Mechanical Steering Cable - Examining and Replacing

Posted by Macomb Marine on

Mechanical Steering Cable - Examining and Replacing

Inspecting & Replacing a Mechanical Steering Cable

     Struggling with steering on a boat because of a stiff and unresponsive steering cable is no fun, it's important having a reliable, well-maintained steering system. Regular maintenance of the steering system will avoid the pains of difficult steering, and while replacing a boat steering cable can be challenging, it's a repair that is totally acheivable for the mechanically-inclined boat owner.
    Most recreational boats use either a hydraulic steering system or a mechanical steering system. In this article, the focus will be strictly on mechanical steering. 

Inspecting The Mechanical Steering System
     Regular inspection of the mechanical steering system is crucial to avoid problems when the boat is out on the water. Inspecting the steering components two or three times per year is sufficient to make certain the steering system is in good working condition.
     The steering components are heavily-used moving parts, regular wear and tear is common. It's recommended to check hardware at both the steering helm and the engine ends for wear, corrosion, or rust.
     Closely inspect the cable jacket for cracks, tears, cuts or corrosion. The most likely places for damage to occur is at the crimped ends of the cable. Steering cables are NOT repairable;  Always replace a damaged steering cable. If a cable is very difficult to move, it certainly should be replaced as it can be a safety hazard.

Removing a Boat Mechanical Steering Cable
Removing a steering cable is fairly straightforward. Disconnect the cable from the steering helm and from the engine using the proper wrench to loosen bolts that secure it. Prior to pulling the cable through the boat, tie a pull rope to the helm end of the cable (this allows pulling the new cable back through the boat without any trouble or frustration).

The proper way to remove the cable is to pull it through the boat from the engine end. Be careful not to pull the cable too hard or fast to prevent possibly damaging or dislodging the wiring harness inside the boat or even damaging the control box.

All modern cable manufacturers print the cable part number right on the jacket of the cable. Simply obtain the cable number from the cable jacket, and search for the number on our website.
With most brands, like Seastar Solutions and Uflex, the length of the cable is included as the last two digits of the part number (e.g. SSC13412 represents a 12-foot cable). Using the part number is the most accurate way of determining the cable length you need; however, if the parts number cannot be obtained, the cable will have to be measured.

Measuring a Boat Steering Cable
Measuring a steering cable correctly depends on the type of steering cable the boat has. To measure a rotary steering cable, lay the cable out completely straight and measure ONLY the cable jacket in inches. Then, add another 18 inches to that length, and then round up to the next foot.
To measure a rack & pinion steering cable, measure ONLY the cable jacket in inches. Then add another 30 inches to that length, and then round up to the next foot.
For JBS jet boat cables, measure the entire cable from tip to tip; round up to the next foot to get a whole foot length. If unsure of which style steering system the boat, please contact email or hire an experienced mechanic for assistance.

Replacing Your Boat Steering Cable
Simply tie the helm end to your pull rope. This time, pull on the pull rope from the helm side of the boat until the new steering cable has reached all the way to the helm.
Once again, be careful not to pull too hard or fast to avoid damaging any other components. Once the cable is through, bolt it to the helm and to the engine. Before attaching the telescoping ram to the engine, make sure that the tube is completely clean. Grease it liberally with a high-quality, water-resistant marine grease. Make sure to grease both the outside tube and the inner telescoping ram.
When attaching the cable to both the engine and the helm, make sure that all connections are tight. Test the boat's steering wheel to make sure there is no indication of tightness or binding, as well as any "sloppy" or excessive play in the steering.

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