3 Handling Problems Hydraulic Steering Corrects
Hydraulic steering for a boat helps remedy some common handling problems that can make navigating the waters a jarring trek.
If your boat is experiencing the following handling problems, it might be time to upgrade to a hydraulic steering system:
- Steering wheel turns violently in one direction under rapid acceleration or hole shot
- Steering wheel is harder to turn toward port or starboard, but easier to turn in the opposite direction
- Steering wheel is always difficult to turn, and steering is always heavy
These common symptoms may be the product of torque steering, a worn mechanical steering system, or engine power above the capacity of the steering system’s capabilities. Whatever the root cause, a hydraulic steering system remedies them all.
Torque Steer Correction
Torque steer is the effect of the rotation of the propeller and the driveshaft being transmitted back to the steering wheel, and causing it to turn in the same direction as the prop’s rotation.
Example: Bring the boat to a stop, then take your hands off the wheel and open up the throttle. If the wheel whips around and forces the boat into a sharp turn, that’s torque steer.
Torque steer is caused by the steering cable providing a mechanical link between the outboard and the steering wheel. A mechanical link allows forces to be transferred through it both ways: in this case from the wheel to the motor in the form of steering input, and from the motor to the wheel in the form of torque.
A hydraulic steering system relies on fluid, so there’s no solid link from the outboard to the wheel. The hydraulic system only allows force to travel through it in one direction: in this case from the wheel to the motor in the form of steering input. Forces can’t travel back through the hydraulic system from the motor to the wheel. By curing torque steer, a hydraulic steering system keeps a boat far more stable during hole shot or under rapid acceleration.
Steering Bias Correction
Steering bias can be the result of a worn mechanical steering system, torque steer or both.
Example: Turning the wheel one way requires a lot more force than turning it the other way.
Mechanical steering cables are metal cables within protective outer shielding. The two drawbacks to this sort of design is that over time the grease that lubricates the cable hardens and no longer provides lubrication, and the cable itself corrodes. Either of those factors will cause a steering cable to stick, and when combined the effects are even worse. A corroded or non-lubricated cable will often be harder to turn in one direction than the other, which causes steering bias. With no mechanical cable to get corroded or stuck, a hydraulic steering system prevents steering bias from occurring in the first place.
Heavy Steering Correction
Although heavy steering can be caused by a worn or corroded mechanical steering cable, it more commonly occurs when the power of the outboard is too much for the mechanical steering to cope with.
Example: A boat rated for 300HP has a pair of Yamaha F175HP outboards, giving a total of 350HP available on tap, so the power exceeds the boat’s design specs.
The drawback to a mechanical steering system is that the turning force delivered to the outboard will only be as much as is applied to the steering wheel. A hydraulic system, on the other hand, multiplies the force applied to the steering wheel, so the turning force delivered to the outboard is greater than the force put into the wheel. In other words, if a 225HP outboard running at 4,000 RPM requires a force of 35 foot-pounds to turn it, you must turn the wheel with at least 35 foot-pounds of physical force with a mechanical steering system. With a hydraulic system, however, you may only need to apply 10 foot-pounds of force to the wheel.
Choose Hydraulic Steering
If your boat is experiencing excessive torque steer, you should definitely upgrade to a hydraulic steering system. Even if all you have is a worn mechanical steering cable and slightly biased steering, the problem is only going to get worse. Eventually you’ll need to either replace the cable or upgrade to hydraulic steering, but the long-term benefit of upgrading is smoother, lighter and more responsive handling, so the investment is worth it.