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Old 06-22-2016, 01:45 PM   #1
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Geared steering Vs hydraulic

My boat has an Edson steering system. It basically connects the wheel to a chain that pushes and pulls a wire inside a conduit that attaches to a large "wheel" on the rudder. It's basically a sailboat system I think, and it also has a emergency tiller attachment over the rudder but it would be difficult to steer from back in the cockpit without access to the engine and transmission controls.

I don't know much about either type of steering system. What are the pros and cons of a system like mine compared to the hydraulic systems found on most power boats? I like what seems to be simplicity when I look at mine-- no pumps and hoses to fail and leak. Mine has some little fittings where I can push some grease into a little cap to grease the cables.

Why don't more power boats use a direct type steering like this but hydraulic instead?
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Old 06-22-2016, 02:04 PM   #2
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Smoother steering and easier to setup in any existing boat.
My egg Harbor has two chains, one gear box and push pull cable.
The lower helm connects with a gear box, a long SS rod and a chain at the upper helm.

I can feel the universal joint on the upper helm when the lower helm wheel is spun.

It is not a constant velocity universal joint. Getting a better constant velocity universal joint would improve the steering feel. I know because when I disconnected it, the lower helm steering was much smoother.
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:16 PM   #3
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I prefer the hydraulic. Better feel, and forces on rudder cannot turn the wheel. And easy to connect an autopilot or second helm. But a leak can take the system out, so that is a downside. All factors considered, I'd choose hydraulic. But also have respect for mechanical.
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:26 PM   #4
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If you are happy with your steering and the effort it takes, keep it. In the long run it's lower maintenance.
In time hydraulic systems need seals, they leak, If you can't repair it yourself, repairs are expensive. You will need a rudder angle indicator. The wheel is never really locked to the rudder so no set point for midship. Wheel usually doesn't turn on autopilot. If you want power steering, to steer with a jog lever or want newer style autopilots, hydraulic is better.
Autopilots on cable systems have a motor that manually turn the wheel. The motor is usually always engaged, so when you turn the wheel you are turning the motor, too. If the wheel itself can't be disengaged, it can be dangerous when pilot is making a turn.
I was a commercial fisherman. My boat had a cable system that was 50 years old when I bought the boat. It also had a Wood-Freeman autopilot of unknown age but many years old. Both still were fine when I sold the boat.
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:31 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ski in NC View Post
I prefer the hydraulic. Better feel, and forces on rudder cannot turn the wheel. And easy to connect an autopilot or second helm. But a leak can take the system out, so that is a downside. All factors considered, I'd choose hydraulic. But also have respect for mechanical.

Good point. After reading more about the mechanical system I have, Edson recommends tying the wheel when leaving the boat at a mooring (or the dock?) because they say big forces on the rudder could damage the system if it hit the stops. I've never tied the wheel but guess I should.
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:34 PM   #6
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I am new to hydraulic steering and I see some pros and cons to it.

Pros:
Smooth and very easy steering.
The rudder stays in the position you left it. This is very nice as you can take your hand off the wheel and the boat won't tend to wander particularly in reverse.
Easier system when you have two helm stations as each wheel is simply a pump.

Cons.
No helm feedback! This really bugs me. I spent too many years feeling the rudder forces through the tiller or wheel to be comfortable yet with the hydraulic steering.
No relationship between wheel position and rudder position. This also takes a lot of getting used to. It makes a rudder indicator mandatory. I prefer to know where the rudder is based on where the wheel position is.
Risk of hydraulic leaks.

Sailboats have the advantage that the wheel is sitting right about the rudder. So even in my dual helm Catalina 400, the mechanics are pretty straightforward and the cable is easily accessible for inspection and lubrication. In my boat with its flybridge, hydraulic steering is the only practical solution. However, in a smaller boat with a single helm position, I think that I would prefer a cable system with a friction lock on the wheel.
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:37 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by cardude01 View Post
Good point. After reading more about the mechanical system I have, Edson recommends tying the wheel when leaving the boat at a mooring (or the dock?) because they say big forces on the rudder could damage the system if it hit the stops. I've never tied the wheel but guess I should.
Check on your boat. Most of the Edson systems that I have seen have a friction wheel lock build into the hub.

The other thing I always did with the cable systems was to tie a turks head at the 12 oclock position of the wheel when the rudder is centered. You then always have a visual and tactile indicator of rudder position.
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Old 06-22-2016, 04:28 PM   #8
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Hydraulic systems can last 30 years...mine is almost that.


No feedback on a powerboat is no big deal...not like you are worried about puffs....


You don't need a rudder angle indicator...I have driven hundreds of hydraulically steered boats without or have but never used it. Mine doesn't, single with no thrusters.
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Old 06-22-2016, 04:37 PM   #9
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No feedback on a powerboat is no big deal...not like you are worried about puffs....


You don't need a rudder angle indicator...I have driven hundreds of hydraulically steered boats without or have but never used it. Mine doesn't, single with no thrusters.
Maybe it just my own insecurity then. On Sunday we had some big quartering wakes from the stern. In my sailboat, I could tell how the boat was going to react to them by the pressure on the rudder and make early corrections. In the powerboat, I had to wait to see how the hull was reacting (and most of it is behind me of course) before I could respond. In time, I suppose I will learn to pick up different clues.

The same may be true with the angle indicator, although when I am going to leave a dock I kind of like to know which way the rudder is pointing before I start out.
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Old 06-22-2016, 04:59 PM   #10
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Time will show you what your boat will do....


My wheel....2.5 turns right or left from center to stop...if I REALLY need a centered rudder....turn till full hardover then back off 2.5 turns.


Generally though...99 percent of all maneuvers...it doesn't matter...add throttle and adjust. If too far and off...stop...back down a tad, readjust.


Been slinging single screws for awhile now...it is just time and getting the feel.
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Old 06-22-2016, 05:48 PM   #11
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I don't need my rudder angle indicator, but I sure do end up using it!!! I have six turns lock-to-lock so it is a chore to do a full swing. Nice to see what the angle is at a glance.

On my list of things to do is mod the system so I can get it down to 3-4 turns lock-to-lock. Only did it that way as during the build a bud gave me a free cylinder. Hard to pass that up.
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Old 06-23-2016, 12:14 AM   #12
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Lemme think. Would I rather have an Edson? Click image for larger version

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Done. Time for some black rust oleum. 7.5 hours. Now to reinstall.
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Old 06-23-2016, 05:47 AM   #13
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"Why don't more power boats use a direct type steering like this but hydraulic instead?"

The system has to be engineered for the boat , and the correct parts ordered in advance.

Hyd is easier for semi skilled labor to install and can br fitted to many builds.
Hyd is easier to install a second steering station and most brands of auto pilot will do fine.

The mechanical has the advantage that a piece of line will hold it on course , or a wheel , sailboat style auto pilot will work great .

These are 1/2 to 1/5 the price of a complex hyd setup , can easily be owner installed .
Lucky you!
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Old 06-23-2016, 06:45 AM   #14
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My mechanical steering on the charter boat is a shaft that runs from the helm station back to the rudder. The helm is a double chain and cog reduction with around a 24:1 reduction. The rudder end has a tiller arm on it that has a connecting rod attaching it to the rudder tiller arm. The wheel is 3 turns lock to lock. With the balanced rudder, you can steer the boat at 15 knots with 1 finger! You can spin the wheel while docking with your pinky! Maintenance every 10 years consists of replacing the tie rod ends on the connecting rod, a squirt of greece in the 3 pillow block bearings + helm shaft, and lightly oiling the 2 chains. Not bad for a 41 year old boat. But as FF said, it took skilled labor to lay it out correctly. I do have an autopilot that is connected to the tiller arm. Fun to watch a customer's reaction when they see the wheel turning on autopilot with nobody holding it.

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Old 06-26-2016, 12:38 PM   #15
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The simple way to have a rudder indicator - close circuit camera and small display. Like back up camera in a car. The auto parts stores are selling for about $60. Wire the camera from stern or use wi-fi camera ( more expensive). Make a mark on your ram.
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Old 06-26-2016, 12:58 PM   #16
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Autopilots on cable systems have a motor that manually turn the wheel.
Not necessarily. My Catalina 42 had the Edson chain/cable system. I did have an electric wheel auto pilot as backup, but it was external on the pedestal, and disengaging it was as simple as removing the "rubber bandie".

But, when I started doing serious off shore work I added a separate quadrant (that's the official term for the "wheel" cardude1) to the rudder post, and it was operated by a hydraulic ram with a pump and small reservoir. All right next to each other in the lazaret with very short runs. The control head was at the helm, and it contained a position indicator.

The beauty of this setup was complete redundancy. If anything went wrong with the chain/cable/sprocket setup, I was able to engage the main autopilot and steer the boat with the turn knob. I've done it for fun and it worked like a charm. So short of the rudder itself or the shaft failing I was reasonable sure to have steering.
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Old 06-26-2016, 01:46 PM   #17
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Not necessarily. My Catalina 42 had the Edson chain/cable system. I did have an electric wheel auto pilot as backup, but it was external on the pedestal, and disengaging it was as simple as removing the "rubber bandie".

But, when I started doing serious off shore work I added a separate quadrant (that's the official term for the "wheel" cardude1) to the rudder post, and it was operated by a hydraulic ram with a pump and small reservoir. All right next to each other in the lazaret with very short runs. The control head was at the helm, and it contained a position indicator.

The beauty of this setup was complete redundancy. If anything went wrong with the chain/cable/sprocket setup, I was able to engage the main autopilot and steer the boat with the turn knob. I've done it for fun and it worked like a charm. So short of the rudder itself or the shaft failing I was reasonable sure to have steering.

This is how my boat AP is set up also-- the ram is connected to the quadrant (thanks for the correct term). I never thought about that giving me steering redundancy if the chain broke or something, but I guess it does sitting here thinking about it.

Even though the ram is connected to the quadrant, the wheel still turns when the AP makes corrections IIRC. So if the wheel got "stuck" due to a chain jamb or something I don't think the AP would steer the boat. But if the chain or a cable or an attach point broke the AP would steer it.
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Old 06-26-2016, 03:58 PM   #18
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When I scraped out Willy's rotary push pull steering and installed a new system I was set on the sprocket/chain/pulley and wire cable system that I'd seen on a lot of fishing boats. I got as far as pricing all the components and then when I realized how time consuming the installation would be I went to hydraulic. All the components of a cable and pulley system w pulleys and sheaves in bronze came to much more money than the hydraulic steering even when I bought components big and heavy enough for a 40' boat it was still much more expensive. I think the cable and sheave system is the best but just too much trouble and money at the time.

I love the fact that the helm and rudder stay put when you take your hands off and can fine tune a straight course, run straight w almost no input. But on my system the force required at the helm is considerable but part of the reason is my 3-1 turns ratio. Would set up 2-1 w power steering and a rudder indicator as optimum but too much time and money. I would have gone back to Teleflex cable had I known that was going to come to pass. But I thought the opposite would happen.
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Old 06-26-2016, 07:12 PM   #19
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This is how my boat AP is set up also-- the ram is connected to the quadrant (thanks for the correct term). I never thought about that giving me steering redundancy if the chain broke or something, but I guess it does sitting here thinking about it.

Even though the ram is connected to the quadrant, the wheel still turns when the AP makes corrections IIRC. So if the wheel got "stuck" due to a chain jamb or something I don't think the AP would steer the boat. But if the chain or a cable or an attach point broke the AP would steer it.
Yes, if the mechanicals jammed you would have to fix the problem or get out the bolt cutters....all depending on how close the rocks were.....
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Old 06-26-2016, 11:41 PM   #20
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I don't want to come across as a SA but it seems to me that I want to make boating more safe and enjoyable. We have a hydraulic steering, I find I use the autopilot 95% of the time.... docking is different it's engines and thrusters... While mechanical steering may be simpler than hydraulic steering, in the over all scope of things that can go wrong in a boat the steering system seems way down the list of things that can be a show stopper when underway. In matter of fact I can't remember the last time I had to turn the wheel. But in typical trawler fashion we have very large wrench that connects to the rudder post and acts like a tiller I just can't imagine a situation where it would be used....
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