Hydraulic boat steering allows for easier and safer handling of high-speed boats and high-torque engines. Maintaining a steady course, thanks to the elimination of feedback, is much more simple because zero steering effort is necessary until the driver actually wants to turn the rudder or engine. Several manufacturers, including SeaStar Solutions, offer quality hydraulic boat steering kits, which come fully complete and are easy-to-install. You can find parts to fit virtually any commercial or pleasure boat’s hydraulic steering system needs.
How Does Hydraulic Boat Steering Work?
(SeaStar, BayStar): Two-line manual hydraulic boat steering systems use a helm pump to directly move the hydraulic cylinder. During operation, a clockwise turn of the boat’s steering wheel will force hydraulic fluid from the helm pump unit into the boat’s starboard side hydraulic line. The fluid is then be pumped into the cylinder which causes the cylinder rod to either retract or extend. Incoming steering fluid pushes a small piston that is attached to an external rod. The rod is then either retracted or extended as the piston is moved, and the vessel then turns. Outgoing hydraulic steering fluid from the other cylinder’s other end is returned to the helm by way of the system’s port side line.
Hynautic, also referred to as three-line manual steering systems, are pressurized boat steering systems which contain a separate reservoir along with a pressure-relief valve. Hynautic steering systems are often found on pleasure and work boats up to 70 feet. Helm systems are more simple, because they don’t contain the relief valve or reservoir. Instead of filling at the helm, the hydraulic steering fluid fills at a remote reservoir. Hynautic steering systems often use a type of soft refrigeration copper tubing, rather than nylon hose.
Power assist steering systems are usually used on outboard boat motors 150hp and above. You will find them most commonly on triple or twin engine applications, pontoon boats, boats, bass boats, or power catamarans. Power assist steering systems use an on-demand, electronically-controlled hydraulic pump which gives the boat a steering feel that is easy and very similar to what you are used to in your car.
Power steering systems on boats are most often found on larger boats that require a bigger steering system which can handle higher loads.
Hydraulic Boat Steering Kits
Hydraulic Boat Steering Problems
Just as with any other system on a boat, there can be hydraulic boat steering problems. One of the main hydraulic boat steering problems is leaks. To many, random oil messes or drips of motor oil in the boat’s bilge are usually considered the status quo with hydraulics. “Not any more”, says Jim Reynolds of Hydrosports. “When you need to add around a teaspoon or more of fluid, there no doubt is a leak which should be located ASAP.”
This issue has been considerably reduced, however, thanks to today’s availability of specialty hoses and modern, high tech fittings.
Here are a few tips to help prevent hydraulic boat steering problems.
• Even small drops of oil should be traced and noted. Do this by laying an oil absorbent 3M mat around and/or under each of the cylinders to clearly see if any type of leak has started.
• Stick with one brand of connections and hoses for all fittings to help prevent small variances in mating faces.
• Ensure that you secure all the system hoses away from possible chafe points. This is because hydraulic hose tends to move slightly when there is a change of pressure (like when you turn the helm) and every time the hose moves, it can cause chafe that will eventually lead to a fluid leak.
• You shouldn’t lean on the steering wheel. The boat’s steering wheel is merely hanging onto the center rod of the helm pump. When you put weight on the boat steering wheel while turning, the steering shaft will at some point wear out, causing a fluid leak.
• Utilize a tiny piece of 3M oil absorbent mat and tie it around each of the fittings. This will give you an early indication should any leaks develop, and it also absorbs the drip before it reaches the bilge.
• Use greased tape to wrap up any and all all externally exposed hydraulic fittings. Denso Tape can be purchased for cheap at Amazon.
Installing Hydraulic Boat Steering