Get clear steering Page 2

I’ve seen it happen many times. A boat turns in to the channel between two piers at a marina but then begins to veer off line. The skipper makes a small steering adjustment, followed by a larger one, and then he realizes that the wheel is no longer connected to the rudder. What comes next is often not pleasant, and it is why you need to check your steering system at least once a
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Rudder stops

Rudder stops prevent steering damage by limiting rudder travel. Although they can be made of rubber, wood, fiberglass, or even wire, they must be robust and they must seat squarely against the quadrant sides or disk-drive stop pin. Make sure you know what stops hold your rudder and that they are not damaged or misaligned.

Steering wires

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These should terminate at the rudder end with a cone-type mechanical fitting (Sta-Lok or Norseman) or in an eye secured around a stainless-steel thimble with dual compression sleeves. Wire rope clamps are common, but they are less trustworthy. If this is what you have, be sure that the pair of clamps on the wire are spaced about six times the wire diameter apart and that the U-bolts on the clamps are bearing against the bitter end of the wire. The cast portion of the clamp, called a saddle, must always be bearing on the standing part. Check all the nuts for tightness and the thimbles for wear or distortion.

Reassembly

Center the wheel so the chain is also centered, and then lock or tie the wheel. Reattach the wires to the disk or quadrant and tighten the take-up eyes so that the rudder is also centered. When the wires are tightened enough to straighten out, make sure they enter and leave each sheave from the center of the groove. Adjust if necessary.

For the final tension adjustment, tighten the adjustment nuts on the take-up eyes just enough so you can’t move the quadrant by hand—no tighter. After locking the take-up eyes with the second nuts, turn the helm hard over in both directions and make sure both wires remain under tension. If you set this wire tension when the boat is in the yard, also check it after the boat has been in the water for a few days. Some fiberglass hulls can change shape slightly, and that movement could tighten or loosen the wire cables.

Depending on your steering setup, the cables might be designed to cross inside the pedestal. If so, there’s a chance you might hook up the cables in reverse; turn the wheel and make sure the rudder is turning in the same direction.

When you have reassembled the pedestal and the boat is in the water, you’re ready for a test drive. If the steering passes your “feel” test when the boat is underway, turn the helm over to someone else and go below to the locker or cabin that provides access to the rudder, sheaves, and cables. With the boat moving at hull speed, have the helmsperson put the wheel hard over in both directions while you watch below to see whether anything is moving that should not be. Listen for creaks or other noises, and be sure nothing is stowed in the space that might become tangled in, or pressed onto, the steering cables.

Final checks

Despite the failure potential of all the links and pins, bolts, sheaves, and eyes in a cable-and-wire system, the truth is that most failures are due to wire fatigue. To inoculate your boat against this possibility you should replace the cables every five years—even if your annual checkout doesn’t show any broken strands in the wires. Replacing the wires involves pinning the new ones to the ends of the chain, feeding them through the sheaves, and then attaching the other ends to the quadrant’s take-up eyes. If you have a Nicopress tool you can make your own steering cables from 7 x 19 stainless wire rope.

Finally, you should check out the emergency tiller. If your steering should fail at the wrong time, an emergency tiller probably won’t help you much. But if you manage not to hit anything, the tiller is what will get you home, so make steering with it part of your annual maintenance ritual. If you’ve done all the other maintenance routines thoroughly, this will probably be the only time the emergency tiller ever gets used.

Don Casey and his wife, Olga, are back in the Caribbean aboard their 32-foot Seawind. International Marine has just published the latest revision of Casey’s popular book, This Old Boat.

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