Steering straightJun 25, 2014
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Steering manifold with bypass valve labeled.
It is also possible to have a hydraulic oil leak. If so your reservoir oil will show a lower level, and the first place to look is the hydraulic cylinder and ram. Ram seals can get tired over time and weep oil. The hard and soft plumbing hoses used to route the hydraulic oil have connections and valves that can leak, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on all of your hydraulic runs and look for tell-tale oil pools. Track down leaks looking for drips or puddles, make the fix and then use a small funnel and some correct weight steering oil (two more important tools to have aboard) to refill the reservoir. Then pump up the air pressure to the appropriate needle reading. You may need to purge air out of the entire system when you add oil. To do this you open your bypass valve and spin the steering wheel in one direction for 100 turns, then switch directions for another 100 turns before closing the bypass.
You also have several mounting connections that require regular inspection. Where the ram attaches to the rudder post tiller arm you will find a series of nuts and bolts, make sure all of the nuts are tight. Also check the fastener connections that clamp the tiller arm to the rudder post. The rudder bearing support bar and the stainless steel attachments that make up the rudder support box all have adjustable connections, be sure to check that all of them are properly tightened at the beginning of the season. When you know your fasteners are tight and secure you can make a simple straight line permanent ink mark to indicate separation if the fittings loosen, providing you a visual warning.
A steering oil reservoir equipped with an air pressure gauge and oil level windows.
Most neglected through-hull
Probably the most neglected through-hull on any trawler is the rudder post (posts on a twin) where there is a vertical “shaft log” with an adjustable bronze coupling and stuffing box with flax packing (very similar to your main engine shaft through-hulls). These connections do not experience the type of wear and tear that the constant rotational friction a propeller shaft imposes on a stuffing box, but the rudder shaft logs are equally important. Regularly confirm that all of the connections that run the length of the rudder column up to the bearing in the rudder box are free from showing signs of wear and tear.
Familiarization with your trawler steering system’s working components, like greasing the rudder bearing, checking rudder stops (which prevent out-of-control hard over turns) and inspecting the upper and lower rudder connections during your next haul out will help ensure safer operations. You should also be familiar with your autopilot. You will most likely have different parameters for running into head seas vs. sliding along with following seas. There is also a direct interaction between your autopilot and your active fin stabilizers as the two different systems can “fight” for course control and you need to drill down into the pilot and fin menus to quickly optimize their settings for varying sea conditions.
The steering ram cylinder needs a clear area to go through its full stroke. Make sure no loose items can fall into this space and block it.
Count how many turns your hard over “lock-to-lock” is and practice getting back to a centered helm (you can verify with your autopilot rudder angle indicator). Steering your trawler involves a lot more than just turning the helm, take some time to learn how everything works and make sure you know the location of all of the components in your system to ensure you remain relatively trouble free and on the straight and narrow path to your next destination.
Jeff Merrill, CPYB, is the president of Jeff Merrill Yacht Sales and a veteran yacht broker who provides individual attention and worldwide professional representation to buyers and sellers of premium brand, oceangoing trawlers. Merrill is active in the cruising community as a public speaker and writer and enjoys spending time at sea with clients. Merrill is constantly looking for new ideas to improve and simplify the trawler lifestyle. If you have a suggestion or want to get in touch please e-mail Merrill at: firstname.lastname@example.org.