Ask the Experts | Selecting a Steering System for Your Boat
Sponsored by UFLEX USA Marine Steering and Control Products
Choosing the appropriate system for your boat can sometimes be confusing because of the variety of steering systems available. There are 3 basic steering types: Mechanical Rotary, Mechanical Rack and Hydraulic that cover most of the styles of recreational powerboats. The Mechanical Rotary and Mechanical Rack are available in standard or Zerotorque Feedback versions.
Selecting among these options is dependent upon the speed and handling characteristics of your particular boat. If your boat is an outboard or if it has a sterndrive without power steering, you need to consider steering systems that reduce the rudder torque feedback that you feel while driving your boat.
Feedback is that constant effort you have to put on the steering wheel just to go straight, and it is why it takes more effort to steer one direction than the other. The amount of feedback depends on the boat, the propeller and the steering system in the boat. Generally speaking, the faster you are going the more amount of effort you have to put on the steering wheel to keep the boat going straight.
Mechanical Rotary Steering Systems
Uflex offers a rotary system featuring a “Planetary Gear Design” with 6 contact points which distributes steering feedback more evenly and effectively throughout the helm. The result is a reduction in the amount of effort needed to steer the boat straight or into the direction of the steering torque. The Uflex Planetary Gear Design also spreads the wear of the steering direction changes over a wider wear area which reduces overall wear and the correspondent lost motion. The competitively priced complete system from Uflex is called the Rotech. It includes a helm, bezel and cable and is a direct replacement for competing rotary systems requiring no new holes in the dash.
This system contrasts conventional systems which have been widely used by boat builders with a single contact gear. These brands and types can transmit higher torque loads to the steering wheel. And, the single contact point can eventually lead to lack of responsive steering as the two gears wear and lost motion becomes evident in the system.
For boats with moderate torque loads you may wish to upgrade to system with a clutch or gears which automatically lock out the steering torque while the system is not active being turned. There are a few brands of “No Feedback” systems in the market. Uflex offers the Accura with the same Planetary Gear Design but in a ZeroTorque configuration, which does not require any consistent effort on the steering wheel to keep the boat going straight. A special spring clutch holds the steering system on its intended course until the next change in the direction is initiated by the driver.
Mechanical Rack Steering Systems
Rack and Pinion steering systems are generally found on boats where space between the drivers knees and the steering helm is limited. Racks were particularly common in the early 70’s on ski boats where the freeboard of the boats were very small. Today’s boats generally have enough space to fit a rotary helm, and rack systems are less popular as OEM installed steering as a consequence. Rotary systems are also replacing racks in many aftermarket applications.
Rack and Pinion systems have the similar design issues as conventional rotary helms. Accordingly, all the steering loads are transmitted to one contact point and there is uneven wear in the system.
For boats that do have space constraints, Uflex offers the Racktech steering package that consists of a helm, bezel and steering cable. The ZeroTorque version of the Uflex rack and pinion is the Accutech, which features a spring clutch to allow for smooth transition in and out of the ZeroTorque mode.
If you have a boat that has the space, it is recommended to take advantage of the Planetary Gear Designed rotary helms to reduce feedback and to improve longevity of the helm.
Hydraulic Steering Systems
Hydraulics are more and more popular on mid to high horsepower outboard applications. The increased application of hydraulics has a lot to do with the increase in horsepower over the years and the added torque that is inherent with 4 stroke outboards compared to 2 strokes. The high output torque of the 4 strokes has changed the propellers resulting in higher torque loads on the steering systems. Hydraulic systems are very efficient in dealing with all torque conditions and often provide for fingertip steering effort.
Outboards systems are generally broken down into two systems; one for application below 150 hp and a different system for 150 and above.
Uflex offers the Hyco which has a clever mounting system that allows you to install a front mount outboard cylinder without having to remove the engine. With the split tilt tube design of the Uflex Hyco, you can simply cut the old mechanical steering cable and insert the two tilt tube pieces independently and pinning them to complete the hydraulic cylinder installation. The cylinder is suspended in front of the engine and oil directed from the hydraulic helm moves the engine correspondent to the direction of the steering wheel.
Larger horsepower applications require a more robust steering cylinder. The Uflex Protech cylinder is designed for single, dual and triple engine applications up to 750 hp. Featuring heavy duty seals, 304 electropolished link assemblies, and a carbon steel piston, it is built for
Uflex offers a simple application guide to assist in selecting the appropriate model cylinder according to the make and model of your engine www.uflexusa.com. The Uflex helms are compatible with competing helms, hoses, cylinders and oil, so you can easily install a Uflex component regardless of what item you need to replace.
For especially high torque applications you may want to consider using a 1500 Psi helm, which has relief valves set 500 Psi higher than the standard hydraulic helms which are rated to 1000 Psi. Bass, flats and other high horsepower boats with jackplates and shallow V deadrise experience extreme torque where the helm needs to have higher relief settings.
Uflex offers the Silversteer helm and cylinder for these applications. With the same benefits as the Protech cylinder, the Silversteer cylinder also features a keyed bullhorn design that maximizes the rigidity of cylinder when dealing with peak torque loads.
The article above is for general reference. Each application is different and it is important to refer to the manufacturers catalog or website and to follow the installation instructions. For more information we encourage you to contact Uflex customer service to review your specific application to verify the appropriate system.
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This article courtesy of UFLEX USA, proud manufacturer of quality Marine Steering and Control Products. 98% of the earth’s surface is covered with water . . . enjoy it with 100% confidence in Steering and Control Systems by UFLEX. For further information or technical support on UFLEX Steering and Control Systems, visit www.UFLEXUSA.com, e-mail: sales@UFLEXUSA.com, or call - (941) 351-2628.