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Old 08-14-2013, 09:04 AM   #1
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Hydraulic vs Rotary Steering

Has anyone removed a chain steering and installed a hydraulic system? I'm planning on upgrading my autopilot to the new Ray Marine that just came out. But, I'll need to decide if I want to stay with the steering system I have before I invest in a new drive unit.

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Old 08-14-2013, 09:55 AM   #2
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There's advantages to both.

The main reason I changed to hyd is that the helm stays put. When I get the boat going straight and let go of the helm the helm dosn't change. The boat goes on that "set" forever. Most often I need very fine corrections to actually go straight but if it's calm my boat goes for minutes at a time w/o any input.

After 8 years now I have a slave cylinder leak aft but other than that It's been trouble free. I installed the hyd hose so that from the lazerette the hose climbs steadily to the helm pump. There is only one low spot. Bleeding out the air was easy and in 8 years there's been no problems at all.

The push pull cable steering is easier to install and much cheaper to buy. The helm turns easier and there is some "feel" of the rudder. The cables seem quite dependable. They are used on many ultralight aircraft for control surfaces. I found those cables too questionable to do while flying.


North Western Washington State USA
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Old 08-14-2013, 10:31 AM   #3
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When I installed the autopilot aboard my downeast boat many years ago, it had chain steering which worked great and was very foolproof. However, part of the system was a 20' long piece of galvanized 1" OD pipe which ran from the helm (with a sprocket on it) to the transom (with a lever on it & a tie rod to the rudder) Although I had never experienced any difficulty hand steering, the new autopilot could not cope with the "wind-up" in this pipe. It wound up like a torsion bar and sent the AP into a fit.

You are wise to determine if you are keeping your current steering system first. In my case, I switched to Wagner hydraulic steering and since I already had the chain drive AP connected to the wheel, I just ran another chain to the Wagner helm which I mounted on a bracket.

It turned out that this gave additional ways to vary the gear ratio of both the wheel and the AP which came in handy.
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Old 08-15-2013, 05:50 AM   #4
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You might contemplate any repairs to the chain system as most are very reliable .

The sailboat style bolt a chain on the wheel system will usually work fine with a mechanical steering.

As its a power boat the electric consumption even on a heavy helm would not be a bother.

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Old 08-15-2013, 07:51 AM   #5
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Yes, I agree with those saying keep your trouble free chain & rod steering, for sure, but for best results the experts say get the rotary drive connected to the helm drive via extra sprocket and short chain to the main helm sprocket, rather than the admittedly cheaper yacht style belt to wheel drive. This would still be cheaper and more trouble free than switching to hydraulic, then setting up a hydraulic drive, I'm pretty sure. My vessel has this same steering, and I love it's robustness and simplicity. My rod is inch & a half, and does not twist at all, unlike the issue Brooksie had.
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Old 08-15-2013, 08:34 AM   #6
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We did this a number of years ago to accommodate an upper as well as lower station. Used Wagner pumps and added ComNav autopilot. Installation was relatively easy and has been trouble free. It also freed up space previously occupied by the chain and shaft assembly.

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