Captain’s Test: Boat Steering Systems

Improve your knowledge of basic steering systems.

March 5, 2018
Captain's Test: Boat Steering Systems
Captain’s Test: Boat Steering Systems Courtesy West Marine

Your boat’s steering system is one of the most critical systems on the boat; lose your steering, you lose direction — and in a difficult situation, loss of steering could mean catastrophic results. Let’s look at some basic steering-system knowledge.

1. What should you do to a hydraulic steering system at least once per season?
A. Drain all hydraulic fluid and refill with fresh.
B. Remove old hydraulic hoses and replace with new ones.
C. Check the system for air, and bleed out excess air bubbles if necessary.
D. Check the system for binding, corrosion and fluid leaks.
E. A and B.
F. C and D.

2. What should you do to any steering system as part of annual maintenance?
A. Nothing, it needs no maintenance.
B. Lubricate any grease fittings.
C. Remove the system from the boat for storage.
D. Check for leaking hydraulic fluid, leaking fittings, corrosion or binding; top off fluid and bleed any excess air.
E. A and C.
F. B and D.


3. High-performance offshore-type steering systems typically use wing plates to attach hydraulic steering rams to the drive or outboard. Why do they do this as opposed to attaching the hydraulic ram to the standard steering arm at the front of the engine/drive unit?
A. To reduce the chance for steering “slop”; by attaching the ram to a plate that’s attached directly to the drive or powerhead, the movement inherent in the engine mounts is eliminated, making the system faster to react and more positive.
B. So the engine/drive can tilt and trim easier.
C. The engine/drive can turn farther lock to lock this way.
D. None of the above.

4. When you turn the steering wheel to starboard, which way should the front of the engine or drive turn?
A. To starboard.
B. To port.
C. Backward.
D. None of the above.

5. What is the best type of steering system for a fast (60-plus mph) single outboard V-hull?
A. A single push-pull mechanical cable system.
B. A dual-cable mechanical system.
C. A dual-cable, no-feedback mechanical system.
D. A high-performance hydraulic system.


1. F. C and D. These are basic maintenance tasks with hydraulic systems.

2. F. B and D. These are basic annual maintenance tasks for all types of steering systems.

3. A. The wing plates connect the steering system directly to the drive/powerhead, bypassing the rubber engine mounts, which eliminates them as a source of play or slop in the system. This makes the setup more responsive, which can be critical in high-speed, rough-water driving.


4. B. When you turn the steering wheel to starboard, the front of the engine/drive will turn to port — and the rear of the engine/drive/propeller will point to starboard, so it’s thrust will turn the boat to starboard.

5. D. While dual-cable mechanical systems are tried-and-true and offer good feedback and control, they often tire the driver out because they require a high degree of steering effort. High-performance hydraulic systems offer good boat control and feel combined with ease of steering effort at all speeds.


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