler plug located just behind the steering wheel at the top of the housing. Removing this plug will allow the use of a threaded squeeze-tube container to refill the system with marine hydraulic steering fluid. Tilt and trim fluid can be used in a pinch. Carrying a spare container of hydraulic steering fluid is good insurance should you encounter steering system failure on the water.

Chris Mapp
Coastal Bend Marine
Port O'Connor, TX
361 983 4841