by Conrad & Judy Kreuter
Q: Dear Boat Talk: My steering wheel is much harder to turn this year than last season. What causes this and what can I do to fix it? PR, East Moriches NY.
A: Dear PR: The most common cause of hard steering is the lack of proper lubrication between the steering tube on the engine and the steering cable ram that passes through it. The steering tube is located on the front of the engine mounts and is used as an anchoring point for the engine end of the steering system. The steering cable connects the engine to the steering wheel and helm assembly under the dash. The helm assembly contains gears and bearing used to convert the rotary motion of the steering wheel into the linear motion required to turn the engine.
To properly lubricate the engine end of the steering system, you must withdraw the steering ram from the steering tube. Disconnect the steering link arm from the cable end, (usually the port side of the engine) and then remove the large nut on the starboard side of the engine anchoring the steering cable. On some boats the steering cable can now be removed from the tube. Other boats may require the removal of the engine from the transom to completely withdraw the steering cable. If you cannot get the steering ram out of the steering tube is would be wise to turn this job over to a professional.
To clean out the inside of the steering tube, use a small wire brush to scrape out years of accumulated rust, salt, and corrosion. Extend the steering cable by turning the steering wheel to expose the full length of the ram end. Wipe down the steering ram end with cleaner to take off the old grease and grime. Lubricate the cable end with marine grease.
If the problem was lack of lubrication, you will find it easy to turn the wheel to port and starboard without a lot of pressure. If the wheel turns easily you have solved the steering problem. Insert the cable end into the steering tube, tighten the large nut and fasten the steering link arm. To avoid future problems, this procedure should be done every year.
If you have done all the above and the steering wheel is still hard to turn, the steering system will need to be replaced.
In recent years, the price of a complete steering system has come down to a point where it is more expensive to replace just the cable that it is to replace the entire steering system. When you are buying a new system make sure you select the proper sized helm assembly for the horsepower rating of your engine. Some systems will only handle loads of small engines through 140 horsepower. High performance applications require special steering systems. Check with your marine dealer for help selecting the proper size.