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Marine How-To: Taking Care of Hydraulic Steering

Marine How-To: Taking Care of Hydraulic Steering

Hydraulic steering is an oft-overlooked part of the maintenance process. Without it, though, you’ll be in for a bad day on the water. Understanding how to maintain this type of steering requires not only understanding the basic maintenance processes, but also understand a bit about how hydraulic steering works.

What is Hydraulic Steering?

Basic hydraulic steering is a three-part machine. There is a ram that connects to the outboard engine (or rudder), a pump that includes a reservoir for hydraulic oil, and a series of connecting lines that transmit input from the pump to the ram. It’s not actually a very complicated system, and that’s by design – once you have the system installed, it’s meant to be forgotten. You should have to think about the mechanics of steering when you are in the water and for the most part, these systems just work as intended. 

If you want to see hydraulic steering in action, you can find a simple form of the system on most small powerboats. These boats tend to have a either a single outboard engine or a few engines linked together, and they’re typically controlled by a simple single console. If you move up to bigger boats, you’ll see much more complicated systems – autopilots, power steering, and even multiple helms will start coming into play. The basics of this kind of steering will continue to be very important, though.


The good news for those who have ignored their steering systems for years is that this won’t usually cause a major problem. With that said, checking out the system should be on your yearly maintenance checklist. It’s one part of your boat that should last for a very long time, especially if you take care of it on a regular basis. 

So, where should you start? Generally, it’s with the ram. Take a look at the seals – if the shaft is wet, you might have a problem. Wipe it down and check it again after going through a single steering cycle. If it’s wet again, you have leaky seals and you’ll need to replace them. A bad seal can lead to corrosion as well, so make sure you don’t see any pitting on the shaft. The last thing you want is a hydraulic fluid leak. 

Next, you’ll want to take a look at the hydraulic reservoir, which is located at the helm. Remove the cap to take a sample of the oil – it’s easy enough that almost anyone can do it. What you want to see is clear, basically odorless hydraulic steering fluid. This fluid is full of various ingredients that are meant to keep the system running in good shape. If you see black oil or you notice a strong smell, there’s a good chance that you have a problem. 
If you find any kind of particulate matter in the oil, you’ll need to flush the entire system and replace the oil. Abrasive dirt is a huge problem in these systems and it most commonly hangs around after installation. If it’s noticeable, there’s a good chance that it could enter the system and cause problems. Don’t chance major damage – go ahead and flush out the system. 

Flushing out the system should also be done on a regular basis. Make sure to flush out the system about once every five years, while making sure to pay attention to any air bubbles the form. If you take your boat to a service yard, they’ll get the job done in a few minutes.

Now that you’re done looking at the oil, you’ll want to look at the helm again. Pay attention to how the wheel feels when it is turned. If it feels spongy, there might be air in the system. If you’ve purged everything and you know that the air has been removed, this is a good way to find a leak. The leak can be in the ram or the steering pump, both of which are hard to pinpoint visually. Problems turning will give you a good idea of whether or not this kind of damage is a possibility. 

Another fantastic way to find leaks is to see if you need to add oil to the reservoir. The oil in hydraulic steering isn’t used up, so a loss of oil means that there is a leak somewhere. If you’re missing oil, you’ll need to go back and check for leaks again.

Finally, take a moment to look at all the hoses and connections. These areas need to be cleaned off at least once a year. If there’s any wetness at the connections, there might be issues with the plastic hoses. They’re relatively tough under most circumstances, but those that are showing signs of leakage or damage do need to be replaced. 

Moving Past Hydraulics

Hydraulic steering isn’t the only game on the water these days. There are also electronic steering, which is becoming more common in newer boats. Electronic steering uses electrical signals to turn the pump on and off, relegating the hydraulic steering system to just part of the overall process. Far from being tougher on boats, this type of steering has actually made steering even more robust, making it easy to add in features like autopilot with relative ease. You can even add a second steering station with just a little effort, as the complexities of the traditional hydraulic systems are slowly becoming a thing of the past. 

Even those in that manufacture hydraulic steering admit that boating is moving towards a combination of electric and hydraulic. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your maintenance now – if you’re noticing problems with your hydraulic system, it might be smarter to replace the entire system (or boat) than to seek out parts of a system that’s past its prime. If you’re having problems with an old steering system, it’s probably worth your time to replace the steering entirely. It’s not the world’s most difficult DIY project and it might be easier than keeping up with hydraulic maintenance.

5 Pointers to Keep Your Boat in Tip Top Shape While in Storage

5 Pointers to Keep Your Boat in Tip Top Shape While in Storage

A boat is a great way to have loads of fun throughout the summer months, but once temperatures start dropping, the time comes to place it in storage for the winter months ahead. Your boat can withstand the harsh conditions of winter by doing a few simple things before placing it in storage at the marina. These are five tips that can help you avoid significant gradual damage to your boat (or jet ski) as it remains in storage during winter.

1. Take It For a Spin

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to get one last morsel of enjoyment out of your boat before storing it for the winter months, but you’ll also want to take your boat for a cruise to observe any possible operational or physical problems. Fixing problems before putting your boat in storage can help prevent headaches later in spring when the weather has already taken a long term toll on your boat. After all, cold temperatures can worsen many problems with boats. 

2. Give Your Boat a Good Cleaning

Once you’ve removed your boat from the water, it’s a good time to begin thoroughly cleaning and preparing the vessel for storage. A great way to start is by removing the bilge drain plug, and then giving the hull a meticulous scrub-down, along with the decks. It’s imperative to clean off as much grime, gunk, and barnacles as possible, as there could be a lot if you used your boat frequently throughout the summer. Also, you should focus on the thru-hulls, seacocks, and strainers. Also, don’t forget about your boat’s interior. You don’t want to pull your boat out of storage in the spring only to find a lunch that was left to spoil for several months. Yikes!

3. Dry Your Boat as Much as Possible

Before placing the boat in storage, it’s incredibly important to get it as dry as possible. You’ll want to drain it completely, and if you’re finding it’s taking a bit longer than usual, consider elevating the bow. If too much moisture is left over on/in the boat, it can freeze, expand, and potentially damage certain areas of the vessel. Be sure to stuff the cabin and various nooks and compartments with moisture control bags to help keep it away. 

4. Perform Routine Maintenance

  • Replace the oil. Maintenance is imperative to ensure that your boat lasts through the winter with no damages. Remaining idle while in poor shape and enduring cold temperatures is a recipe for disaster. You can easily prevent a mishap by replacing the boat’s oil. Even if you believe the oil currently inside the boat is still good, consider that it can easily accumulate acid/water over time. If these contaminants are left in your oil, it can easily lead to engine damage. As your replacing the oil, don’t forget to also change out the filter.
  • Replace the antifreeze. It’s a good idea to give your boat new coolant before it embarks on the winter months. The last thing you want to do is send your boat to sit in cold temperatures with weak or no coolant. Therefore, you should do a complete replacement of the boat’s antifreeze by totally flushing it with water and adding new coolant. Keep in mind that you should also dilute the antifreeze in accordance with your boat’s specifications.
  • Use fogging oil. Your engine will have an easier time of withstanding winter when you also use fogging oil. Start by turning the boat key, but don’t actually start the boat. While the key is in this position, use fogging oil and apply it to the carburetor or spark plug holes. Your boat’s manual will provide more clarification on where this should be applied. Doing this simple step will help the preservation of your engine’s parts through the colder months.
  • Replace the fuel filters. A fuel filter is a filter in the fuel line that screens out dirt and rust particles from the fuel, normally made into cartridges containing a filter paper. 
  • Prepare your drive belts. You have two options when it comes to your drive belts: you can either loosen them up or remove them completely. Of course, removing them entirely will provide the best results, but even loosening will at least relieve the pressure on them for several months ahead. If they are left under pressure through winter, they can become susceptible to cracking.
  • Check on a few more things. Be sure to grease up the control/steering components of your boat, and ensure that they move freely and easily. Disconnect the boat’s battery and add a small amount of distilled water to it. Also, top of your gas tank before storage. If it’s left in storage with nothing in it, the walls of the tank can corrode from condensation.

5. Wax the Boat And Cover It

Lastly, you should give your vessel a good waxing. It’s a nice feeling to wax your boat, but it also provides preventative measures against corrosion. Lastly, wrap your boat with its cover and send it off to storage!

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Maneuvering Your Boat Into A Slip The Right Way

Maneuvering Your Boat Into A Slip The Right Way

All over the United States, as well as across the globe, many boaters put their crafts in what is known as boat slips. What we call the sea’s narrow “parking spaces” are a bit larger than the boat that space holds. Boat slips also give boaters a somewhat reasonable option for storage in a marina. Boat slips get commonly edged with a few poles that get driven beneath the water. These slips require a bit of skill to maneuver and each boat has their own unique marine system.

1st Step: Slowly come to the marina in your boat so that you don’t make a wave. Ensure that your speed is above an idle that, when you coast into your marina with boats, will tend to feel a lot faster. Put your boat’s engine in neutral while you sit at a minimum of 100 feet from your slip. Then coast the remainder of the wat on the momentum that you built while you were going in the slip.

2nd Step: Position your boat’s wheel towards the slip when you get within at least a boat’s length of the space. When your boat coasts, it won’t react as fast as it usually does. Therefore, you will need to exaggerate the turn so that it heads in the correct direction. Make sure that the nose of the boat faces the back of your intended slip. Put your hand on the boat’s throttle for any adjustments that you might need to make. If you made a perfect turn, your boat’s back end should slide a bit. This sliding will make your boat parallel to the posts. When you get to this point, you should go to the next step. If this didn’t happen, go to step 4. 

3rd step: At this point, you can wait until your boat floats into its position, or you can hold onto the poles and slide in your boat by pulling and pushing it when needed. Just get ready to stop your boat with your own hands or some reverse thrust with your boat’s throttle before you hit the wall. 

4th step: If you operate your boat by yourself, take your boat’s throttle and steer it to correct your slide. You will only need to touch your stick slightly. It can even cause problems if you overdo it. Bursting forward will slide your boat further if the wheel is in the slip-ward position. A backward burst with your wheel positioned in the opposing direction will make your boat pull from the entrance of the slip and straighten on its own. If you have an experienced guest on the boat with you, have them hold onto the closest pole and pull in the boat that way. 

Final step: Put a rope around the front of the pole. Tie it on the cleat in front by slipping it over both of the ends. Pass it through the loop two times. Do the same actions at the back cleat and pole.