It is almost winter and it may be time to check all of the components of your boat that are often times forgotten about. Your boat’s steering system is no exception. Whether outfitted with a hydraulic, geared, draglink, or a chain and cable system, winter time is a great time to have the boats steering works inspected. If you are hauling the boat it may even be a good idea to disassemble the rudder post, drop the rudder or rudders altogether and service them. This will give you the opportunity to clean and repack bearings, undo frozen screws, and if nothing else give yourself a peace of mind that you have taken care of this. Unless you are mechanically savvy yourself, know what to look for, and are totally comfortable with this type of work, it is best to seek the counsel of an experienced professional.
Although all sailboats should be equipped with emergency tillers, steering (much like standing rigging) is not something to take lightly. Steering failure can be detrimental to the boat, the crew, and even others sharing the waterways. If the system hasn’t been serviced in a while, or the boat is new to you, or is beginning to make strange noises, or just plain doesn’t feel right, it is time to call someone. In most cases, inspections or even a full service can come at a fraction of the cost to the alternative.
In regards to how often this should be done – well, that all depends on how much you use the boat, what conditions you typically use the boat in, and what type of system that your boat uses. We, at The Rigging Company, recommend that ALL steering systems get inspected regularly….maybe even every year, depending on use.
For specific tips and tricks in dealing with your system, be sure to check out some of the maintenance guidelines from Edson Marine, a globally respected manufacturer of yacht steering systems since the mid-1800’s.
A cable system should be serviced every 2-3 years and the cables be replaced every 5. If utilizing a cable and chain system make sure to inspect and service the system in its entirety; from the chain beneath the binnacle, to eye bolts that fasten the wire to the quadrant, and all idlers, pulleys, clevis pins, conduits, and cotter pins along the way.
A hydraulic system should be serviced as needed, i.e. seal leaks, dry-rotted hoses, etc. For easy inspection of hydraulic systems, the external components should be well cleaned and wiped down; even the locker or lazarette that contains these components should be clean and freshly painted, so that even the slightest leaks become instantly noticeable and can be fixed immediately .
The mechanical steering arm or draglink systems prove to be very low maintenance, but just like anything else make sure you inspect the system and any moving parts, i.e. ball joints/pivots regularly.