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Old 03-25-2020, 06:18 PM   #1
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Hydraulic autopilot installation

Im need to get smart WRT our Hynautics steering system. Ive got to cut into the copper tubing to install a Shadow Drive valve and to tie in the new Garmin autopilot pump.

Ive got no direct experience with pressurized hydraulics, but have a little mechanical aptitude (ie I successfully repowered our last sailboat).

The existing system is all copper tubing. Can I use hydraulic hose and push on fittings where I need to tie in? Is there an online source or tutorial that might familiarize me with standards, materials, techniques?

What obvious considerations am I missing?

Thanks in advance for any tips or sources.
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Old 03-25-2020, 07:45 PM   #2
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You could use a hydraulic hose for the shadow drive valve but it might be simpler to stay with copper ,if you want. The helm is most likely NPT fittings where the copper tube connects. You could buy the appropriate tees and soft copper tubing to plumb in your pump and shadow drive. 25-30 years ago, that's all I used was copper tubing to install a pilot & I guarantee some of them are probably still in service!
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Old 03-25-2020, 08:15 PM   #3
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Thanks Shawn,
My hesitation is from my lack of experience with copper. Sitting here, Id be concerned that I couldnt make a nice clean sweep of a bend and then makeup leakfree connections. Maybe I just need to get a collection of fittings and tubing and see just how difficult it is.

Another question I have is how to depressurize the system without spraying fluid all over the boat. Can I just bleed it out thru the schraeder valve with a towel over it?
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Old 03-25-2020, 08:48 PM   #4
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I went through this with an earlier boat. What you'll have to do is cut into the copper tubing and insert a "T", which allows you to add an autopilot pump with flex hose with pipe fittings while also allowing flow through to the rest of the circuit. The method I used was to use flare fittings to attach to the copper tubing, with the other end of the fitting in NPT pipe threads for the AP pump hoses. The copper tubing has to be flared with a tool and access will likely be difficult. My advise based on your experience level would be to hire this out to someone experienced in Friday Harbor. Avoiding leaks is critical for system operation and will drive you crazy if not done right.
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Old 03-25-2020, 08:53 PM   #5
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If you need to use flare fittings I recommend buying the tools and learning how to do double flares. That is the technique used in automotive brake lines where a leak is unforgivable. It takes a bit if practice but you'll pick up the skill quickly.

You will be working with old copper. Copper work hardens when bent or disturbed including the vibration of a boat. It becomes hard, brittle and prone to cracking or breaking. You can make the copper pliable again by annealing before flaring. Heat it till red hot then quench in cold water. A propane torch puts out enough heat After double flaring it will have hardened some again. I have found it helpful to anneal again before assembly. On my last boat I used these techniques on 42 yr old copper with success.

Do get all of the oil out of the lines before using the torch. And keep a fire extinguisher and pressurised water hose at hand.

If possible don't reuse old Male flare fittings or old flare nuts to improve your success rate.

On threaded fittings in hydraulic work never use teflon tape. The slightest bit of tape that gets into the system may cause serious problems including failure of components. Best to use pipe thread compound with PTFE.

Compression fittings work best on new copper.

As you said in your post buy some tubing and practice until you're comfortable with the techniques.

All of this is old skool. Others may know of easier materials and methods.

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Thanks Shawn,
My hesitation is from my lack of experience with copper. Sitting here, Id be concerned that I couldnt make a nice clean sweep of a bend and then makeup leakfree connections. Maybe I just need to get a collection of fittings and tubing and see just how difficult it is.

Another question I have is how to depressurize the system without spraying fluid all over the boat. Can I just bleed it out thru the schraeder valve with a towel over it?
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Old 03-25-2020, 09:18 PM   #6
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Quote:
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Thanks Shawn,
My hesitation is from my lack of experience with copper. Sitting here, Id be concerned that I couldnt make a nice clean sweep of a bend and then makeup leakfree connections. Maybe I just need to get a collection of fittings and tubing and see just how difficult it is.

Another question I have is how to depressurize the system without spraying fluid all over the boat. Can I just bleed it out thru the schraeder valve with a towel over it?
Yep. Just let the air out of the reservoir like an inner tube. No fluid will spray out. Just air. You'll loose a few tablespoons of fluid when you break open your steering lines so keep a towel handy for that but no big deal. Plumbing copper is not a complicated thing. Maybe 2-3 on a scale of 10. All you will need is the fittings and pipe thread sealant, a cutter & flaring kit (I've never needed to make a double flair but I suppose they do make a better seal in a higher pressure application) and a tube bender. All from home depot or lowes. The hardest thing is figuring out what fittings you'll need. I know the pump & shadow drive is 1/4 NPT and probably your helm is too but you'll need to make sure.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Armour-L...7210/306656687
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Old 03-25-2020, 09:52 PM   #7
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Or you can go this route, which is how I usually do it now, but it'll be more expensive.

3- 1/4" npt machined brass street tees - where the threaded end of the tee goes into the helm (assuming the helm is tapped for 1/4" npt) , the 1/4 npt to copper tube adapter that originally came out of the helm goes in one opening of the tee and the 5528 adapter that fits the hose that leads to the pump goes into the other opening of the tee.

8- HF5528 fittings (3 for the pump 2 for the shadow drive & 3 for one side of the street tee to go to the pump)

2 sets of HO51XX hoses- where the "xx" is ordered to the length you need (HO5110 would be 10' hoses). Trouble is, they come in sets of 2 so you'll have an extra.

Now do you see why I recommended you might try your hand at plumbing with copper?
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Old 03-26-2020, 12:22 AM   #8
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Any time I do plumbing it leaks... I absolutely hate plumbing. If you do go the copper route, make a fall back plan if it leaks. And BTW, good luck!
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Old 03-26-2020, 05:28 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ken E. View Post
I went through this with an earlier boat. What you'll have to do is cut into the copper tubing and insert a "T", which allows you to add an autopilot pump with flex hose with pipe fittings while also allowing flow through to the rest of the circuit. The method I used was to use flare fittings to attach to the copper tubing, with the other end of the fitting in NPT pipe threads for the AP pump hoses. The copper tubing has to be flared with a tool and access will likely be difficult. My advise based on your experience level would be to hire this out to someone experienced in Friday Harbor. Avoiding leaks is critical for system operation and will drive you crazy if not done right.

This is pretty much the approach I would take too. T into the existing lines, then use flex hydraulic hoses to the pump. I would not plumb hard lines to the pump for fear of noise transmission through the copper lines. I'd also recommend installing valves at the tees so the pump can be isolated.


And watch the pressure ratings on the parts that you use, including valves and fittings. For steering 1500 psi rating would be good. 1000 psi might be OK, but check the relief pressure for the steering system. I've seen a number that are 1000 psi, so lines with the same rating might be a bit too close. Off the shelf brass valves are typically 600 psi, so be careful about using them.
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Old 03-26-2020, 06:31 AM   #10
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"You can make the copper pliable again by annealing before flaring. Heat it till red hot then quench in cold water. A propane torch puts out enough heat"


Notice,,, heat and quench is proper to anneal copper although it is backwards from steel.

To get flair fittings to not leak use a flair tool from a refrigeration place $ 30.00, not a $3.00 tool from Ace hardware.

You might use the tool again if the FW system is just plastic.
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Old 03-26-2020, 02:32 PM   #11
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Thank you all for your suggestions, clearly a wealth of expertise here.

Im going to make another attempt to locate a skilled local technician before I launch myself into the plumbing trade. I want to do this as expeditiously as possible and minimize the time the boat sits disabled. At least now I can still steer it.

Ill report back.
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Old 03-26-2020, 03:59 PM   #12
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And please consider if the use of a water hose to put out an oil fire is the correct method.

No fires at all is best...
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Old 03-26-2020, 04:23 PM   #13
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Yes, as the poster who suggested a water hose standing by, in addition to a fire extinguisher, I'm in total agreement. If it's an oil fire. I could have been more specific. If using a propane torch in a tight place surrounded by combustible class A materials such as the plywood often used for the internals on a boat it easy to start a class A fire. Catch it early, a brief squirt with the hose and it's out. Experience speaking here.

However thanks for pointing that out.
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And please consider if the use of a water hose to put out an oil fire is the correct method.

No fires at all is best...
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Old 03-27-2020, 12:54 PM   #14
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I have done repairs on my steering system with copper tubing.
Get a decent DOUBLE FLARING KIT and practice with it on tubing pieces before starting on the system. Like everything there are some adjustments in technique to get a good one.

As FF said do NOT just go to the local cheapy place. You don't need to spend a bomb but a cheap tool may give to poor seals.

Mine cost me about $50 many years ago, Weatherhead. There are better but the cost really does ramp up although were i intending to do this professionally I would spend the money.

All flare starts need to be deburred with a fine file on the OD. Approx 45o . Just a bit to see the bevel start. Also deburr the ID with a countersink lightly.
THis is done to the raw tubing BEFORE the flare is started.

THere are tools for this again from the flare tool supplier but those tools have done me well for many flares.

SLIP THE NUT ON and then do the double flare.

I do not like single flares. I've seen to many split although they likely were poorly done initially. The doubles also seal better since there is more crush ability to take up ANY tiny imperfections.

These systems can operate at up to 1,000PSI so any valves must be bought with that in mind. Typical ball valves are rated for 5-600 PSI working. I doubt they would blow but be safe as the steering loss could be trouble in addition to messy. The A/P system will push that pressure limit far more often than you can no matter how hard you spin the wheel.

As for bends many bends can be done by hand but carefully a bit at a time working the bend into form.

Or go buy one of the multi form tools, again the refrig. supply house. They usually produce about a 3" radius. That way no kinks.

Before I forget buy a good tubing cutter , Rigid. The little ones can do a fine job and they are not expensive. The small ones can be spun in tight areas where the larger ones cannot or at least be a headache to spin.

Check the male cones carefully for ANY marks, dings or scratches. It there are marks DO NOT use it but get another or you may have a leak.


No TFE tape anywhere as explained.
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Old 03-28-2020, 06:29 AM   #15
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The flair nuts used can come from the home cheapo store for water , but the best come from the refrigeration folks , about 2x as heavy.

From the web,

Refrigeration fitting flares are standard 45* flares. Do not double flare a ref line. Also, if you use hardware store variety flare nuts made for water service, it'll almost guarantee that you'll eventually get a leak from a crack that will occur at the flare or just below it. Refrigeration flare nuts don't have a "neck" on them to support the tube like water nuts have. The only place they actually contact the tubing is on the back side of the flare itself. Refrigerant lines always have vibration associated with them, even though its often low amplitude and fairly high frequency such that you can hold the line and not be able to detect it.

Logic would tell you supporting the tube behind the flare should make it more vibration resistant and less prone to cracking, but just the opposite is true. Back when there were lots of systems hooked up with flare fittings, I've reflared more cracked lines due to the use of water type nuts than I can count or remember. On the odd occasions when I found a crack on a line with a proper refrigeration flare nut, there was most always evidence the line had been shoved around or otherwise abused in its past.

The refrigeration flare nuts are available from any refrigeration and AC supply house. When you go there, keep in mind everything in ref and AC is referred to by OD dimensions. 3/4 copper is 7/8. 1/2" copper is 5/8. Where it'll get you is if you ask for something to fit 1/2" copper, referring to its nominal dimension as used by plumbers. You're wanting 5/8 OD, but the supply house guy is going to give you fittings for 3/8 nominal copper because its OD is 1/2. There's also a 3/4 OD tubing thats used in refrigeration but almost never in plumbing, so asking for fittings to fit 3/4 plumber dimensioned lines will also get you the wrong size fittings.
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Old 03-28-2020, 07:23 AM   #16
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I did single flares on 3/8 refrigeration tube. A lot of flares!! (Two helms, reservoir, power steering and AP and rudder cylinder, so lots of tees and tube ends. All single flares using hardware store tool. All copper except AP and rudder cylinder short jumpers. Filled, pressurized and bled system and not a single leak!! I was pretty amazed.

A couple of hints: I mounted AP pump in ER and mounted it on resilient mounts with flex tubes to avoid noise at the helm. Been on many boats where AP pump was mounted right at helm and the erratic noise was irritating. On mine, you can't hear it over the engine noise.

Also, measure your existing tube, it could be metric.
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