Boat Steering Systems

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Boating Know How
boat steering systems pro's and con's

Pros and Cons of Each Steering System

In boating, there are typically three styles of steering: rack and pinion, rotary, and hydraulic. Each steering system is built with different advantages that cater to a variety of boat and ... read more engine applications. Each system has unique characteristics and features that set them apart and makes them useful under varying circumstances. They are set apart most notably by the shape of the component behind the helm. It is suggested that when replacing steering systems, you should replace it with the system that was originally installed. Rack and pinion systems should be replaced with a rack and pinion only, rotary with rotary, and hydraulic with hydraulic. There are many scenarios to consider with every steering system that will help boaters decide which will work the best for their requirements.

Rack and Pinion

Rack and pinion systems take on a long rectangular shape “rack” behind the helm. Many boaters will agree that rack and pinion steering is easier to control. Fewer components and pieces are required in a rack and pinion steering system, making it more straightforward and efficient. The construction is very basic, with a pinion gear attached directly into the helm shaft engaging a rack gear in the housing. However, while there are many advantages to rack and pinion steering, there are some setbacks as well. For instance, rack and pinion systems are more susceptible to damage upon impact, and because of the long housing rack, it will not fit behind many dashboards.

Rotary

Rotary style steering has a circular casing behind the helm and works best for smaller engine applications that are below 150 horsepower. Rotary steering systems are more adaptable in construction, allowing component installation to accommodate for tight space constraints behind the dashboard. The angling in rotary steering is a lot more precise and responsive than rack and pinion steering. On the other hand, rotary steering systems are usually more expensive than rack and pinion systems, as well as heavy.

Hydraulic

Hydraulic steering, the final of the three main steering systems, has a round shape behind the helm and is very accessible and easy to steer. Hydraulic steering systems are primarily recommended for larger engines that are over 150 horsepower due to their superior strength and durability. Hydraulic steering hoses are color coded in red for the port (left) side of the boat and green for the starboard (right) side of the boat, making identification easier for installation. However, it is important to remember that hydraulic systems are not completely indestructible; systems with liquids prone to leakage if not maintained properly. Also, incorrect installation and overfilling the helm with liquid could potentially cause damage to the boat or engine.

Each of these steering systems is unique in their respects, fulfilling different purposes under different circumstances and requirements. As previously mentioned, it is crucial in cases of replacing the entire system or its components is to replace it with the same type of system or consult with a mechanic or a local technician as changes from the original system may affect handling of the boat.
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