Maintenance Tips for Hydraulic Steering Systems
One of the best things about hydraulic steering systems is how easy they are to maintain. The routine maintenance for a hydraulic steering kit mostly comes down to checking hoses and hydraulic fluid levels.
Here are some simple maintenance checks you should do on a boat's hydraulic steering system.
Inspect Hoses and Connections
Check the hydraulic hose connections at the helm pump and the steering cylinder for signs of leaks, and for any kinked or worn hoses. Also, check that the hydraulic fluid in the helm pump is at the correct level. If the fluid is at the correct level and the hoses show no signs of leaks or wear and tear, no further action is required.
Conduct a Steering Test
Feel how the boat is handling. Is the steering precise, or does it feel soft and slow? Check for any play between turning the wheel and the outboard’s response. Soft steering and play in the wheel are good indications of air in the hydraulic system. Bleed out any air in the system by opening the bleed valves in the steering cylinder (one at a time), and turning the wheel so the old hydraulic fluid and any trapped air is pumped out. Top off the helm with new hydraulic fluid as you’re doing this.
Tighten the Tiller Bolt
Check the tiller bolt, which keeps the outboard under control. If the bolt is loose and comes off, the torque of the engine would turn to full steering lock in a fraction of a second, which could cause a major accident. Put a wrench on the nyloc nut holding the tiller bolt to check that it’s tight. If the tiller bolt is loose, it’s better to replace the nyloc nut with a new one, because nyloc nuts aren’t designed to be used repeatedly.
Find and Fix Leaks
If a hydraulic hose has a leak, tighten the connection and check it again. Replace the hose if the leak persists, as well as any hoses that are kinked or worn.
If the steering cylinder seals are leaking, remove the steering cylinder rod from the cylinder and replace the seals with new ones before replacing the rod and bleeding the system.
Periodic Hydraulic Steering System Maintenance
- Every 6 months or 100 miles, check that all the fittings and fasteners are tight.
- Every 12 months or 200 miles, remove the steering support rod from the tilt tube, and clean and re-grease the rod and tube. Also, grease the tiller bolt (but don’t remove it) and the support bracket that holds the support rod and steering cylinder.
Follow these simple maintenance procedures and you should enjoy smooth, trouble-free control out of your boat’s hydraulic steering system. Isn’t that why you got hydraulic steering in the first place?