How to Fix Boat Steering Problemsby Will Charpentier Updated October 25, 2017
Boat steering problems require a systematic approach, whether the problem be a tight steering wheel, a broken or damaged steering cable or a hesitation or “hitch” in the steering. Boat steering problems should be solved at the earliest opportunity ashore, just like steering problems in the family car need to be fixed before going on a trip.
Isolate the problem location. Start at one end of the steering system, usually the steering wheel, and work backward through the entire system. As you inspect, you may have to have another person turn the wheel so that you can see the effect on the element of the system being inspected.
Determine the nature of the problem. Is a part broken, bent or missing? If broken, replace it. If bent, can it be repaired? If missing, can it be replaced? The most frequent problems are stiff or frozen steering, problems with steering cables and problems with broken or missing pulleys.
Replace, repair or adjust elements as necessary. Frequently, problems can be solved with a simple bit of maintenance, like lubrication, but more complex problems, like broken pulleys or damaged cable in cable steering, or a damaged or broken pump or ram in hydraulic systems, can be fixed quickly by simply changing out the part that is not operating as it should. Changing out parts may seem expensive, but is usually more effective than trying to rebuild something that, once repaired, may break again.
Test your solutions. Again, have another person turn the wheel while you watch the results. If the problem persists, return to Step 1. You may have cured one problem, but there may be more than one problem with the steering. Evaluate and repair each separately.
Basic hand tools like wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers, should be sufficient for most boat steering problems. A long run of steering cable can be fished through tight spaces in the same way that electrical wires can be fished through a house wall.
As with any repair project, be aware of the hazards created by tight spaces and sharp objects or tools. Boats with hydraulic steering systems require specialized knowledge and tools; if your boat has a hydraulic steering problem, your dealer may be able to offer specific advice.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.