Systems+Engines

Easy controls

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The twin-lever engine control on our Norlin 34, Ostara, had been annoying me for as long as we’d had the boat. The detent was so worn that it was sometimes not possible to tell if you were in neutral or reverse gear. More than once I had been alerted by yells from the neighboring boats as Ostara sidled crablike around her mooring, pulled by the prop walk of the engine ticking over in reverse. The need to juggle separate throttle and gear levers in the confines of a marina seemed silly and unseamanlike. In the heat of the moment, it was easy to try to change gears with the throttle still open—which is not good for the transmission.

The last straw came on launch day this year, when I tried to engage forward gear and nothing happened. We had to be ignominiously towed out to the mooring by the yard workboat. Once there, I discovered that the bracket securing the cable to the twin-lever control had broken. It was all the excuse I needed to upgrade to a single-lever control. There are various makes of these, and they all work on the same principle, allowing seamless, one-handed throttle and gear operation. Most, like the Teleflex model I chose, also have a neutral button that when depressed allows the throttle to be opened for starting without engaging the gears.

Ostara’s previous owner had installed a new Yanmar 2GM diesel but (I suspect because of sticker shock) had retained the old engine controls. The cables, however, looked as new as the engine. The existing controls were on the starboard side of the cockpit, as is traditional, but they were next to the large plywood-covered hole that had been left when the old engine instrument panel was removed. When this is filled in with a fiberglass sheet (next winter’s project), there would be no access to that part of the boat, which would make maintenance impossible. So I decided to install the new control on the port side, where we could access the cables easily via the cockpit locker.

Total project time: 2 hours
Skill level: Easy
Tools you will need:

  • Cordless drill
  • Drill Saw
  • File
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Screwdriver

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